The Staples boys volleyball team has cemented itself as the team to beat in the upcoming FCIAC playoffs.

Staples raised its record to 15-0 Monday with a 3-1 (26-24, 25-20, 18-25, 25-18) victory at Darien for its second victory over the reigning FCIAC champions this year.

"We knew Darien was the FCIAC champions last year," Wreckers coach Jon Shepro said. "They are a great team, have a great program and they are well-coached. We knew we had to bring our `A' game in order to have a chance to win."

Darien (12-4) defeated Staples in the FCIAC finals last year to end the Wreckers' eight-year reign. Staples could see the Blue Wave in the FCIAC playoffs again this season. Although Shepro's squad avenged last year's loss twice for good measure, he knows Darien will be a tough out and felt his squad didn't play its best Monday.

"We were a little off in our game," Shepro said. "Our passing wasn't great and our hitting wasn't great. Give Darien credit, they played well."

Blue Wave setter Matt Lee made it tough for Staples with his sets and blocks. Tommy Nichols was a hitting force in the front row for Darien.

More Information

Fact box

However, the Blue Wave had trouble finding holes against Staples' defense. Outside hitter Emerson Lovell had 28 digs and libero Patrick Connolly (one assist) had 19, both hitting the ground and constantly preventing many difficult balls from landing.

"It was a very big game, and we wanted to avenge last year's loss," Lovell said. "We were down and came together as a team. I'm not the best defensive player, but I knew I had to step it up."

After trailing 10-9 in the first game, Staples took an 18-12 lead. Jonah Aelyon (27 kills, 12 digs, five service points) led the Wreckers attack. Aelyon hit a few kills down the line at key junctures of the match off sets from Andrew Fishman (52 assists).

"Andrew delivered great sets, and I had a lot of single blocks," Aelyon said. "Darien allowed me to swing line, which is one of my best shots."

In addition to Aelyon, Fishman (seven digs, one block, one kill, six service points) deftly set up Lovell (four kills) and David Kalb (eight kills, one assist) on the outside. He also set up Lucas Grevers (seven kills, three blocks) and Nick Cohen (four kills) in the middle.

"I was looking at their blocks, and I tried to set away from them," Fishman said. "I was fortunate to be able to pick the right things at the right times and fool their middles."

Kalb (13 digs, 12 service points) also helped on defense and middle hitter Lucas Cartstens (two kills, two blocks, three service points) blocked well.

Darien slowly inched back with Matt Collier serving three straight points. Nichols then served four straight points to give the Blue Wave a 22-21 lead.

The run ended on the 6-6 Grevers' kill. He also delivered a kill to force a sideout, which made it 25-24. Connolly (nine service points) closed out the game with a service point.

Blue Wave libero Sean Lee (no relation to Matt) served four straight points to give Darien a 7-2 lead in the second game. Sean Lee had 11 service points and 13 digs. The Blue Wave's lead peaked at seven, 14-7, when Staples began to come back.

Aelyon had four kills to propel the comeback and served two points to give the Wreckers the lead for good in the game, 19-17. Cohen's block secured one of the points.

"They are a very strong team," Matt Lee said. "When we took the lead, they didn't back down, and I commend them for it."

Darien scored five points to take a 16-12 lead in the third game and controlled it for the duration.

In the fourth game, Lovell (eight service points) served three points to give Staples a 9-8 lead. Following a sideout, Fishman set up Grevers for a kill, and the Wreckers never looked back. They took a three-point lead, which was cut to one on two occasions, the last one at 17-16. Kalb answered with a deep kill to give Staples an 18-16 lead and momentum.

"I think we were off at times, but we were able to pull through in the end," Kalb said. "We knew them well, and we knew how to hit it a certain way. Coach Shepro gave us good advice of hitting it down the line and it worked."

Although the Wreckers -- who are also 2-0 against Ridgefield and 1-0 against Greenwich -- are the FCIAC favorites, they aren't ready to declare victory.

"Ridgefield is tough, Darien is tough and Greenwich is tough," Shepro said. "We can't say we're No. 1 until we win the trophy."

Staples reserve Jonathan Denowitz also had a dig.

"Everyone rallied around us," Fishman said. "We did it together. No one on the team knows how to lose."

Aelyon said, "I think it's a big win, but it doesn't mean anything. Darien gave us a fight, and we didn't play to our potential. If we play like we did against Ridgefield [last Wednesday], no one can stop us."