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MX News Update 2024

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Inside the gym on a sunny day, NFA boys’ volleyball continues to impress

NFA’s Gage Hinkley (11) and Gavin Hecker (9) attempt to block a shot from Norwich Tech’s Cameron Maskaly (21) during a boys volleyball game at the school in Norwich Tuesday, May 7, 2024.(Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints
NFA’s Gavin Hecker (9) Gage Hinkley (11) and Landon Little (2) celebrate a point during a boys volleyball game at the school in Norwich Tuesday, May 7, 2024.(Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints
Norwich Tech’s Mason Matthews (12) and Cameron Maskaly (21) celebrate a point with teammates during a boys volleyball game at the school in Norwich Tuesday, May 7, 2024.(Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints
NFA’s Keegan Johnston (3) taps a ball over the net during a boys volleyball game at the school in Norwich Tuesday, May 7, 2024.(Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints

Norwich — Gage Hinkley is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound middle linebacker who leaves June 24, just after his graduation from Norwich Free Academy, to play Division I football at the University of Rhode Island. The versatile Hinkley also played quarterback at NFA.

To find Hinkley on Tuesday, despite a temperature hovering in the mid 70s, you had to look inside NFA’s Alumni Gymnasium, where the Wildcats were facing Norwich Tech in boys’ volleyball.

NFA, which won nine straight games this season and is 13-3 overall, won 25-15, 25-21, 25-20, getting 12 kills, four blocks and three digs from Hinkley, with several of his kills coming in Game 3 , during which the Wildcats trailed.

”I just trained for football. Until my junior year, I never played another sport,” Hinkley said. ”Obviously it’s not a super popular sport for men, but it’s one of the most competitive games I’ve played. When you get into a really tight game, there’s nothing more exciting than getting a big kill or a big serve.”

Hinkley first started playing volleyball because of fellow NFA senior Dean Bonnin, a middle hitter. Bonnin, whose friend had a court at his house, introduced Hinkley to beach volleyball.

“So we would always play sand volleyball,” Hinkley said. “I was like, ‘Man, I think I’m going to like this.’ I found out the school had a team, that was my junior and senior year, I wanted to just play another sport.”

NFA, with a number of the school’s talented athletes joining the team last season —including 6-foot-9 basketball player Evan Keith — finished 14-8 with berths in the Connecticut Volleyball League and Class L state tournaments. Then-senior setter Paul Ericson finished with 385 assists, following his two older sisters, both former NFA all-state picks, into the sport.

What the players found is there’s a lot more strategy involved than ripping the ball over the net, although Hinkley admits that’s his favorite part.

“I love coaching the boys,” said NFA coach Raleighe Orszulak-Borecki, in her second season with the Wildcats’ boys’ team and also now the coach of the NFA girls.

“They’re very competitive. They want to work hard. They are very good at being strategic. They love the game play of it. In volleyball there’s so many different ways you can attack, so I try to teach them big swings are great but if you don’t have a perfect set or maybe if you can see the other team is covering, you have to try different things. ”

Tyler McDermott added seven kills, six blocks and seven digs for NFA, which also played Monday, falling to South Windsor 3-0. Landon Little had 23 assists.

Bradley Mortell finished with eight kills, two aces and five digs and Emerson Avery 10 digs, two kills, one block and three assists for Norwich Tech (7-7).

Norwich Tech has only had the sport for a handful of years, with longtime girls’ coach Tim Krodel taking the reins there, as well. He said the first year competing, the Warriors had only seven players, all of whom competed in the varsity and junior varsity matches.

On Tuesday, there was a full JV match prior to the varsity players taking the court.

In the main event, Norwich Tech led the third game against NFA 16-14 before Orzulak-Borecki called a timeout and the Wildcats responded.

Still trailing 18-16, NFA got back-to-back kills from Hinkley to pull even. The Wildcats finally pulled even in the game at 20-20 when a serve by Mason Stolhammer settled untouched on the left sideline for an ace.

Gavin Hecker recorded match point for NFA with a block.

“They’ve got tremendous hitters, great setters,” Krodel said of NFA. “We had to play pretty close to perfect. You can’t give points away and you can’t give them anything soft because they’re just going to take it and slam it back at you.”

Norwich Tech needs one more win to qualify for the league and state tournaments.

NFA, meanwhile, is generating a following among the student body, with a crowd donating more than $2,000 recently to a Cycle for Survival fundraiser.

“There’s a lot more skill,” NFA’s McDermott said. “It just comes down to how you play consistently in the game and that’s what really matters. That’s how you win games.

“I think as many people as we can get, we want to try out. The more people we have, the more talent we can see and the better we can go into the season. … I think getting people here to really witness how different the game is from what people think is really important. It’s definitely growing.”

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