FAIRFIELD — When you’ve won 24 straight matches, dropping one set isn’t a big deal.
When you’ve had a revenge match circled on your calendar for more than two months, you don’t panic if you fall behind early.
And when you are the Darien boys volleyball program, you focus on the most important task.
Darien rode a Blue Wave of momentum Tuesday night, rallying to conquer previously-unbeaten Newtown 21-25, 25-22, 25-12, 25-20 in the Class L boys volleyball semifinals before a capacity crowd at Fairfield Warde.
The win means third-seeded Darien (25-1) will face No. 4 Staples for the Class L boys volleyball title Thursday night at 5 p.m. at Shelton High. Defending Class L champion Staples (21-3) earned its place in the final by sweeping previously-unbeaten No. 1 Southington, 3-0 in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
“We were not to be deterred tonight. We worked so hard to get here,” Darien senior co-captain Piers Roofthooft said. “Our season was NOT going to end here.”
Darien knew exactly what it was getting into Tuesday night. After all, it was Newtown which handed the Blue Wave its only loss of the season (3-2) back on opening day (March 30).
Since then, Darien won 24 straight matches including a streak of 51 consecutive games. The Blue Wave were crowned FCIAC champs in the process.
However, that didn’t stop Newtown (23-1) from frontrunning to a 25-21 Game 1 victory Tuesday.
And when the SWC champion Nighthawks grabbed leads of 7-3, 18-15 and 21-18 in Game 2, Darien was on the ropes.
However, that’s when Darien senior co-captain Tyler Herget unleashed his Player of the Year credentials.
Herget had one kill, two service aces and four service points to give Darien a 23-21 edge that became a 25-22 win to even the match at 1-1.
Given a reprieve and a chance to exhale, Darien focused on sending Newtown home in the Class L semifinals for the second straight year.
The Blue Wave jumped out to leads of 8-1, 15-3 and 20-4 in Game 3 on their way to a 25-12 triumph and a 2-1 match advantage.
“After we lost the first set, we knew we could and would be better,” Darien’s Herget said. “We realized we didn’t need to be perfect. We just had to play well enough.”
“We got our act together,” Darien’s Roofthooft said. “It wasn’t about watching and worrying about every point on the scoreboard. It was simply about us having fun on the court.”
Darien’s fun just led to things snowballing on Newtown. The Nighthawks also saw their 2018 season end in the Class L semifinals, losing to Ridgefield in this same Warde gym.
In Game 4, Darien never gave Newtown hope. At 6-6, the Blue Wave surged to an 11-7 edge. Darien maintained the lead from there. Newtown would get to 22-19 before Darien finished the job at 25-20.
“We just got into our heads too much. The opening two sets we were calm. Then it unravelled,” Newtown’s fifth-year coach Sandy Doski said. “You can’t play volleyball annoyed. Things stopped going well. The guys were trying to do things they couldn’t do. That became one bad thing after another. Our mental game fell through.”
The good news was Newtown was 40-2 overall the past two seasons. The bad news was both years ended in the Class L semifinals.
“After we won the first game, we got lazy. We got down on ourselves. Mentally, everything snowballed,” said Newtown co-captain Robert Morrill, one of five Nighthawks seniors. “Darien is so mentally tough. Our season-opening win over Darien was so important to what we accomplished this year. But we couldn’t rise to the challenge tonight. There was so much for our great group to be proud of. It’s disappointing to see it all end here.”
Meanwhile, Darien will meet Staples for the third time this year. Darien swept the Wreckers, 3-0 in the regular season and defeated them again in the FCIAC championship final.
“Playing Staples again will be a dogfight. We are both different teams since our first meeting,” Darien’s Herget said. “Everybody on our side did the job tonight.”
“On Thursday, we want to finish the job of this season,” Darien’s Roofthooft added.