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Oxford volleyball beats Darien in Class M semifinals

Updated 4:05 pm, Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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Darien boys volleyball coach Laurie LaRusso refused to discuss the obvious disparity of experience between her team and Oxford's in Tuesday's Class M semifinal at Fairfield Warde.

"They played better than we did, that's all," LaRusso said after Oxford's 3-1 victory.

Darien had one senior on its roster and four of the Blue Wave's top eight players were freshmen or sophomores. The six starters for Oxford, meanwhile, were all seniors.

Oxford coach Jeff Giovacchino disagreed with LaRusso. He felt such a discrepancy was too great to ignore, and that the central reason his second-seeded team advanced to meet No. 1 Newington in Friday's 6 p.m. final at Shelton High was its abundance of seniors.

"The fact that we had so many seniors and they had one was the key," Giovacchino said after the Wolverines prevailed 25-21, 18-25, 25-22 and 25-20. "We've been together for three or four years now and the boys feed off each other. You can't teach experience."

Darien's George Phillips certainly did his best to refute that logic, although that was little consolation for the program's lone senior.

"It stinks for me personally right now," Phillips said of his senior status. "But I couldn't be more proud of this team. I don't think experience was a big factor. We're young on paper but they learned the game fast."

The third-seeded Blue Wave (17-6) indeed did well dealing with their lack of experience. But there was no panic in Oxford after Darien dominated Game 2. After Oxford (21-1) won the opener 25-21, Darien stormed back and won Game 2 behind the play of Phillips (26 kills, 3 blocks, 3 service points) and Todd Herget (9 kills, 10 service points). The Blue Wave broke an 8-all tie to take a 16-8 lead and won 25-18 to tie the match.

"We realized we made some mistakes in the second game and weren't in the right places when we should have been," Giovacchino said. "But nothing gets these kids down. It's a special group of kids."

Oxford shook off the Game 2 loss, and behind Pat Cragen (30 assists, nine kills), jumped to a 4-0 lead in Game 3. It quickly became 18-12 before Oxford won 25-22.

\Winning two straight inside the overheated Warde gym was not going to be easy for Darien, and Oxford went on to win 25-20 in Game 4 after racing to a 13-5 lead.

When it was over, one couldn't ignore the feeling that the 2014 Wolverines are foreshadowing the 2015 Blue Wave.

"Next year we're going to be a great team," Phillips said.

"It's a very special group," LaRusso added, "If the team sticks together (translation: if they don't lose anyone to lacrosse) we can have a very good team."

Alex Preston had 5 kills, 6 service points and 3 blocks for Darien while Tim Herget added 37 assists. Eric Jensen had 18 kills and Nathan Seibert 9 kills and 5 blocks for Oxford.

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