The Staples and Ridgefield boys volleyball teams have been on a collision course since the Tigers handed the Wreckers their only loss in their season opener April 11.
The two teams have just one loss between them since, and the rematch in the FCIAC championship game was officially set Wednesday as each prevailed in the semifinals. Staples defeated Darien 3-1 (25-18, 25-23, 19-25, 25-21) and the Tigers topped New Canaan 3-1 (25-19, 25-18, 22-25, 25-22) at Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, where they will meet Friday for all the marbles.
"Over the past couple of years Ridgefield has been our top competition," Wreckers coach Jon Shepro said. "They've been great a great team and (Tigers coach Lidania) Cibere runs a great program. Ridgefield is a great team and we look forward to facing them again."
The Wreckers (16-1) survived a tough test from the Blue Wave to advance. Staples won the first two games despite falling behind 8-5 in both, but Darien (16-5) senior George Phillips willed Darien back into the match. Phillips (18 kills) had seven kills in the third game as the Blue Wave cruised to a 25-19 win.
"I think every volleyball team rallies and it was their turn for a rally," Shepro said. "They are a really good team and we knew that. I think we made it a little bit easier for them; we hit a couple of balls out and we started to play tight. Once we started relaxing and playing our game, that was the end of it."
Staples responded in the fourth game by jumping out to a 14-3 lead, but Darien rallied and pulled to within a point at 22-21. The Wreckers called timeout and senior Lucas Grevers responded with a pair of kills before Darien made an error sealed the match.
"That's our offense, it runs around Lucas," Shepro said. "When we can set up the middle for Lucas it makes us a different team. When teams key on Lucas it opens things up for the outside (hitters)."
Ridgefield's win over the Rams wasn't easy, either. The Rams remained competitive in the first two games before faltering in the latter halves. The teams were tied at 13 in the each before the Tigers (19-1) found their groove and pulled away in each set.
The tone of the match changed in the third set as the Rams gained confidence. New Canaan, making its FCIAC playoff debut, made things interesting down the stretch.
"I'm proud of (my players) 100 percent because they gave all the effort they had," New Canaan coach Katie Bakes said. "They came in here knowing they had nothing to lose. They gave it all and that's all I could ask of them. We came here and took a set off Ridgefield, which is off Ridgefield, which is huge for us."
After an emphatic win in the third game, New Canaan (11-6) jumped out to a 9-6 lead in the fourth and continued to put a scare in the Tigers and held an 18-17 lead. Ridgefield finally pulled away late in the set. Griffin Jones led the Tigers with 10 kills, nine blocks and seven digs.
"I think we got a little nervous when the game got closer and we dropped a game," Cibere said. "We got a little rattled; New Canaan rattled us. Thankfully we were able to really pull it together, we did a nice job of finishing the match."
The Tigers will have revenge on their mind in Friday's rematch between two of the top teams in the state. Last season, Staples defeated Ridgefield in the FCIAC final and the Class LL semis.
"To make the finals is an accomplishment in itself," Cibere said. "I'm really excited for the kids to be there again. Obviously last year we lost so we want to avenge that loss."
FCIAC boys volleyball semifinals
Staples 3, Darien 1
DARIEN 18 13 25 21--1
STAPLES 25 25 19 25--3
Records: Darien 16-5, 14-3 FCIAC; Staples 16-1, 16-1. Highlights: D--George Phillips had 18 kills, four aces, one block and 11 service points. Todd Herget had 10 kills. Tim Herget had 29 assists. S--Lucas Grevers had 12 kills and one block. Ian Grimes had 14 kills and two digs. Andrew Mariott had 43 assists.
Ridgefield 3, New Canaan 1
NEW CANAAN 19 18 25 22--1
RIDGEFIELD 25 25 22 25--3
Records: New Canaan 11-6, 11-6 FCIAC; Ridgefield 18-1, 16-1. Highlights: R--Griffin Jones had 10 kills, nine blocks seven digs and eight aces. Karl Liapunov had 18 kills and 10 digs.