EAST HAVEN -- It had been three long years since the high school program that has come to define volleyball excellence in Connecticut last won a state title.
In 2010, Darien was swept by East Lyme in three sets, ending a perfect 15-0 run in final appearances. Last fall the Blue Wave failed to even reach the championship game, losing to Southington in the semifinals.
At other schools, this is nothing more, at best, than an asterisk.
At Darien, it was a drought.
"We knew we had to work hard to get back this year," said Kelly Kosnik, a three-year starter. "We had to get back."
The top-seeded Blue Wave returned to the doorstep and then, on Saturday night, smashed it down, rolling to a dominant 25-14, 25-18, 25-21 sweep of No. 2 Cheshire in the Class LL final to complete an undefeated season and return to the mantle it had grown accustomed to occupying.
"We really stuck together as a team," said Riley Sousa, another three-year starter, who was named the match's most valuable player after finishing with 7 kills, 13 service points and 3 aces. "We played aggressively and fought as a team."
There have been Darien teams with more natural talent, but few that have performed so commandingly with a championship on the line.
The Blue Wave (24-0) slowly built a big lead in the opening set, controlling the net, riding the steady setting of Kathleen Burke (23 assists, 6 service points) and digging up everything Cheshire's tall front row sent their way.
Darien held a 20-10 advantage, fended off a mini spurt by Cheshire (22-2) and closed out the game on a kill by Sousa.
"We just really wanted it and went all out," Sousa said.
Cheshire, which last reached the final in 2007, had defeated Fairfield Ludlowe in a hard-fought, five-set semifinal. It stayed close in the early part of the second set behind the net play of middle hitter Amanda Palladino.
Cheshire had a 10-9 lead before Sousa went to the service line and ran off six unanswered points. Brittany Osborn, one of the Blue Wave's unsung heroes on the night, had a key block, but a steady combination of constant pressure and steady composure wore down Cheshire, leading to a number of unforced errors.
After Sousa's run was ended, Osborn got service back by hitting off a Cheshire block and Kosnik (9 kills, 6 service points, 2 aces) added consecutive kills to make the score 19-13.
Cheshire got as close as 22-17 before Osborn stuffed Lisa Walle and the Blue Wave soon had a 2-0 lead.
The Blue Wave demonstrated their mettle in the closing set. Cheshire jumped out to a 10-5 lead after Palladino killed a weak return. The deficit was 12-6 when Darien stormed back to forge a 13-13 tie. Osborn had a kill in the sequence, but three points came on successive serve-receive errors.
Cheshire reeled off the next four points, prompting Darien coach Laurie LaRusso to call her second timeout.
The Blue Wave won 10 of the next 12 points, and closed out the match when a Cheshire block of Sousa sailed wide.
"We like to come from behind," Sousa said with a smile. "There were a couple of close calls. You stay focused on what you can control. It felt good to have the last kill. The whole game was an awesome feeling."
Sousa and Kosnik spent the night before their final high school volleyball match together, driving around, talking about almost anything other than the task at hand.
Though the prospect of graduating without a state title as starters may have lingered, the duo led an effort that was fashioned not by the conservative approach of playing not to lose, but by going all out.
"This feels so good," Sousa said. "It's the best feeling in the world."
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