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Darien Claws Back to Win State Volleyball Title

The Fairfield Warde gym was hot and streamy and Darien's boys volleyball team was struggling to avoid a stunning upset in the state championship match. The Blue Wave was clinging to a two-point lead and trailing Newington two games to one when head coach Laurie LaRusso called a timeout. That's when Darien's most vocal leader, Calder Billhardt, yelled the loudest of the game.

"We've worked too damn hard to quit now guys," he shouted. "Let's do this right now!"

From out of that timeout, Darien hung on to take the fourth game 25-22 and force a fifth game. There was no stopping the Wave after that. Billhardt nailed two monstrous kills to help Darien pull away. He was there again with the championship-clinching block, sealing a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Newington Friday, 3-2 (23-25, 25-17, 18-25, 25-22, 15-11).

"To end my senior year like this means everything to me. I was here my freshman year and to end it here is amazing," Billhardt said. "We had been down before and we just knew we had to play as a team to win."

Darien stumbled mightily in the third game, struggling with miscommunication throughout the frame. Newington was fired up behind its huge fan base in the stands. Darien had been down in big games before, though.

The Wave stayed calm under pressure, taking a surprising 5-0 lead in the fourth game, then seeing it evaporate to a 15-15 tie. That's when LaRusso's well-placed timeout changed the face of the match.

"I think when we're behind it reminds us we can't win on talent alone and we have to play as a team," Austin Cockerill said. "It took a lot of hours in the gym, but it all paid off."

Billhardt dominated the court with 20 kills and 11 service points, capping a shining senior year and career at Darien. Partner-in-crime Cockerill was right behind him with 17 kills and 10 blocks. Matt Lee was the setup man on nearly all of those kills, racking up an impressive 45 assists on the afternoon.

Darien completes a nearly perfect 2011 season at 22-1 with its first-ever FCIAC title and a state championship to match it. The championship is Darien's second in school history and first since 2008.

Follow Eric Gendron on Twitter for the latest MSC-Fairfield County sports coverage.

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