DARIEN -- There are big wins and then there are those special, statement-type victories that teams cherish.
The Greenwich High School girls volleyball team experienced the latter Wednesday.
Facing longtime nemesis Darien, Greenwich indeed made a statement with its play, registering a victory it won't soon forget. In a battle of unbeaten FCIAC teams, it was the Cardinals who kept their perfect conference record intact, posting an impressive 3-1 win over the host Blue Wave.
How rare is a Darien loss? Wednesday's defeat marked the first time the Blue Wave lost since losing to Southington in the 2011 Class LL semifinals. It was also Greenwich's first win against Darien since they stopped the Blue Wave's 140-match win streak back in 2008.
"It's a great win because we lost three times to them last season and we haven't been able to beat them my four years on the team," Cardinals senior co-captain Mirei Kato said. "We knew it was going to be a tough match, but we knew we were capable of winning."
Kato recorded 14 kills, 16 digs and three aces, while senior Heather Desino tallied seven kills, four aces and six digs for Greenwich, which won the match 25-21, 16-25, 25-12, 25-13. With 11-time defending FCIAC champion Darien (12-1, 12-1) being the barometer by which teams measure themselves, Greenwich has plenty to be excited about after Wednesday's performance.
"It says we're a good team," GHS coach Steve Lapham said. "We knew we had the players to compete with them, it was a matter of us executing, staying the course and staying clean and consistent."
Sophomore Izzy Taylor had 12 kills and 14 digs, junior Claire Naughton had 14 kills and junior setter Celia Martzolf added 33 assists for the Blue Wave, which beat GHS in the FCIAC and state tournament a year ago.
"After the game, a lot of us feel like we want to play them again," Martzolf said. "This makes us motivated to work extra hard in practice."
Leading 2-1, Greenwich jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the fourth game after senior Erin White served an ace. A kill by Desino, followed by an ace from senior Ashley Rispoli gave the Cardinals (11-1, 11-0) a 14-5 advantage. Effectively passing the serve, while exhibiting strong play at the net, the Cardinals held leads of 17-5 and 23-12 in the final game. Yet it wasn't until senior Catherine Cabano ended the match with a kill that Lapham was able to relax.
"When we got to 24 that last game was the first time I thought, `hey we have a shot of winning,' " Lapham said. "I've played them too often over the years to think that they were done in a set."
Following a Darien victory in the second set, GHS seized momentum in the third, capitalizing on several unforced errors and solid serving to open a sizable lead. A kill by Rispoli and a tip by senior co-captain Xanthi Katsigiannis put Darien in a 17-8 hole in the third game.
"It was important for us to keep our energy level high today," Desino said. "In the games we got off to a great start, our serves were going in and our passing was strong, which helped Xanthi set the ball up for us. We kept our intensity level high the whole match."
Katsigiannis notched 26 assists, Rispoli had 17 digs, White had 14 digs and two aces and senior Jessie Schelz totaled nine kills for the surging Cardinals.
"Today, we were trying to focus on not getting into all the hype of facing Darien and play like it was any other match," Schelz said. "We wanted to play clean, keep our errors down and not get too excited or worked up about it. Being on the team three years, I've watched us win maybe a game against them, then lose the match, so this is exciting."
Senior Nicole Schmidt had eight service points and Naughton contributed seven service points for Darien, which was at its strongest during the second game.
"This was a good match to show us where we are and what we need to do to get better," Martzolf said. "We had a lot more energy the second game, so we have to make sure we always have energy out there."
Said Kato: "We're always working on getting better. This is just another step for us. We have a lot more tough matches down the road."