DARIEN -- It's not always easy being a 12-time defending FCIAC champion.

For all the winning that the No. 3-seeded Darien girls volleyball team has done over the years, it was a rare two-game losing streak in the middle of the regular season that may have gotten the most attention.

Sandwiched around those two losses, however, were 18 victories, including a 3-1 (25-12, 25-14, 18-25,25-11) win in the FCIAC quarterfinals over No. 6 seeded Stamford at Darien High School on Monday.

"Stamford did a great job. They came out strong and we really had to stick together," Darien senior captain Nicole Schmidt said. "It was definitely important for us to come out and regain our serving and passing and energy after the third game."

Darien took care of the first two games without too much trouble. Stamford's largest and latest lead in either Game 1 or Game 2 was a 4-3 advantage in Game 2.

Darien's Claire Naughton was a constant presence at the net and helped the Blue Wave take the 2-0 lead by posting a team-high 17 kills, four aces, five blocks and seven service points.

"You can never underestimate your opponent. They came out here and played a good game, but we came out strong too," Darien junior captain Celia Martzolf said. "The mindset is always `don't let them back in, don't give them points.'"

In Game 3, neither the Knights nor the Blue Wave could build a lead larger than three points until the Knights went up 15-11. In the game, Stamford won eight consecutive points to turn an 11-9 deficit into a 17-11 lead.

Stamford held on to capture Game 3 by a 25-18 final, largely due to the net play of Brianna Gordon, who notched team-high 21 kills.

"Darien's a great team. Excellent coach. Claire dominated the game," Stamford coach Mike Smeriglio said. "I'm proud of them. They could have very easily given up. We have our flashes, but we just can't be as consistent as Darien."

Stamford won the first two points of Game 4, but Darien captured 10 of the next 11 points for a 10-3 lead, severely damaging Stamford's hopes of forcing a Game 5.

Leading the way for the Blue Wave were Naughton, Martzolf (one kill, three aces, 10 service points, 36 assists) and Isabelle Taylor (11 kills, two aces, two blocks, 14 digs).

"I think we got a little too careful (in Game 4) trying to get the ball over the net, instead of just swinging away," Smeriglio said "But the credit goes to (Darien)."

The win moved the Blue Wave to within two victories of a 13th straight FCIAC crown, and they will compete in the semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe High School on Wednesday at either 5 or 7 p.m. against No. 2 Staples.

"I think we're all excited that it's postseason and we're excited to see what we can do," Schmidt said. "We're just going to have a good practice tomorrow and get pumped for Wednesday."

jchik@bcnnew.com @jchik17

FCIAC quarterfinals

STAMFORD 12 14 25 11--1

DARIEN 25 25 18 25--3

Records: Stamford 14-7, 12-7 FCIAC; Darien 18-2, 17-2. Highlights: S--Brianna Gordon had 21 kills. Anne Ellertsen had 12 kills. Nicole Pease had 25 digs. D--Claire Naughton had 17 kills, seven service points, five blocks and four aces. Isabeel Taylor had 14 digs, 11 kills, two aces and two blocks. Celia Martzolf had 36 assists, 10 service points, three aces and one kill.