Class C boys volleyball: Top-seeded Granby sweeps Ware, captures first-ever WMass title (PHOTOS)

The top-seeded Granby boys volleyball team captured the Western Mass. Class C title thanks to a 3-0 sweep of Ware in the finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp.

The top-seeded Granby boys volleyball team captured the Western Mass. Class C title thanks to a 3-0 sweep of Ware in the finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Nico Grandmont (13) lines up a hit on the ball during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Com

Granby’s Nico Grandmont (13) lines up a hit on the ball during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Com STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

The Granby boys volleyball team celebrates a point during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp.

The Granby boys volleyball team celebrates a point during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Michael Swanigan (10) makes a dig during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp.

Granby’s Michael Swanigan (10) makes a dig during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Jake Gagnon (7) sets the ball during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp.

Granby’s Jake Gagnon (7) sets the ball during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Braeden Gallagher (4) tips the ball at the net during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp.

Granby’s Braeden Gallagher (4) tips the ball at the net during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Ralph El Aouji (3) digs the ball during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp.

Granby’s Ralph El Aouji (3) digs the ball during the Rams’ 3-0 sweep of Ware in the Western Mass. Class C finals on Saturday at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-25-2024 1:01 PM

CHICOPEE — All the momentum was against the No. 1 Granby boys volleyball team in the third set of Saturday’s Western Mass. Class C championship match with No. 2 Ware.

The Rams had breezed through the first two sets, but they faced a 24-21 deficit in the third – and Ware’s fans were fired up. For a team littered with underclassmen, it wouldn’t have been a shock if they rolled over and turned their attention to a fourth set.

But Granby buckled down when sophomore Jake Gagnon stepped behind the service line.

His rocket of a serve helped the Rams win the next three points to tie it at 24, and after the next five points played out 3-2 in Granby’s favor, the top-seeded side found themselves at championship point.

Granby forced Ware into a free ball, which was sent to the lap of Braedan Gallagher. The sophomore bumped it over to his classmate Gagnon, who perfectly set senior captain Michael Swanigan on the outside.

In one swift motion, he jumped high to meet the ball at its peak and let loose a fierce swing into Ware’s front line. It hit a pair of hands on the other side of the net and fell to the court. Swanigan has put down over 700 kills in his career, but none bigger than that – giving Granby a 3-0 win (25-19, 25-16, 28-26) to claim its first-ever Western Mass. title in just its third year as a program.

“It means a lot getting this done early in the program’s history,” Swanigan said. “We’ve been working hard at it, because over Covid, we weren’t able to play inside, so we were on the beach courts kind of just looking forward to it since then. Each year we’ve been inching closer toward it and today we got it done.”

Gagnon’s stellar serving (six aces) helped the Rams climb back in the third set, and it was his serving all morning long that Ware couldn’t quite solve.

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“After I got a few serves in and we got a few points, that gap started to fill in and I think we definitely knew we had a good chance to win,” he said. “We finished pretty strong in that third set.”

His teammates admitted they were a bit doubtful of a comeback facing three consecutive set points, and they were even already thinking ahead about a potential fourth set.

But then it was No. 7’s turn to serve, and everything changed.

“I wouldn’t have minded a fourth set, and there was some doubt seeing that score gap, but once Jake got on the service line, I had no doubt he would handle business,” Swanigan said.

Even if Gagnon didn’t record an ace, he was putting Ware in a tough position to set up its offense. Throughout the season, Granby knew serving had to be its strong suit. Nobody on the roster is especially tall, so if they could strategically put pressure on teams with their serve, the lack of height wouldn’t catch up to them.

That plan was in full effect on Saturday with a total of 11 aces, and several other serves that never made it back over the net.

“That’s been a point of emphasis all year, serving,” Rams head coach Chad Gagnon said. “We have a short team, so we need to serve hard to keep other teams out of system. If we keep them out of system, they don’t have their primary attack to kill us over our blocks. Keeping them out of system enables us to keep us on the attack.”

Swanigan struck for a match-high 16 kills and added six assists. Gagnon brought out his do-it-all toolkit to post a line of 10 kills, 18 assists, six aces and four digs, while Gallagher chipped in with six kills.

The three of them have led Granby all year long, and that’s expected considering they play throughout the year outside of the spring high school season.

At the beginning of the year, the Rams didn’t sugarcoat what they wanted. They knew right away hoisting the Class C crown wasn’t a goal, it was an expectation.

And that expectation turned into a reality on Saturday.

“It was our goal from the beginning, honestly,” Chad Gagnon said. “We knew we had a super strong team, having three guys who play year-round is a huge benefit. The goal all year was to win this and see how much of a push in the state tournament we can make.”

The first two sets were near-carbon copies of each other, with both playing out to a 14-14 tie at one point. A 7-2 run in the first and a 9-1 in the second created plenty of separation for the eventual champs to coast to victories.

Granby carried that steam into the third with a 6-1 spurt to begin the frame (spearheaded by two Gagnon aces), but Ware wouldn’t go away easy as it eventually built the aforementioned 24-21 advantage that the Rams erased to claim the championship.

Despite Swanigan and fellow senior Nico Grandmont departing, Granby still has a plethora of younger players with at least two more years remaining.

The Rams aren’t planning on writing a “one-and-done” story. This program isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“The reality is, my libero is an eighth grader, one of my starting players is a freshman, and then I have four sophomores. I only have two seniors and no juniors,” Chad Gagnon said. “These guys are young, but they play a lot, and they play with passion. They put more effort into practice than I could possibly imagine. These guys are 100 percent committed to the program.”

Seeds for the MIAA state tournaments will be released on Tuesday, as the Rams look to continue their spring campaign well into June.