With the Staples girls volleyball team holding a 2-1 lead in the Class LL semifinals and the opposition Greenwich Cardinals mounting a furious comeback, a sense of history repeating sense came over the Trumbull High School gym.
After failing to defeat Greenwich in two previous meetings this term -- once in the regular season and once in the FCIAC final -- Staples faced its moment of truth against the team that provided the only blemishes on its outstanding record.
Not to be denied, the Wreckers vanquished all of their demons with one decisive blow from the powerful right arm of Amelia Brackett that the Greenwich back line could not save.
Brackett delivered the game-sealing kill to help the Wreckers (25-22, 14-25, 25-20, 25-21) advance to the Class LL final with a 3-1 win over Greenwich. Staples will meet No. 1 and undefeated Cheshire at Berlin High School Saturday at 7 p.m.
"The percentages are going to even out eventually," Wreckers coach Jon Shepro said. "Greenwich and Staples match up so well both are great teams; both played a grueling FCIAC season. We played a really good game tonight."
The pivotal point of the contest came near the end of Game 3. The teams had traded points for the majority of the set before Greenwich inched ahead 19-16. With the game in the balance, the Wreckers exploded for nine of the next 10 points to take control of the match.
"Obviously when they are winning and you're on the court it's nerve-wracking," Brackett said. "You really just have to stay aggressive, and if you have that mentality the whole time it's not going to be scary. You have to stay strong the whole time."
Staples regained their footing and middle hitter Knox Schieffelin, who played for the Cardinals freshman team, helped serve out the final points to claim the victory.
"I was breathing out every time it went in," Schieffelin said. "They are a great competitor and I'm just happy we came out on top; it is a little bittersweet as well."
It initially appeared Staples would easily win Game 4, holding a 19-13 lead behind the dynamic duo of Brackett (25 kills) and Lauren Mushro (11 kills, 10 digs). But the FCIAC Champions came roaring back behind Mirei Kato (13 kills) and Jesse Schelz (11) and threatened to steal the game.
"Greenwich is an unbelievable team, Mirei is an unbelievable player," Shepro said. "The fight in Greenwich is unbelievable but the fight in us was a little bit better tonight. I think we just wanted it so bad tonight. We worked so hard; we weren't going to be denied."
The Cardinals closed to within 21-20 in the final game, but a pair of a mistakes and kills by Mushro and Brackett wrapped the match up in favor of the Wreckers.
"This is something me and my teammates have been waiting for since day one of freshman volleyball," Mushro said. "You come into the Staples Volleyball Community wanting this; I feel like I'm going to faint."
Brackett, leading a senior-laden team that is looking to deliver the school's first ever state title, elevated her game higher than her vertical leap Thursday.
"She's on a mission" Shepro said. "She wants a piece of hardware that she can look at for the rest of her life. She played a great game; she took charge she passed great. She hit all of her serves in the fourth game after missing some in the second and third."
After falling in Game 5's against Greenwich in each meeting, the Wreckers didn't let it get that far. Mushro credited a tactical adjustment in helping Staples overcoming its adversary.
"Greenwich tended to tip to the middle a lot so we wanted to get our defense there," Mushro said. "Our Libero, our back row and D.S. all there and when our outside went back row we were all crashing the middle."
There is one more step on the ladder to climb and it will likely be the hardest. The Rams disposed of Ludlowe 3-0 in the other semifinal with ease and lost in the final last year to Darien. Cheshire has five state championships to its name.
"A team like this comes around once in a lifetime," Shepro said. "To get players like Lauren Mushro and Amelia Brackett and setters like Ariana (Sherman) and middles like (Schieffelin) and defenders like Val Kirsch. I've been coaching girls volleyball for a long time and a team like this doesn't come around very often. We have to make sure we make the most of opportunity."