Blue Wave spikers reach pinnacle match
OXFORD -- Darien High School's boys' volleyball team members have been thinking about last season's state tournament semifinal round defeat to Masuk of Monroe for a long time. On Tuesday, the Blue Wave erased those memories by defeating Fermi in the Class M semifinals at Oxford High.
Darien, the tourney's top seed, won rather handily, 3-0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-19) to advance to tonight's championship match against No. 3 Newington (17-3), a winner over Masuk. The match is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Fairfield Warde High.
Fermi, the tourney's No. 5 seed, saw its season come to an end as the Wave players used their strong hitting skills to put the Falcons on their heels throughout the match. Darien improved to 19-1 and Fermi finished the year at 15-5.
Calder Billhart was one of Darien's top players with 13 kills, 13 service points, three aces and a stuff block; Sam Bryan compiled 11 kills and three digs; Austin Cockerill had 10 kills and three stuff blocks; setter Matt Lee racked up 35 assists to go along with nine service points, four aces and a stuff block; Sean Lee had nine service points and four digs; Matt Collier added a pair of stuff blocks.
As seemingly easy as the win was for the tourney favorites, they managed to come away having learned something about confidence and not taking anything for granted. Cockerill and Billhart, the team's captains, said the Wave got a little too comfortable after the first game win.
"Our team energy really took a hit when we decided we had it in the bag," Cockerill said.
"We got over-confident between games and kind of let them back into the match," Billhart added.
Even with the Wave perhaps not staying as focused as they would have liked, the team managed to stay a step ahead of the opponents with Matt Lee setting up Cockerill, Billhart and Bryant for booming hits that either eluded Fermi's defenders or simply were too overpowering to be handled.
"They came out swinging and they have some really tough hitters," Fermi coach Alexandra Pyznar said.
"We came into it knowing they were going to be tough," said Pyznar, adding that the Falcons talked themselves into believing they could beat the Wave in a mind over matter effort. Billhart said the Wave's chemistry was strong and carried it.
Darien left the gymnasium believing it might have a shot at redemption against Masuk since the No. 2 Panthers and Newington were playing in a later game.
"In the semifinals last year we got knocked off by Masuk. We still have a bad taste in our mouths," Cockerill said.
Certainly, however, there's no letdown in the fact that the Wave will face Newington. Darien is playing in its first state final since winning it all in 2008.
"I think, for us, it doesn't matter. It's a matter of coming to play and we want to play the better team," Billhart said.