In the moments following her Darien Blue Wave’s 3-1 loss to the Amity Spartans in the state volleyball finals, head coach Laurie Larusso offered strong praise for her three senior captains.
“This is an amazing team for me this year and my captains — I can’t say enough about them,” Larusso said. “Their leadership and how they made our team a family is beyond words. I’m lucky to have had them as captains.”
Lindsay Bennett, Cristina Escajadillo and Gabby Highton, the captains referred to, have been the driving forces behind what has been a comeback campaign for Darien.
The Blue Wave came up just one victory short of a championship when they lost in four sets to Amity in the Class LL final on Saturday at East Haven High School, but it wasn’t without a few dramatic moments.
All of the sets were decided by three or fewer points, with the first two — both won by the Spartans — surpassing the 25-point mark. Other than in the fourth set, when Amity built a 10-0 lead only to have the Wave roar back with nine straight points, the two finalists were seldom separated by more than three points.
Amity senior co-captain Abby Harbinson and her Spartans were in the final last season but were unable to take that final step to the crown, losing to Greenwich 3-1.
That’s part of what makes winning it all this year feel so good for the Spartans.
“All of the hard work we put in during the offseason and during the season was with this in the back of our minds,” Harbinson, who was named MVP, said. “The relief to finally have that goal accomplished is unbeatable.”
“Finishing up and being able to go the distance,” Amity head coach Seth Davis said. “This time, we finally pushed it over the edge and it feels great.”
No. 10 Darien (18-8) was making its first appearance in the finals in four years and while the loss was tough to take, the Wave was back among the state’s elite.
“We worked really hard this season and we’ve gotten way farther than we’ve gotten the past three years,” Bennett said. “Although we didn’t win the whole thing I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out this season. We made it pretty far. We weren’t the best but at least we were second-best.”
Bennett had a big game with eight kills, 14 digs, and 16 service points, and was also serving during the Wave’s late rally. Escajadillo, the setter, had 25 assists, and Elaina Cummiskey collected seven kills, 11 digs, and 11 service points.
Hassana Arbubakrr had seven kills and four blocks; libero Sophia Talwalkar had 19 digs, seven service points and two kills; Aerin Bowman had six kills and one block; and Rosali Pirone had two kills and seven service points.
Harbinson led the Spartans’ offense with 16 kills to go along with nine service points. Her fellow captains Olivia Pisano, a libero, and Amelia Taddei also had solid matches, with Pisano collecting six service points and four aces, and Taddei putting down five kills. Madeline Adzigian had seven service points and five kills, including the point which ended the match.
The Wave had a 15-11 advantage in the first set but the Spartans wiped that out with a 5-1 run to tie the score and then went up 22-20.
Darien responded, and reached set point at 24-23 when Hassana Arbubakrr put down a shot. Harbinson knotted it with a kill and, after Darien staved off one set point, Harbinson put the set away with a kill.
The second frame was a nailbiter, with Amity again taking a two-point decision, 26-24.
The Wave cut the deficit in half in the third set, scoring the final three points for a 25-22 win. A Bennett kill followed by an Arbubakrr block of Harbinson gave Darien match point, and a strong hit be Bennett glanced off a blocker and hit the floor for the Wave win.
In the fourth frame, Amity was dominating at 23-13 and seemed poised to put it away easily, but Darien scored nine consecutive points to close the gap to 23-22.
The Spartans regrouped and took the next two points, with Adzigian’s kill ending it.
“It took pretty strong nerves to do that,” Bennett said of the rally. “It was a good comeback to make the last few points exciting.”
“That was heart. That’s just who they are. They call themselves the comeback kids because that’s what we’ve done all season when the going got tough. Today, we just kind of ran out of gas and Amity was a little too much.”
“I’m not going to lie, that was probably one of our biggest challenges of the year,” Arbinson said. “Knowing we were so close, but we still had to stay humbled and we had to stay grounded. It was a good reality check and the ability to pull back from it and come back to earth was good.”
The Wave, which hadn’t won a postseason match in three seasons, went 5-2 in seven playoff contests this season, battling through a pair of five-setters in the second round and the semifinals.
“Amity’s a very good team and they have a lot of good hitters,” Larusso said. “I think part of it was them and they could generate an offense, and the other part was we’ve had to battle to get here. We did a lot of five-game matches and four-game matches all the way here. We have a lot of heart and a lot of pride and that’s what you saw today.”
Class LL Volleyball Final – Amity 3, Darien 1
Saturday, Nov. 17, at East Haven HS
Darien 25 24 25 22 – 1
Amity 27 26 22 25 -3
Darien: Lindsay Bennett 8 kills, 14 digs, 16 service points; Cristina Escajadillo 25 assists, 6 digs; Elaina Cummiskey 7 kills, 11 digs, 11 service points
Amity: Abby Harbinson 16 kills, 9 service points; Madeline Adzigian 5 kills, 7 service points; Olivia Pisano 6 service points, 4 aces