WILTON — The seniors for the Staples girls tennis team finally held the FCIAC championship trophy, a trophy they coveted, in their hands.
They were a big reason the second-seeded Wreckers put aside three consecutive runner-up finishes and came through with a thrilling and highly competitive 4-3 victory over top-seeded Darien in the conference title match Wednesday at Wilton High.
“Today every senior won, which is a really cool thing,” said Staples head coach Paco Fabian, who guided the Wreckers to their first league crown since 2002. “This group had lost in three straight FCIAC finals as Staples players. Going into their senior year, this was the goal from day 1 and we never talked about states or regular season. That’s all we talked about was winning the FCIAC tournament. We’re so excited right now.”
Those seniors who came away victorious were Olivia Foster, who rallied in the second set to come away with a dramatic 6-3, 7-5 win at No. 2 singles; the standout No. 1 doubles team of captains Kristin Butler and Hannah Bjorkman, who won 6-0, 6-3; and Gabriela Vega, who, along with Olivia Gordy, locked up a 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 2 doubles.
Foster provided the winning moment for the Wreckers. Even though she trailed 5-1 in the second set with a third set appearing likely, she won the next six games to earn the win and ultimately clinch the match victory. Foster was mobbed by her teammates on the court after winning.
Foster, who is 15-2 this year and lost to her opponent during the regular season, said Fabian gave her a pep talk when she was behind, which gave her a boost.
“I was definitely feeling a little bit nervous but we’ve been in this situation for the past four years in the FCIAC finals so I felt I had that under my belt and I just really wanted to do it for the team,” she said. “Everyone on this team has worked so unbelievably hard this entire season so I just used that as motivation.”
Fabian said, “For Olivia Foster to beat a girl at the level of Emilia Callery, who has helped Darien win championships herself, she really stepped up and I’m really proud of her because she works harder than anyone else.”
Butler and Bjorkman, who have only one loss, continued their dominance and were the first ones to come off the court, a ritual that seems all too familiar for the Wreckers.
“We wanted to be the first ones off and show the team we had that one win secured,” Butler said. “A lot of the girls love it when they see the captains supporting them.”
The duo said it wanted to earn the championship for Fabian and assistant coach Kim Harizman, who have lifted the program to great heights.
“It feels incredible,” Bjorkman said of the team’s victory. “Being a senior and doing this … there’s no words to describe it.”
Bjorkman and Butler were there for their teammates and saw all three doubles teams prevail.
“The same girls at No. 2 doubles lost last time so to have them win this time made a huge difference,” Fabian said.
Darien took three of the four singles matches with Lilly Ma continuing her winning ways as she remained undefeated with a 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Alyssa DiMaio of Staples. Emily Wiley (No. 3) and her sister Katie Wiley (No. 4) also were victorious.
Blue Wave head coach Anne-Lise Brown said she knew it was going to be a tight match and could definitely help her young team, which features four starting freshmen, going forward.
“Any time we play Staples it’s usually 4-3 and we always know it can go either way,” she said. “It’s just one match and we can’t dwell on it so we have to pick up the pieces and get ready for states.”
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Olivia Foster, Staples. The senior at No. 2 singles was losing 5-1 in the second set before coming back to secure a 6-3, 7-5 win over Darien’s Emilia Callery which ultimately clinched the championship for the Wreckers.
“Darien is a phenomenal team and we’ll probably play them again in the state finals, they were that good. It was a really big hill to climb today.” — Fabian
A lot of fans turned out to see the Staples boys capture their fifth straight FCIAC crown and many stayed to watch the Staples girls win.
“There were so many people who watched and said the level of tennis was so high,” Fabian said.
THREE’S THE CHARM
Staples captured its third FCIAC crown in program history after beating Darien for the first time in three straight years going against the Blue Wave in the FCIAC finals.
Fabian had guided six previous teams, three on the boys, to the FCIAC finals only to lose before finally getting that elusive conference crown in his seventh trip.
“I got a huge monkey off my back,” he said with a smile. “To win a tournament like this is really cool, especially growing up and playing in the FCIAC (at Norwalk High). Sometimes it’s even harder to win this than a state tournament, it’s such a great conference.”
STAPLES 4, DARIEN 3
Singles: No. 1 Lilly Ma (D) def. Alyssa DiMaio 6-4, 6-2; No. 2 Olivia Foster (S) def. Emilia Callery 6-3, 7-5; No. 3 Emily Wiley (D) def. Carine Geijerstam 6-4, 6-1; No. 4 Katie Wiley (D) def. Alisyn Kercher 6-4, 6-1. Doubles: No. 1 Kristin Butler/Hannah Bjorkman (S) def. Emily Neuner/Juliet Homes 6-0, 6-3; No. 2 Gabriela Vega/Olivia Gordy (S) def. Elaina Cummiskey/Quin Wolters 6-4, 6-3; No. 3 Lily Smith/Natalie Carozza (S) def. Caroline Homes/Daniela Castellanos 6-4, 7-5. Records: Staples 18-1, Darien 18-1.