Wreckers maintain FCIAC rule
Crazy eights! The Staples boys volleyball team won its eighth straight FCIAC title on Friday at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. Although top-seeded Staples raised its record to 19-0 and won its 99th consecutive match with a 3-1 (25-23, 25-18, 23-25, 25-17) victory over third-seeded Darien (13-7), it was only focused on taking care of business.
"We have not talked about the run the whole year nor did we talk about winning FCIACs for the eighth straight time," Wreckers Coach Bruce Betts said. "They know they have to go out and earn it and we drilled that into their heads."
Staples was strong in both rows with eight guys contributing to the victory (ergo, crazy eights) and it had many guys who didn't play but would have starred for other teams.
"We worked very hard this season and felt this was our year because we are a well-balanced team with a lot of returning starters," Wreckers senior captain Evan Gaumert said. "We felt we had a great chance of winning it."
Senior captain Mikey Fitzgerald said, "We all wanted it since freshman year and for me, as a sophomore [made JV team that year]. Everyone on the team loves to play volleyball and we're passionate about it in practice, which translates to the game."
Fitzgerald (eight kills, 17 assists, nine blocks, two service points, four digs) was the FCIAC tournament MVP through his ability to hit, set up senior captains Tom Prenderville, Gaumert and Matt Brill and block.
"It feels great [being the MVP] but I couldn't have done it without the players around me," Fitzgerald. "Tom, Matt and Evan were easy to set and Andrew played great defense and gave me great passes."
Darien showed how much it improved from the regular season and gave Staples fits. In fact, the Blue Wave led 19-16 in the first game on a kill by junior Calder Billhardt. Billhardt and junior captain Austin Cockerill kept Darien in the game with some kills.
Following Billhardt's kill, the Wreckers called a timeout and reeled off seven of the next eight points to take a 23-20 lead. Prenderville (20 kills, three blocks, seven service points, five digs) had a key block and a few ticks over the net that landed for kills. After the Blue Wave closed it to 24-23, Prenderville ended the game with a kill.
"Mikey Fitzgerald set the ball well," Prenderville said. "We played good defense but not the best we were able to play, but in the end, we were able to set up our hitters."
Billhardt served five straight points to give the Blue Wave a 6-3 lead in the second game but the Wreckers inched back into it and eventually took the lead on kills by Prenderville and Gaumert off the sets of junior Danny Fishman. Staples took the lead for good off a Darien error. Gaumert (nine kills, two blocks, 11 service points, five aces), who served well all night, served three straight points to give the Wreckers a 17-13 lead.
"We practice serving a lot and I was able to transition it to the game," Gaumert said. "I served aggressively and it worked out this game."
Brill (four kills, three blocks) had a kill and a block during Prenderville's service rally that inched the lead up to six, 23-17, and virtually wrapped up the game for Staples.
In the third game, Billhardt's serve gave Darien momentum. Blue Wave sophomore Sam Bryant's service point gave the underdogs a 17-12 lead and a fourth game looked imminent. However, Staples wasn't ready to concede and eventually tied it 21-21 on junior lefty Steven Denowitz (one kill, one assist, eight service points, one ace, three blocks, one dig) serve with Fitzgerald securing the point with a block. Sophomore Jonah Aelyon (two kills, one assist) worked in tandem with Fitzgerald to secure the block.
Cockerill's kill gave Darien a 22-21 lead, an edge it held for the rest of the game. Billhardt slammed two more kills in the game, the last one which clinched it.
The Blue Wave took an early lead in the fourth game but Denowitz served three straight points to give the Wreckers a 5-3 lead and they never trailed again. A Prenderville kill gave Staples the lead for good, 7-6. Glenn (18 digs, six service points, one assist) was instrumental in preserving the lead by digging out Billhardt's and Cockerill's hits.
"I have to thank my blockers because they took away the court from Darien and I was able to play defense," Glenn said.
Gaumert had one of his best games and had a kill that forced a sideout and made it 13-10.
"It all starts with passing and our defense and Mikey and Danny made good passes and I was able to put it down," Gaumert said.
Fishman served four straight points to break it open in extending the lead to seven, 17-10.
"We knew Calder was their defensive guy and I tried to serve it away from him and minimize his touches," Fishman said.
Fitzgerald made his presence felt as a blocker and had a key block on Fishman's serve.
"We worked on it in practice and focused on footwork as well," Fitzgerald said. "The hard work paid off."
In addition to serving well, Fishman (one kill, 25 assists, 11 service points, one dig) was masterful in setting up his teammates for kills.
"A lot of it came from playing Darien twice in the regular season and I knew their strengths and weaknesses," Fishman said. "We saw their middles have a tendency of going outside and I tried to give our middles [Fitzgerald and Brill] something to swing at."
Gaumert's slam clinched the match.
"I feel very accomplished and satisfied to keep the legacy going," Prenderville said.
Staples may have won its eighth straight FCIAC title but it still has some unfinished business. The Wreckers hope to win their fifth straight Class L title and ninth state title in 10 years. If they do what's expected of them, they will increase their winning streak to 102 matches.
"We have a strong chance of doing so and I don't expect anything else," Gaumert said.