Considering it had lost just one set in winning all 16 matches this season, the Ridgefield boys volleyball team hadn't experienced much adversity prior to Monday's showdown with defending FCIAC champion Staples.

But things are never easy against the Wreckers, and Ridgefield needed to dig deep to keep its perfect record intact, even if it meant dropping a second set this spring.

Sparked by a stunning rally in Game 3, Ridgefield topped Staples 3-1 (25-18, 17-25, 25-23, 25-20) in a battle of championship hopefuls. The Tigers (17-0) remained undefeated with two regular season games remaining.

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"Our guys didn't give up, they didn't want to lose," Ridgefield coach Lidania Cibere said. "We didn't have our best game but in volleyball sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad. I think it was nice for us to lose a set, we've been coasting."

After the teams split the first two sets, the match turned for good during a tense ending to Game 3. The Wreckers held a lead for most of the early stages of the set, and pulled out to a 20-16 lead. The Tigers answered with three points, but Staples went back in front 23-20 and a 2-1 advantage was in sight. Ridgefield then made all the plays to steal the set and the momentum.

"The third game was the difference," Staples coach Dan Cho said. "We needed that one; really wanted that one because we would have had the momentum on our side for the fourth game."

And error by the Wreckers got the Tigers going, then kill by Mark Liguori was followed by another from Nick Laudati to tie the set. A well-placed tip by Liguori made it 24-23 and an errant shot by the Wreckers capped the comeback.

"I think we learned a lot from this game and it's going to prepare us for the future," Cibere said. "It was big for us, it showed our mental (toughness) and we were focused to close."

The Tigers immediately took an 8-3 lead in Game 4, and though the Wreckers fought back to 11-11, Ridgefield hit top gear in pulling away quickly.

Ridgefield, which swept Staples in Westport last month, appeared it would run the Wreckers out of the gym with a dominating Game 1 win. Staples responded with an equally impressive performance in the second game, leading by as many as 10 points in winning 25-17.

"I felt like we were tipping a little bit too much (in the first game)," Cho said. "And being a little hesitant at the net. I told them there was nothing to lose, nothing to be afraid of and we were more aggressive."

With the FCIAC semifinals set for next Wednesday at Ludlowe, The Tigers and Wreckers could meet one more time with the same intensity and more on the line.

"I wanted to give them a little preview of what first game of FCIACs and get them all pumped up," Cho said. "They were excited to play against a good team.",


STAPLES 18 25 23 20 -- 1

RIDGEFIELD 25 17 25 25 -- 3

Records: Staples 12-4; Ridgefield 17-0.

Highlights: R--Karl Liapunov 15 kills, and two digs; Nick Laudati 19 kills; Henrik Liapunov 44 assists and seven service points.