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Darien Can't Overcome Staples' Lead

Darien volleyball was playing in its first FCIAC championships game in school history. Staples was playing in its 10th in a row, having won the previous seven. Darien’s roster included one lone senior. Staples had six graduating players. The Blue Wave managed to put up a fight, but in the end the experienced Wreckers won 3-1 (25-23, 25-18, 23-25, 25-17) for their 99th consecutive win.

The game was tight through the first set, with both teams trading one and two-point leads until Darien’s Calder Billhardt launched a spike to put his team up 19-16. But after a Darien foul and an Austin Cockerill kill moved the score to 20-17, the Wreckers used a series of soft lobs and strong blocks to gain seven unanswered points, and they eventually took the first game 25-23.

The Wreckers used that momentum to jump out to a 3-0 lead in the second game, but Darien stormed back with a streak of their own to move it to 6-3. But Staples would soon even the game up, and then capitalized on a series of Blue Wave unforced errors to take the set by a seven-point margin.

But Darien was not finished yet, riding strong offensive work by Billhardt and Cockerill to take the tight third game 23-25. The Blue Wave appeared to have flashbacks of their semifinal against second-seeded Ridgefield, when they came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn their spot in the finals. But the Wreckers would have none of that, and used tight defense and a handful of kills from senior captains Tom Prenderville and Mikey Fitzgerald to take the final set 25-17 and lock up their eighth straight championship.

“In the third game, in between the crossovers, we talked about not being Ridgefield,” Staples coach Bruce Betts said. “We came back at the end of the fourth game, and kept it very simple. We kept control of what we were doing on our side.”

After the game, the conference handed out its tournament awards, and not surprisingly both teams were well-represented.  Cockerill, Fitzgerald, and Prendeville all made first team All-FCIAC, with Billhardt and Staples libero and senior captain Andrew Glenn joining them on the second team. The Wreckers’ Matt Brill and Darien sophomore Matt Lee received honorable mentions. The conference also named Fitzgerald tournament MVP, and Betts took home coach of the year honors.

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