STAMFORD -- After dropping the first two games against Stamford High in the FCIAC girls volleyball quarterfinals, Staples found a way to right its wrongs and change the momentum.

Despite that, the Wreckers were not able to get the result they desired.

Third-seeded Stamford scored first and never trailed in the fifth game, as senior hitter Daria Aletanska closed it out with a kill, lifting the Black Knights to a 3-2 win (25-20, 25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 15-11) over No. 6 Staples on Tuesday at Westhill High School.

"We were just ready to play today," Stamford head coach Mike Smeriglio said. "It's FCIACs, it meant a lot to them. I've got five kids graduating and they didn't want it to end."

The win propelled the Black Knights into Wednesday's semifinal round, where they will face No. 2 Fairfield Ludlowe (18-1) for a share of the conference title. The two teams met earlier this season, with the Falcons recording a 3-0 win on Oct. 10.

Aletanska recorded 23 kills, including six in the fifth game, while junior setter Kirsi Balaza helped engineer Stamford's attack with 50 assists. Senior hitter Gretta Buckley added 20 kills and 15 digs.

Stamford took a 3-2 lead in the fifth game and maintained a close advantage throughout. The Black Knights never led by more than three points--taking leads of 5-2, 7-4, 13-10 and 14-11--before Aletanska blasted a shot that the Wreckers were unable to return.

"She's been great all year," Smeriglio said. "We told her, `Just swing.' When we had the lead, you could miss three times and still, all you need is one out of the next three. She's very consistent and she doesn't hit out much because she's a perfectionist.

"She should even hit out more."

Staples, which swept aside Stamford 3-0 on Oct. 17, struggled to execute early on, dropping the first game 25-20 on a kill by Aletanska. The Wreckers held slim leads (1-0, 2-1 and 3-2) on three different occasions in the second game, but Stamford pushed ahead for good at 4-3 on an ace by Aletanska.

The Black Knights led by as many as six points in the second game before closing it out on an unforced error.

Senior defensive specialist Lillian Rappaport had 34 digs and 19 service points to lead Staples, while Anna Fiolek added 16 kills and 18 points. Senior Frankie Lynch had 34 assists, seven kills and 14 points.

"I think we were playing a little bit scared, a little bit slow, I don't know what it was," Staples head coach Jon Shepro said. "But that wasn't the team I've seen all season, playing those first two and a half games."

Playing without a few key players, Staples turned around its slow start early in the third game. The Wreckers took a 10-9 lead on a block by senior Cheyenne Haslett, and went up 11-9 on Haslett's kill.

"I was proud of them," Shepro said. "It was a good game. We knew we could battle Stamford. We beat them earlier in the year and we knew that those first two games really weren't us. ... It was a great comeback. It was nice to show the fight."

Staples stormed out to leads of 9-3 and 11-4 in the fourth game, before Stamford got to within 24-22 late.

Although the Wreckers carried all the momentum into the winner-take-all fifth game, the Black Knights never lost their poise.

"We've done this before in the season, when we would win the first two, lose the third one," Aletanska said. "We would just get our momentum back."; 203-255-4561 ext. 114;



STAPLES 20 19 25 25 11--2

STAMFORD 25 25 20 22 15--3

Records: Staples 14-5; Stamford 16-3.

Highlights: STP--Frankie Lynch had 34 assists, seven kills and 14 service points. Anna Fiolek had 18 service points and 16 kills. Lillian Rappaport had 34 digs and 19 points. STM--Daria Aletanska had 23 kills. Kirsi Balaza had 50 assists. Gretta Buckley had 20 kills and 15 digs.