Staff Writer

Eventual FCIAC champion Darien was too much for the fourth-seeded Staples girls volleyball team last Thursday. Darien defeated Staples 3-0 (25-17, 25-15, 25-18) in the FCIAC semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe's gym.

"It's very exciting to advance to the FCIAC finals again," Darien junior and chief setter Mackenzie Begley said. "Staples came out very hard. But we were able to push through in the end."

While this year's Blue Wave roster only has three seniors, the trio were instrumental in Darien's victory Thursday.

Staples' efforts on the big stage were impressive. However, the Lady Wreckers (16-4) ultimately had no answer for the height and power of the Darien frontline.

Seniors Sarah Gorski and Colby Billhardt put their stamp on the proceedings. Billhardt finished with 10 kills, eight service points, five aces and two blocks. Gorski collected eight kills, five service points, one ace and two blocks.

"Our middle hitters did a great job," said Darien's Begley, who contributed 31 assists while directing the Blue Wave attack. "They gave us a great edge tonight."

The Lady Wreckers were very game despite missing senior Madeline Kalb while Zana Hrvacic was hampered by a twisted ankle during the battle.

"We got contributions from everybody. The girls battled and hung in against Darien, which is arguably the No. 1 ranked team in the entire state," said Staples coach Bruce Betts. "The girls left everything on the floor. We're glad we reached the FCIAC semifinals. Frankly, we can't wait for the state tournament to start. The girls' heads are in the right place."

For Staples, Paulina Tziolis finished with five kills, six service points and two aces. Hrvacic collected five kills, nine assists and one ace followed by Suvi Puripattarapan (11 assists) and Jenny Johnston (eight kills).

Each game was close but there was an air of inevitability that Darien would wear Staples down.

In Game 1, Staples led 7-6, 10-7 and 12-11. At 14-14, Darien fashioned a 9-3 surge for a 23-17 edge that became a 25-17 triumph.

Gorski and junior Olivia Taylor (eight kills, four service points, two aces) were the stalwarts down the stretch for Darien.

In Game 2, Staples led 10-9 when Darien's power surge struck. Billhardt was the key as her spike was followed by four straight service points (three aces) that lifted the Blue Wave to a 14-10 advantage.

Ultimately, it became a 14-4 Darien surge for a 23-14 lead that became a 25-15 triumph and a 2-0 edge in games.

"You can't coach height. Billhardt and Gorski were about six inches taller than our players at the net," Betts said. "I can't ask for anything more from my girls. It's a tribute to Darien. They're always at the top of their game."

Game 3 had a familiar refrain. Darien led 4-3 and rode the power of Gorski and Billhardt to an 11-5 surge to build a 15-8 edge that Staples had no answer for. Gorski's spike put an exclamation point on the 25-18 winning score.

Staples is the sixth seed in the Class LL tournament and will host Glastonbury tomorrow at 5 p.m. If the Lady Wreckers win tomorrow, they will face an opponent to be determined on Saturday.