By Eliot Schickler

eschickler@bcnnew.com

The eight-year reign is over for the Staples boys volleyball team.

After winning eight straight FCIAC titles, second-seeded Staples (16-4) is no longer the champion as top-seeded Darien ended this dynasty with a 3-2 (19-25, 25-17, 16-25, 25-13, 15-4) victory at Fairfield Ludlowe in the FCIAC championship to raise its record to 19-1.

"We did it," Darien junior Sam Bryant said.

In the first and third games and especially after the latter, it looked like the Wreckers were going to make it nine straight titles.

After the Blue Wave took a 10-6 lead in the first game, Staples started to come back. Senior Drew Appleman gave the Wreckers a 12-11 lead with a kill and following a 14-14 tie, junior Jonah Aelyon (13 kills, two blocks, three digs) gave Staples the lead for good at 15-14.

The Wreckers were solid offensively in the opening game behind senior quad-captain Danny Fishman's sets. Fishman (40 assists, two kills, one block) deftly located his hitters, especially classmate Andreas Bub (eight kills, two blocks). Bub was dominant in the middle and delivered three straight points between kills and blocks to make it 24-18. Appleman's kill clinched the game.

Darien senior co-captain Calder Billhardt (16 service points, three aces, 15 kills, 14 digs) gave the Blue Wave a 4-0 lead in the second game with three straight service points. Staples slowly crept back in and took a 9-8 lead on two service points by senior A.J. Green. Fishman set up senior quad-captain lefty Steven Denowitz for a kill to give the Wreckers their last lead of the game at 10-9 before Darien went to work.

Billhardt had a kill to force a sideout and then added five service points to make to give the Blue Wave a 15-10 lead.

"I've been serving badly the last couple of days but I've practiced it hard and served where my coach told me to put it," Billhardt said.

Securing the points on Billhardt's serves was senior co-captain Austin Cockerill (20 kills, eight service points, three blocks), who pounded home two kills with authority.

Staples owned the third game, starting with Denowitz serving three straight points to make it 4-0. Aelyon and Bub's hitting off Fishman's sets enabled the Wreckers to build the lead to 24-15.

Bub's kill in the fourth game gave Staples a 1-0 lead but Darien took the lead for good at 2-1. The Wreckers closed it to one at 7-6 on Aelyon's kill but the Blue Wave took over. Darien junior Matt Lee (42 assists, five blocks, nine service points, three aces, three kills) deftly set up Billhardt and Cockerill for kills and Billhardt served four straight points to break it open at 16-8. Cockerill put the finishing touches with four service points, one shot that dropped off the net and landed for an ace to make it 24-11.

"We just talked before the game and said we had to do it and came out with fire," Billhardt said.

Cockerill said, "It's all about playing as a team and not as individuals. Coach told us to play as a team and once we did it, we were unstoppable."

After Green forced an error to give Staples a lead in the pinnacle fifth game, the Blue Wave dominated after that, starting with Cockerill's kill to force a sideout. Junior Ryan Stracuzzi served four straight points to give Darien a 5-1 lead. Lee was dominant in the deciding game had two kills in the run and added four straight service points, to break it open at 10-2. Bryant served the final three points, which ended on Fishman's carry.

"I;m at a lost for words," Wreckers Coach Jon Shepro said. "We were playing good in the first three games, even in Game 2. Their serves eventually got to us and we didn't play well in Games 4 and 5."

On the positive side, the Blue Wave feel that they accomplished something.

"It's more like we couldn't do it last year and we wanted to do it this year," Cockerill.

"We worked so hard and we wanted to do it since freshman year," said Billhardt, who was chosen as the tournament MVP. "It feels amazing."