TRUMBULL >> It was a night where the Staples volleyball team was not going to let anything get in its way.
Facing Greenwich for the third time this season, and after falling short the previous two meetings, including a five-set loss in the FCIAC Championship, the Wreckers relied upon senior leadership, strong net play and defense to finally defeat the Cardinals (25-22, 14-25, 25-20, 25-21) in the Class LL state semifinals at Trumbull on Thursday evening.
Staples advances to the state title game on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. at Berlin where they will face No. 1 Cheshire, who swept Ludlowe in the later match. It’s the first time since 1992 that the Wreckers advance to the state championship.
“The fight in Greenwich is unbelievable,” Staples head coach Jon Shepro said. “But the fight in us was just a little better tonight.”
Staples (22-2) displayed that fight right from the get go. Up 2-1 and needing just one more win to extend their postseason run, the Wreckers fought back from an early deficit to take a 17-11 lead. The Cardinals rallied to come within one point twice, 21-20 and 22-21, but the play of outside hitter Amelia Brackett and Lauren Mushro took over. Staples scored the final three points, including the game-winning hit from Brackett to collect the win.
“Oh, I can’t believe it,” senior Knox McKay said after. “I’m so blessed to play with team, I’m so excited. We beat the one person who beat us the entire school season and FCIACs. They put up a good fight and we knew if we had to go to a fifth game that it would be tough, so that was our goal to beat them in four.”
Staples rode the hot play of Brackett all night. When the team needed a point, one of the state’s top hitters was there to provide it. Brackett, who is headed to Cornell next fall, finished the evening with 25 kills, one and six digs.
The Wreckers were able to jump out a 1-0 lead in a tight opening set. The two teams traded points, including a 15-all game. Staples, however, scored the next four points, taking a 24-21 advantage and then sealed the deal with a kill for the 25-22 win.
Greenwich, led by Mirei Kato’s 13 kills, tied the match up in the second set. The Cardinals built an imposing 19-10 score and never let Staples back in.
“Greenwich is an unbelievable team, Mirei is an unbelievable player,” Shepro said.
In the pivotal third game, Staples displayed its fight and determination as they fought back and held off Greenwich at the end in large part thanks to the serving of McKay and play of Mushro, who slammed down the final point as the Wreckers went up 2-1.
“Oh my goodness, those serves, I was breathing out every time it went in,” McKay said with a smile.
Setter Ariana Sherman finished with 32 assists, one kill and two aces, while Mushro added 11 kills and 10 digs. McKay had four kills.
“I think we just wanted it so bad tonight,” Shepro said. “We worked so hard. We weren’t going to be denied.”