Darien volleyball team claims landmark win over Staples

If they had a "Bucket List," beating Staples was probably on it for the Darien High School boys volleyball team. The Blue Wave had never beaten the Wreckers in the seven-year history of the program. But the Wave will never say "never" again after steamrolling Staples Friday afternoon to defend their home court, 3-1.

"This is a great, great win," said Calder Billhardt, who was celebrating not only a landmark victory, but also his 18th birthday. "We came so close to beating Staples during the FCIAC finals last year. To finally get this win, especially as a senior, is a great feeling.

Billhardt and the Blue Wave probably weren't feeling too great after dropping the opening game 25-19. But in the second game, feeding off the energy of a rowdy and enthusiastic crowd, Darien prevailed 25-17. Billhardt and co-captain Austin Cockerill played brilliantly, combining for ten kills.

"They're two outstanding players," Staples coach John Shepro said. "They go through the blocks, around the blocks. They were just tough to stop."

There was no stopping the Blue Wave in the third game. Cockerill had three kills, helping Darien to a 24-22 advantage. The Blue Wave iced the game on a beautiful no-look, behind-the head, perfectly placed drop shot by setter Matt Lee. It was a brilliant play that drew a thunderous applause from the Darien fans in attendance.

"I work on that in practice every now and then," said Lee, who recorded an incredible 46 assists. "I found the opportunity to slip it in there and it kind of gave us momentum for the rest of the match."

That was an understatement. Darien, behind Billhardt and Cockerill, who were playing with off-the-charts intensity, and an insatiable desire to finally beat Staples, came up strong in the final game. They jumped out to a 21-12 lead and held on to win 25-20.

"This is what we've been working so hard for," said Cockerill, who had 14 kills. "We know all those all guys and they are great players. But this is a huge symbol of how hard we've been working this season."

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Billhardt, who had 23 kills in 36 attempts, was thrilled to finally get the Staples monkey off his back but also indicated that there is more to accomplish.

"This was a great win. One of the biggest in the program's history," Billhardt said. "But we're not satisfied yet. We want to accomplish more."

Having split the regular series, there's a good chance Staples (11-2) and Darien (12-1) will meet once again in the FCIAC finals.

Darien also traveled to pick up a 3-1 road victory over Ridgefield on Monday and defended its home court with a 3-0 decision over Greenwich on Wednesday.