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Ryan Branigan, Bobby Kovalsky lead Kellenberg to CHSAA boys volleyball title

Kellenberg's Ryan Branigan serves a ball into play

Kellenberg's Ryan Branigan serves a ball into play during the CHSAA varsity boys' volleyball championship match vs. Chaminade at Adelphi University. (May 17, 2013) Credit: James Escher

Trailing two games to none in the CHSAA boys volleyball championship match at Adelphi Friday, Kellenberg got its biggest spark from one of its shortest players.

Ryan Branigan, at about 5-8, nearly a foot shorter than some of his teammates, rose up to block a spike from Chaminade's top hitter Mike Walsh to give the Firebirds a two-point lead early in the third game, screaming with excitement as his teammates collapsed around him in celebration.

That gave Kellenberg all the fuel it needed to ignite a thrilling comeback, as the No. 1 Firebirds dominated the rest of that third game, fought off three championship points in the fourth, and came from behind again late in the fifth to win, 21-25, 21-25, 25-15, 29-27, 25-22, over the second-seeded Flyers to earn their first CHSAA title since 2006.

"Anything is possible," Kellenberg coach John Heitner said. "Momentum is everything in this sport, and we believed in each other."

Said Branigan: "I felt that was the biggest momentum change. Whenever I get a block, I go crazy, and to do it against one of their best players, I felt like that just won it for us right there."

Though Branigan's block and his 62 assists were critical, Kellenberg still had a mountain to climb.

The Firebirds (16-1) blew a 24-21 lead in the fourth and trailed 24-25, 25-26, and then 26-27. But 6-5 middle hitter Bobby Kovalsky went on a tear, finishing kills to tie it at 26 and again at 27 before finally giving the Firebirds the lead at 28-27 with another kill.

Chaminade (13-4) deflected a ball out of bounds on the next point to give Kellenberg the game.

In the fifth, Kovalsky was again the difference, earning seven of his team-high 23 kills. Kellenberg led 18-13, but Walsh led Chaminade back as the Flyers led 22-21. After Kellenberg tied it, Kovalsky spiked the ball for a 23-22 lead, and then sealed it on championship point with another kill up the near sideline.

Kovalsky was named MVP of the match, adding nine blocks.

"I just knew how important it was to step up in the end, especially after dropping the first two," Kovalsky said.

Michael Fulop, the CHSAA player of the year, also earned big points in the final two games and finished with 14 kills. Connor Goss, who carried Kellenberg early, had 20 kills and six blocks.

"We stepped up as a team and came together when we needed to, and that's one of the best things about Kellenberg volleyball," Fulop said. "And there's no doubt we're No. 1 this year."

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