When Paul McNulty came aboard to coach Staples High's boys lacrosse team, he laid out a few goals he believed would signify the program's jump to the elite.

One of the goals centered on the Wreckers' ability to consistently compete with the powerhouse programs in the FCIAC such as New Canaan, a three-time state champion.

The Wreckers had never won a state title -- making their lone finals appearance in 1999 with a loss to South Windsor -- or a conference crown, but McNulty believed wholeheartedly that his goal was attainable.

This spring it's all coming together.

Back on April 20, Staples notched its first win over New Canaan, upsetting the Rams 8-7 in double overtime. Saturday the Wreckers took another step, trumping Greenwich for the first time in three tries this season, 6-5 in the L state quarterfinals.

"Those are program wins -- something big for the whole lacrosse program," McNulty said on Tuesday. "When I started here, our goal was to beat somebody we're not supposed to beat every year, like New Canaan."

The win advanced the third-seeded Wreckers into the state semifinals for the third time in four years Wednesday where they'll meet No. 2 Simsbury, a semifinalist the last two seasons.

"They were determined to play harder and faster than Greenwich," McNulty said. "That determination, that focus, that they forced themselves to play in that manner, that's what won the game."

At one point in past seasons, Staples might have been lost in the conversation with perennial powers like Darien, New Canaan and Ridgefield, but McNulty now sees the Wreckers in a desirable role, as the "hunted."

"We think we're stepping up the rankings," he said.

The Wreckers were once the team that looked to pull off the upsets. Now, in McNulty's eyes, they're the caliber of team that others will try to keep pace with.

"The key is to keep it going," he said, "and to do it again and again."

The Wreckers started the season 3-2 with losses to Ridgefield and Greenwich included, but closed the regular season with 10 wins in their last 11 games. They've long believed that they're talented enough to compete with anybody.

"All year, we're as good as anybody," McNulty said. "We've got to do it for the whole game."

And against New Canaan and in their final matchup with Greenwich, they did. The Wreckers jumped on the sixth-seeded Cardinals early, scoring twice in the first five minutes. In the first two matchups with the Cardinals -- an 8-3 loss on April 9 and an 11-8 defeat in the FCIAC quarterfinals -- the Wreckers netted just four goals combined in the first half.

"They still controlled themselves a lot better than we did in those earlier games against Greenwich," McNulty said. "The offense, the things we've been preaching all year, they controlled."

Although the Wreckers have been to this point before -- and failed -- they're focused solely on Simsbury, and nothing else. After fighting all season to reach their peak, they're hopeful they're at that point.

"Hopefully we're peaking. That's what we want to do," McNulty said.

dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext. 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour