The Darien boys volleyball team received all it could handle from Newington in Friday's CIAC Class M state championship match.
But as they have all year throughout a memorable season, senior leaders Calder Billhardt and Austin Cockerill refused to let the Blue Wave lose.
Darien rallied after dropping the first and third games to defeat Newington, 23-25, 25-17, 18-25, 25-22, 15-11 , in a five-set thriller at Fairfield Warde.
The top-seeded Blue Wave capped a 22-1 season with the school's second boys volleyball state title. The first came in 2008, when Billhardt and Cockerill were freshman.
"This means everything," said Billhardt, who finished with 20 kills and 11 service points. "To end my senior year with a 22-1 record, an FCIAC championship and a state championship, it means everything to me."
"It just feels awesome," Cockerill added. "First FCIAC championship this year, second state championship. It took a lot of work, a lot of hours in the gym. It all paid off."
Darien had a tendency this season to get off to slow starts in big matches but as the Blue Wave showed, they were tough to put away. They seem to play their best when they get behind.
The only team to beat Darien this season was Staples, which played for the Class L state title later Friday.
After splitting the first two games Friday, Darien was outplayed in the third set as the Indians opened a 16-8 lead midway through.
The Blue Wave did pull within 21-18, but Newington won the next four points to grab a 2-1 lead in the match.
"I think that when we're behind, it makes us realize that we didn't play as a team and we can't win on talent alone," said Cockerill, who had 17 kills, 10 blocks and seven service points. "It's based more on a team effort and team chemistry.
"We do play better when we're behind because it wakes us up and it lets us know we need to work for our victories. I think we really did that tonight."
The fourth game was a tense, back-and forth affair with neither team holding more than a three-point lead.
After Darien opened a 14-11 lead, the game was tied at 15, 18, 19 and 20. The Indians then grabbed a 21-20 lead on what might have been the point of the night. After two diving returns by Darien, Derek Dempsey's kill put the Indians within four points of the match.
At that point, Billhardt seemed to singlehandedly take over the match, as he was responsible for Darien's next four points with kills. Matt Lee helped set up Billhardt and Cockerill with 45 assists.
"I was in the front row," Billhardt said. "At that point, I knew what I had to do. Matt Lee was passing well, our defense did well. It might have looked like I was doing everything, but it was with help from my team."
It was Cockerill's turn at the start of the fifth game with two early kills. It set the tone as Darien never trailed in the final set, jumping out to leads of 5-2 and 9-5.
Newington never got closer than two points thereafter, and Darien won the title when a return by Newington's Glenn Johnson landed in the net.
"Right in the huddle (before the start of the fourth game), we talked about how we have been here before," Billhardt said. " We were here against Staples (in the FCIAC finals). All we had to do was play as a team, play with energy, and that's what we did."