For the first time since April 2001, the Staples boys volleyball team is not entering a season as the defending FCIAC and state champions.

After winning eight straight FCIAC titles (2003-10) and eight state titles in nine years (Class M, 2001-4, Class L, 2006-9), Staples settled for runnerup at FCIACs and Class L last year, losing in the finals to Darien and Cheshire, respectively. The Wreckers weren't happy settling for second place in both, and they are out for blood this year.

"We came pretty close in the FCIAC and state finals last year, so there's a feeling of redemption," Staples coach Jon Shepro said. "We want to get revenge against Darien and Cheshire, there's a little extra motivation knowing they beat us last year. But I think it's a tradition of Staples volleyball that motivates us each season. The players know that there was so much work gone into making the program great, we want to keep that alive."

Wreckers senior captain Jonah Aelyon is motivated by his will to be the best.

"Frankly, I'm tired of being that No. 1 team until the end of the season. Being a part of the 101-match winning streak and also being a part of the loss that ended that streak to Southington in the state championship makes me want it more and more each year," Aelyon said.

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Last year was Shepro's first year as Staples coach. Although the Wreckers fell short of winning either title, they were in both matches. They lost 3-2 to Darien at FCIACs and in their 3-1 loss to Cheshire at Class L, they outscored the Rams, 94-88.

"You're nervous before the start of any season because you want everything to be ready, but we're prepared," Shepro said. "I don't think I'll ever be totally comfortable, but as far as coaching is concerned I don't think there's any apprehension there."

Staples will especially miss All-Stater setter Danny Fishman, who is playing for Vassar College. The team will also miss middle hitter Andreas Bub, outside hitters Steven Denowitz, Drew Appleman, AJ Green and Jake McCambley and libero Ryan Winter.

The Wreckers will rely on their veterans and a few younger faces to carry them this spring. Aelyon will be arguably one of the top performers in the state, while players like seniors Andrew Fishman and Emerson Lovell and junior Lucas Carstens will play integral roles on the team this year.

Staples has a target on its back this year because its been one of the most proficient and successful teams in the FCIAC and state. However, some of the players feel they still need to prove themselves.

"It's almost hard to still use the word dynasty because I don't think we still deserve it," Aelyon said. "I want to earn our no. 1 spot back in the FCIAC and state and I know we can do it."

Others, though, are a little more confident.

"This team just does not know how to lose," Fishman said.

With two matches against Darien (April 11 at home and May 7 at Darien) and one against Southington (home April 18), coupled with other tough matches, the Wreckers will be tested. They hope to pass these tests and win two championships.