While the Staples football team headed into Thanksgiving Day with a shot at continuing its season, for the seven other Staples High School varsity teams, 2013 is in the books.
It was a season that saw outstanding individual achievements, and a volleyball team that exceeded expectations and came within a victroy away from a state title.
Here's a look back at the 2013 fall season and the Westport News picks for most valuable players on each team.
Girls Cross Country
MVP: Hannah DeBalsi
Recap: It was a historic season for the Wreckers, who reached their first New England meet for the first time since 1999 despite the postseason absence of injured No. 3 runner Elizabeth French. Head coach Amanda Parrish was on the 1999 team and is now guiding one of the best runners in the country in DeBalsi. The sophomore set course records in all 10 races she ran this season and will compete in a national qualifier in New York Nov. 30. DeBalsi ran a personal-best 17:15.8 time at a difficult Derryfield Park (N.H.) course in winning New England's, besting Westhill's Claire Howlett by almost 24 seconds.
Junior Erica Hefnawy also emerged for Staples this season, finishing fifth in the Class LL meet, sixth at the FCIAC Championship before coming home 20th at New England's. DeBalsi, Hefnawy and French were all named first team All-FCIAC. Hefnawy will also be competing in the national qualifier.
As a team, the Wreckers finished second in FCIAC's, fifth at the Class LL Championships, third at Opens and an impressive eighth at New England's.
"Standing up at opens, finding out if we made it to New England's brought back a lot of memories," Parrish said. "Comparing the times that the girls run now to back then; the more competitive it's gotten. It's cool to see the girls get recognition at that level."
Significant time improvements were the biggest reason for the Wreckers' jump this term. DeBalsi (17:41-19:17) and Hefnawy (19:22-21:09) both cut nearly two minutes from last year's Class LL meet to 2013.
Boys Cross Country
MVP: Oliver Hickson
Recap: Moving on from the departed All-American Henry Wynne wasn't easy, but the Wreckers enjoyed a solid season competing in one of the most difficult leagues around. Staples placed third in the FCIAC and Class LL, fifth at Open and 10th at New England's behind a blend of upper and underclassmen.
Junior Oliver Hickson, senior Peter Elkind and sophomore Chase Gornbein made first team All-FCIAC. Hickson placed 18th at New England's while Elkind (49th) and Jake Berman (50th) cracked the top 50. Hickson and Elkind also earned All-State and All-New England recognition.
MVP: Elizabeth Bennewitz
Recap: Staples took its lumps in a top-heavy FCIAC, but emerged with a postseason victory in the Class LL tournament. Unfortunately for the Wreckers, losses in their final two regular season games to Danbury and Westhill cost them a spot in the conference playoffs.
Staples quickly rebounded in the state tournament, going on the road and upsetting Amity in overtime 2-1 to reach the first round. The Wreckers then met Greenwich, and, despite taking the lead, fell in a hard-fought 3-1 defeat.
"We had a lot of tough losses and just being able to win and get into the state tournament after working so hard for so many weeks it really uplifts (the players') spirits," Staples coach Ashley Del Vecchio said.
Juniors Elizabeth Bennewitz, Jenna McNicholas and Meg Fay carried the load offensively and will all return to form a strong nucleus for 2014. Bennewitz earned first team All-FCIAC honors.
MVP: Lauren Garcia
Recap: Fielding a host of underclassmen and enduring a rash of injuries, the Wreckers missed out on the FCIAC playoffs for a third straight season after starting 5-1. Elizabeth Bennewitz emerged as one of the best goalies in the conference despite missing time to an injury. Staples improved on last seasons' 5-8-4 record by two points.
Staples fell to Danbury 2-0 in the first round of Class LL tournament.
"I thought it was a good year," coach Heather Driscoll said. "We're really young; four freshmen started and played nearly every minute. Our seniors gave great leadership all around. I thought overall they worked really hard; certainly an improvement from our play and style from last year."
MVP: Andrew Puchala
Recap: The Wreckers returned to the top of the FCIAC standings during the regular season when they jumped out to an 8-1-1 start, but losses in its final two games dropped Staples to No. 4 in the conference tournament.
The Wreckers were upset by Wilton in the FCIAC quarterfinals, but quickly regrouped to go on a run in the Class LL tournament. Staples grabbed 1-0 wins over Norwalk and Newtown in the first two rounds before putting a serious scare into No. 2 and then-undefeated Xavier in the quarterfinals before falling 1-0. Charlie Leonard and Jack Scott had excellent seasons up front for the Wreckers.
Staples survived injuries to many of its top players, including defender-turned-scoring-machine Andrew Puchala and goalie Noah Schwaeber. The Wreckers reached the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.
MVP: Verity Abel
Recap: The Wreckers enjoyed their finest season in years behind the duo of Verity Abel and Amelia Bullock. Abel, who will be moving on to Duke, set over 100 records during her four years on the team.
Abel won both the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle at the FCIAC, Class LL and Open championships. Bullock accomplished the same feat in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM.
Coach Mike Laux got his 100th career win Oct. 21. As a team, Staples placed sixth in FCIAC's, fifth in Class LL and sixth at Opens. ¬
"It has been a joy and a pleasure to have (Abel) on this team for four years," Laux said. "Abel set a Class LL record as a freshman. And she finishes with a senior year like this. Verity really loves the sport. She swims the 500 free so she can be in the water longer. She's a great leader. I'll miss her greatly."
MVP: Amelia Brackett
Recap: Staples accomplished plenty of firsts during its splendid run through the FCIAC and Class LL season. The Wreckers defeated Darien for the first time in 23 seasons Oct. 11 and then topped the Blue Wave for the second time in six weeks in the FCIAC semifinals. Staples had its 14-game winning streak snapped in the FCIAC final -- its first appearance since 1992 -- against Greenwich 3-2.
The Wreckers rebounded in the Class LL tournament, winning three games before having their season end in the final against Cheshire 3-1. Staples avenged its defeat to Greenwich in the semifinals, winning in four games to secure its first state final appearance since 1992.
The Cornell-bound Brackett was a force at the net, accounting for 278 kills during the regular season. Lauren Mushro had 166 kills and 64 digs while setter Arianna Sherman had 517 assists. Fellow seniors Dayna Gelman, Knox Schieffelin and Val Kirsch all made significant contributions during the stellar year.
"We had a great season all the way around; you can't take anything away from that," coach Jon Shepro said.