After a two-year hiatus, Staples boys volleyball returned to a place that it's called home more than anyone else: atop the FCIAC.
The team that rolled through the regular season with 16 straight wins -- 14 of them sweeps -- added to its legacy Friday as No. 1 Staples trumped No. 2 Ridgefield 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-22) in the FCIAC final at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
The Wreckers, who won eight straight conference titles from 2003 to 2010, captured their 11th overall Friday, giving them seven more than the next closest school (Fairfield).
"That's always the goal every year for Staples volleyball," coach Jon Shepro said. "That what you step into when you start coaching them. They expect you to win an FCIAC championship.
"It took us a couple years to get back to this spot, but here we are."
After losing in the final in 2011 and in the semifinals a year ago, Staples (18-1) arrived motivated to reclaim its perch from defending champion Ridgefield. The Wreckers showed that early, controlling the opening game at the net. The Wreckers recorded 37 kills in the match, 11 of which were notched by middle hitter Todd Goldstein.
"We had to stop Griffin (Jones), their middle," Goldstein said, referring to the Tigers' senior who finished the match with seven kills. "We communicated very well. He's a great hitter. He can hit from anywhere. It was crucial to us."
Staples outside hitter Jonathan Denowitz recorded six kills and 12 digs and was named the Most Valuable Player.
"It was such an honor to come in here and play this," Denowitz said. "Ridgefield's such a great team and we were really excited to play them. We were pumped to get the win. It means so much more than we thought it would."
The Wreckers trailed only momentarily in the first game -- 3-2 and 11-10 -- before taking control with a 4-0 run. Ridgefield got within 20-18 in the first, but the Wreckers went on a 5-1 spurt to close it out on a kill by Lucas Carstens.
For Ridgefield (18-2), Tyler Chittenden had eight kills and seven digs, while Karl Liapunov recorded five kills, seven digs and three aces. Paul Cooke led the Tigers with 20 assists.
"Staples played a great game. It was a great match," Ridgefield coach Lidania Cibere said. "They were just more consistent."
The second game, Staples built a 5-1 lead and never trailed. The Wreckers jumped ahead by as many as six points (9-3) before Ridgefield climbed back, cutting it to 10-9. The Tigers however, never got any closer. The Wreckers held onto leads of 21-18 and 24-22 before sealing a 2-0 advantage.
In control, the Wreckers were exactly where they wanted to be.
"You always want to come out (fast), especially against a team you've beaten before," Shepro said. "You don't want to give them hope that they have an opportunity to beat you this time. ... That's your goal. You want to make sure you come out and you stay on them. You don't want to give them that momentum."
"We always like to come out strong because we know it's a game of runs," added libero Patrick Connolly, who had five digs. "We want to be on the scoreboard first."
Staples, which handed Ridgefield its lone loss during the regular season (3-0 on May 13), pulled off the sweep despite a shaky start to the third game. Ridgefield built its largest lead of the match at 12-6, but Staples responded. Tied 19-19, the Wreckers scored three of the next four points. Goldstein closed it out with a kill.
"We had momentum," Cibere said, "and then all of a sudden they would pick it up. They're a good team. ... You can't get in a hole if they rally."
Carstens finished with 15 kills and seven digs. Setter Harry Hlawitschka led Staples with 36 assists.
Connolly noted that the Wreckers were motivated to win in honor of Ali Mirza, a 2011 graduate of Staples who died suddenly last Friday. Mirza was a member of the Wreckers' volleyball program for four years.
"Our whole mindset was changed. We knew we had to do it for him," Connolly said.
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STAPLES 3, RIDGEFIELD 0
RIDGEFIELD 19 22 22 -- 0
STAPLES 25 25 25 -- 3
Records: Ridgefield 18-2; Staples 18-1.
Highlights: R -- Karl Liapunov had seven digs, five kills and three aces. Griffin Jones had seven kills and two blocks. Tyler Chittenden had eight kills and seven service points. S -- Lucas Carstens had 15 kills and seven kills. Jonathan Denowitz had 12 digs and six kills. Todd Goldstein had 11 kills.