By Eliot Schickler

The Staples boys volleyball team has cemented itself as the team to beat in the upcoming FCIAC playoffs.

Staples raised its record to 15-0 Monday with a 3-1 (26-24, 25-20, 18-25, 25-18) victory at Darien for its second victory over the reigning FCIAC champions this year.

"We knew Darien was the FCIAC champions last year," Wreckers coach Jon Shepro said. "They are a great team, have a great program and they are well-coached. We knew we had to bring our `A' game in order to have a chance to win."

Darien (12-4) defeated Staples in the FCIAC finals last year to end the Wreckers' eight-year reign. Staples could see the Blue Wave in the FCIAC playoffs again this season. Although Shepro's squad avenged last year's loss twice for good measure, he knows Darien will be a tough out and felt his squad didn't play its best Monday.

"We were a little off in our game," Shepro said. "Our passing wasn't great and our hitting wasn't great. Give Darien credit, they played well."

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Blue Wave setter Matt Lee made it tough for Staples with his sets and blocks. Tommy Nichols was a hitting force in the front row for Darien.

However, the Blue Wave had trouble finding holes against Staples' defense. Outside hitter Emerson Lovell had 28 digs and libero Patrick Connolly had 19, both hitting the ground and constantly preventing many difficult balls from landing.

"It was a very big game, and we wanted to avenge last year's loss," Lovell said. "We were down and came together as a team. I'm not the best defensive player, but I knew I had to step it up."

After trailing 10-9 in the first game, Staples took an 18-12 lead. Jonah Aelyon led the Wreckers attack with 27 kills and 12 digs. Aelyon hit a few kills down the line at key junctures of the match off sets from Andrew Fishman (52 assists).

"Andrew delivered great sets, and I had a lot of single blocks," Aelyon said. "Darien allowed me to swing line, which is one of my best shots."

Darien slowly inched back with Matt Collier serving three straight points. Nichols then served four straight points to give the Blue Wave a 22-21 lead. Lee and George Phillips combined for the block on one of the points.

The run ended on 6-6 middle hitter Lucas Grevers' kill. Grevers (seven kills, three blocks) delivered a kill to force a sideout, which made it 25-24. Connolly's service point closed out the game.

Blue Wave libero Sean Lee (no relation to Matt) served four straight points to give Darien a 7-2 lead in the second game. Sean Lee had 11 service points and 13 digs. The Blue Wave's lead peaked at seven, 14-7, when Staples began to come back.

Aelyon had four kills to propel the comeback and served two points to give the Wreckers the lead for good in the game, 19-17. Nick Cohen's block secured one of the points.

"They are a very strong team," Matt Lee said. "When we took the lead, they didn't back down, and I commend them for it."

Sam Bryant served five points to give Darien a 16-11 lead in the third game, including an ace. Collier had a kill during the run, and the Blue Wave controlled the game.

Nicholls and Collier combined for the block on Matt Lee's serve to give Darien an 6-3 lead in the fourth game. The Blue Wave led 8-5 before the Wreckers started to come back.

Lovell served three points to give Staples a 9-8 lead. Following a sideout, Fishman set up Grevers for a kill, and the Wreckers never looked back. They took a three-point lead, which was cut to one on two occasions, the last one at 17-16. Outside hitter David Kalb answered with a deep kill to give Staples an 18-16 lead and momentum.

"I thought we had a good performance," Matt Lee said. "A few lapses got us. Other than that, we played well."

Although the Wreckers -- who are also 2-0 against Ridgefield and 1-0 against Greenwich -- are the FCIAC favorites, they aren't ready to declare victory.

"Ridgefield is tough, Darien is tough and Greenwich is tough," Shepro said. "We can't say we're No. 1 until we win the trophy."

STAPLES 3, DARIEN 1

STAPLES 26 25 18 25-- 3

DARIEN 24 20 25 18-- 1

Records: Staples 15-0, Darien 11-3.

Scoring: S--Jonah Aelyon had 27 kills, Andrew Fishman had 52 assists, 7 digs and a 1 block, and Emerson Lovell had 4 kills and 28 digs. D--Matt Lee had 6 blocks and 6 service points, Sam Bryant had six kills, 13 digs and 7 service points and Sean Lee had 13 digs and 11 service points.