Late Thursday evening inside the Trumbull High gymnasium, an individual walked past Staples coach Jon Shepro and wished him good luck this weekend. It was an almost sympathetic well-wish to Shepro and his squad.
A few minutes prior, Shepro witnessed Cheshire make quick work of Fairfield Ludlowe in three games in the Class LL semifinals. The coach had a brief chance to study his opponent for today’s state final at 7 p.m. at Berlin.
“They look like a pretty solid team,” Shepro said with a smile. “Solid defense and passing, good serves and some good hitters.”
It’s tough to find a flaw, let alone figure out a way to beat Cheshire. No team has been able to do it yet. The No. 1-seeded Rams (26-0) haven’t even been forced to a fifth game this season. Head coach Sue Bavone said it was never the team’s goal to go undefeated, it was all about making it back to the state final. A year ago Cheshire lost to Darien in the championship.
A year later, the team has the experience and is ready to battle yet another FCIAC opponent.
“This is a very tough conference, the FCIAC, obviously with three of the teams in the final four,” Bavone said. “We watched (Staples) play a little bit (in the semifinals) and we’ll do some things about them, but they are a very good team, so we’re going to have to bring it. We’re going to have to bring it like we did (Thursday).”
The Rams will get a worthy opponent in No. 2 Staples, which defeated Greenwich 3-1 in the semifinals. The Wreckers (21-1) lost just once in the regular season and again in the FCIAC championship, but it is the first time since 1992 the Wreckers are in the state title match. Staples is still looking for its first state championship.
“A team like this comes around once in a lifetime,” Shepro said of his squad. “I’ve been coaching girls volleyball for a long time and a team like this doesn’t come around very often. We have to make sure we make the most of opportunity.”
The Wreckers are paced by standout hitters Amelia Brackett, Knox McKay, Lauren Mushro and setter Ariana Sherman.
“We’re just going to have to serve tough, play solid side-out volleyball to get through,” Bavone said.
The Wreckers will be up against a well-rounded Rams team. Against Ludlowe, Cheshire was paced by Jillian Haberli’s nine kills, six digs and two blocks, while Sarah Rodgers accumulated 14 assists and six digs. Phoebe Carmichael added nine digs and Maria Buzzelli finished with six.
Shepro said his team won’t try to change much in their one day of preparation.
“Yeah, we’ll see if we can solidify the blocks a little bit,” he said.
But what both teams are focused on is the moment itself.
“I’m going to tell them, ‘Play your best, have fun,’” Bavone said.
“We’ll be happy to challenge,” McKay said with a smile. “And we’ll just see who wins in the final.”