Friday night at Fairfield Ludlowe felt like a changing of the guard, as the Blue Wave captured their first FCIAC boys volleyball crown, dethroning defending eight-time league champion Staples in the process.
And Darien did it in impressive fashion, overwhelming the Wreckers in the final two games to win a five-set match, 19-25, 25-17, 16-25, 25-13, 15-4.
The Blue Wave rallied from down 1-0 and 2-1 in the match to improve to 19-1 and beat Staples in the rubber contest between the schools.
"This means the world to us," said Calder Billhardt, who was named the FCIAC's Most Valuable Player. "We've worked — me and Austin, especially, and every one else on the team — so hard since our freshman year.
"We put in so many hours in the gym. We have four-hour practices. To do it, and beat Staples at the same time, is an amazing feeling."
Billhardt finished with 15 kills and 14 digs while Austin Cockerall had 20 kills. Sammy Lee recorded 42 kills for the Blue Wave, who won their 16th straight game and will be the top seed in the CIAC Class M state tournament with a bye in the first round.
"After we lost that third game it was really, really rough," Cockerall said. "We just decided we were the better team and we needed to play that way. It was all about being a family and just coming together and playing as one unit. I thought we did that really well and that's why we were successful."
Used to playing in so many big matches, Staples looked to be the better team in the first set, but whenever they needed to, the Blue Wave responded.
With the second game tied at 10-10, Darien took control by reeling off five straight points. The Wreckers got no closer than four as the Blue Wave evened the back-and-forth match.
Staples dominated the third set after jumping out to 4-0 lead and led by as many 10 points in the game.
However, the Blue Wave established themselves as a force when they beat Staples for the first time earlier this month at home and they proved it over the next two games.
After Staples pulled within 7-6 in game four, the Blue Wave wore down the Wreckers by winning 33 of the next 44 points.
The Blue Wave also showed they are adept at from coming behind, as they lost the first game in both of their matches in the FCIAC playoffs.
"It's definitely been a trend for us," Billhardt said. "We're a slow starting team and Staples came out with fire. They came up with big kills, but we're used to it. In all our big games, we dropped the first game."
Indeed, as the match wore on, the Blue Wave looked to be the much fresher team.
"We do a lot of conditioning in practice just for situations like this, so coming into that fifth game we're not even tired," Billhardt said. "That's like the beginning of practice for us."
"We had to work so hard in the gym, three, four hours in the gym six days a week, and it really paid off for us," Cockerall added. "I'm so proud of this team. I think our ability to just last and keep playing definitely came through for us."