FAIRFIELD — Staples head coach Jon Shepro knows his team has something special going on this season. That was more than evident Wednesday evening at Ludlowe High School when the team needed a fourth set victory to seal the deal.
About to clinch a spot in the FCIAC girls’ volleyball title game for the first time since 2005, Staples’ opponent had other ideas. Down 24-18, the Darien Blue Wave fought from six points to tie the fourth game.
“My hearts pounding pretty good,” Shepro said. “It’s Darien, and Darien does that, they do that, it’s amazing. They got the heart of a champion.”
It was a roller coaster, high-scoring battle for the next few points, but Staples’ Amelia Brackett tied the set at 27 and then two miscues by Darien gave the Wreckers the win.
Staples defeated Darien in four games (25-21, 25-18, 21-25, 29-27) to move on to play Greenwich for the title at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Ludlowe.
“It says a lot about our team to give it all (the lead) up and then take it right back and win,” Shepro said.
“We were freaking out,” Staples senior Knox McKay said. “Sometimes it was on our side, sometimes it wasn’t. But Darien put up a good fight and they are a really good competitor, we’re just so happy we pulled through.”
After looking dominant in the first two sets by way of defense and strong net play, No. 2 Staples (19-1) received a valiant effort from No. 3 Darien. The Blue Wave built a sizable lead, 22-16 and some big hits from their outsides sealed the Game three victory.
Staples was able to dig deep, however, in the next set as Darien didn’t back down. Staples built a 17-13 advantage, but Claire Naughton and the Blue Wave answered with some timely hits, finding the open spot on the court, and taking advantage of a few mistakes by Staples.
But the Wreckers didn’t panic under pressure as they collected their 14-straight victory of the season. They head into Saturday’s title match as one of the hottest teams in the state.
The Wreckers were led by senior Brackett’s 21 kills, while teammate Lauren Mushro added 18 kills, nine digs, four service points and one ace.
“We know we’re going on a run. We feel good,” Shepro said. “We know that we’re doing well and we know that we got something special and that’s kind of an interesting feeling. You just know when something special is going on, and the girls feel it.”
Greenwich rallies to defeat Ludlowe in five
Given the way the last time Greenwich and the Fairfield Ludlowe girls’ volleyball match played out, both head coaches knew they’d be in for a long night. On Oct. 16, the Falcons defeated the Cardinals in five sets, in more than two hours of play.
Wednesday night, with a chance to play for the FCIAC title on the line, it was another momentum-shifting fiver sets thriller. This time around though, Greenwich got the upper hand. On the brink of elimination, the No. 1 Cardinals rallied from 13-11, to defeat Ludlowe 17-15 and move on to Saturday’s final against No. 2 Staples. Greenwich won (27-29,25-16, 25-17, 23-25, 17-15).
“There’s not much difference between these two teams, just one or two points, there’s nothing magical, Greenwich head coach Steve Lapham said.
For Ludlowe, it was storyline of staying consistent and strong throughout, which they struggled with. After winning the opening game 29-27, the Falcons faltered in the middle two, before rallying to stay alive.
“We didn’t play our game,” head coach Meghan Skelton said.
Greenwich used strong serving and defense to pull ahead in the middle two sets to build big enough leads.
“We just served a lot better in the last two sets,” Lapham said. “We put them back on their heels.”
In the final set, it appeared as Ludlowe was on its way to the final as they jumped out to a 7-3 lead. But the Cardinals called a timeout and regrouped. Mirei Kato helped lead the Greenwich comeback, as she had multiple key plays, including a deceive hit to make it 11-9.
Ludlowe went up 13-11 as senior middle Casey Boatwright recorded a kill, but Greenwich was able to respond again and take the 14-13 lead. Ludlowe tied the game at 14, however, the momentum shifted for good as Greenwich went up 16-15 off a Kato hit and then Ludlowe failed to return on the next point.
Kato finished with 14 kills for the Cardinals.
Skelton said after, the loss was another learning lesson and stressed confidence, trust and consistency as the Falcons head into the Class LL State Tournament.
Boatwright paced the Falcons with 18 kills and four blocks, while libero Corrinne Lang added 41 assists, nine service points and four aces. Middle April Cooke chipped in with 12 kills and seven blocks.