FAIRFIELD -- Greenwich High School volleyball coach Steve Lapham has coached a lot of winning teams during his successful tenure, but he will no doubt, remember his 2013 Cardinals squad as being truly unique.
Years from now, Lapham will recall the season when his Cardinals accomplished a "first" for the program, winning a title that eluded them so many times in the past.
Top-seeded Greenwich made school history Saturday, winning its first FCIAC volleyball championship with a thrilling 3-2 victory over second-seeded Staples in the conference tournament final before a large, vocal crowd at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
"This team has a lot of heart, a lot of courage and really deserves this championship," Lapham said. "They're a special team that's worked extremely hard and pulled for each other all season."
Most Valuable Player Mirei Kato recorded 17 kills, 15 digs, six assists and three blocks for the Cardinals, who won the riveting match, 25-14, 17-25, 25-20, 24-26, 15-5. A four-year varsity player, Kato is the lone player left from the Cardinals' 2010 Class LL championship team.
"I've been trying since I was a freshman to get this title, so this feels absolutely amazing," said Kato, a senior tri-captain. "It shows that all the hard work we put in all these years paid off."
Senior Jessie Schelz registered 13 kills and two blocks, senior setter Xanthi Katsigiannis tallied 29 assists, 18 digs and four kills and senior Catherine Cabano contributed seven kills and four blocks for the 20-1 Cardinals.
"I am still in shock," said Katsigiannis, a tri-captain. "Winning the title is such a surreal feeling. We get a banner now -- our first ever FCIAC banner."
Seniors Amelia Brackett (21 kills, seven digs, three blocks, one ace) and Lauren Mushro (17 kills, four digs, two aces) paced the Wreckers (19-2).
"It was a great match, Greenwich just made a couple of more plays than we did," Staples coach Jon Shepro said. "They played great defense. We were swinging really hard and getting it past their blocks. But they just kept digging it up on us."
With the fifth game going to 15 points, it's imperative for teams to start quickly and Greenwich did, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Sophomore Jahaira Guerra posted three straight service points, two of which were aces, giving the Cardinals a 9-3 advantage. She finished with six aces and seven digs.
"She has a nasty floater, which just drops," Lapham said of Guerra's serve. "She did a great job of getting her serves in tonight."
A kill by Kato, coupled with a block by Cabano gave Greenwich an insurmountable 12-3 lead in the fifth set.
"When you fall behind like that in the fifth game it's tough," Shepro said. "I think we spent a lot of energy in the fourth game, battling back to win it after they had match point. It's tough to go back out there and win the fifth after using so much energy."
Trailing 2-1, Staples seized a 12-6 edge in the fourth game, courtesy of kills by Mushro and Brackett, both of whom were forces at the net throughout. Yet Greenwich battled back, eventually knotting the score at 17-17 on a Katsigiannis kill. A kill by senior Heather Desino put the Cardinals up 24-23 and one point away from securing their first FCIAC championship. The Wreckers, however, didn't give in, winning three consecutive points to force the fifth game.
"We all had a lot of energy out there," Desino said. "It was a really intense match with Staples putting up an excellent fight. A lot of us have been on this team for two or three years, so it's great to come out on top."
"This was probably one of the best FCIAC championships," added Cabano, a tri-captain. "Staples gave us great competition with their hitting and spikes. That's definitely their strongest points."
The Cardinals passed the serve well and kept the ball in play with impressive digs against the Wreckers' formidable hitters. Schelz's block at the net capped the Cards' first-game win.
"They dug so many balls with miraculous plays," Shepro said. "Points that should have been in our back pocket they brought back over the net."
"They have Amelia Brackett, the best hitter in the state, but our defense was good, it was scrappy," Lapham said. "Our team was getting to balls off the net, up in the air and bringing it from out of bounds back in. We hung in there."
Senior setter Ariana Sherman totaled 46 assists and four digs, while senior Knox Schieffelin had eight kills, two aces and one block for Staples, which had the momentum in the second set.
"It was a very close match, so we focused on staying cool the whole time and remaining consistent," said Rispoli (10 digs, three kills, one ace). "I've never been so happy for my teammates."