GLASTONBURY -- They say all good things must come to an end, but the undefeated Darien girls volleyball team members certainly didn't expect their nearly decade-long hold on the state championship to end in the pinnacle match this year.
Not after yet another undefeated regular season and run to the FCIAC title.
Unfortunately for the Blue Wave, the top seed in the Class L state tournament, the end was on Saturday as the Wave fell to No. 2 East Lyme in the ultimate match at Glastonbury High. The Wave, almost always on the winning end of a 3-0 triumph, surprisingly fell 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-17) to put an end to a nine-year reign as state champs (Class M 2001-'06 and Class L each of the past three years).
It was the Vikings' first state title and Darien's first loss in the final in 16 appearances.
"It's a disappointment," said Mackenzie Begley, the senior who long ago etched her name in team lore as one of its best setters and leaders. "They played well. Everything came back at us and that took us by surprise. Nothing hit the floor. And I think we definitely played not to lose rather than to win."
That was evident from the opening point, which resulted in an unforced error by Darien, one of nine in the set and 25 in the match, to go with 11 service mistakes.
It was essentially a case of role reversal, with second-seeded East Lyme (24-1) imposing its will.
Darien's players wiped away tears, looked on and clapped for their counterparts who received their first-place medals. It was unfamiliar territory for a team that had done nothing but win for so long. DHS hadn't even lost a match since the 2008 season, and rarely surrendered a game en route to all of this domination.
"We just have to use this to move forward," sophomore Riley Sousa said. "We just have to remember this feeling and work really hard to get back here next year."
Sousa is one of many Blue Wave players who have a next year to look forward to on the DHS volleyball court. For the three seniors, Emma Getsinger, Begley and Bella Carrara, this was how their high school careers ended. On the bright side, it certainly was one heck of a run for the upperclassmen.
"It's been a blast. I love playing with the girls, it's great playing with them and we had a lot of fun," Begley said. "It's disappointing. They just came out stronger and they came out wanting it more."
Darien, simply put, was not on its game. The team made far more unforced errors than it usually does, and East Lyme played a heck of a match. Players on both teams lacked no hustle as they dove for loose balls to keep several rallies alive.
"The other team definitely came out really strong. They kept returning it play after play. At the end I think we just got in our own heads," junior Katie Stueber said. "I'm looking forward to next season."
The Vikings had enjoyed success against Darien in a preseason jamboree, and while that experience may not have been revealing from a strategic standpoint, coach Jack Biggs conceded it could not have hurt his team's confidence level.
Darien coach Laurie LaRusso, whose expression seldom changes, was emotional after the match.
"I feel really bad because this is a very special group," LaRusso said. "I feel bad for the seniors. We didn't play well. We knew they were good from when we scrimmaged them and they mauled us pretty good. I think we were too tight. I think we were worried about not losing. And when you play worried about not losing, you are going to lose."
Perhaps the most telling statistic was the Blue Wave (24-1) led just twice in the match -- at 7-6 and 11-10 in the opening set. They managed little traction in their efforts playing from behind. East Lyme's Molly Giannattasio, who had 19 digs, was named the most valuable player.
"They came at us," LaRusso said. "You can't do anything if you can't pass. We needed to be in control and weren't able to. We wanted to get them out of their serve-receive.
The most symbolic play of the match came with the Vikings ahead in the second set, 23-14. The Vikings' Megan Donahue literally dug a ball with her foot, which eventually led to a Darien hitting error.
"They hustled after everything," LaRusso said. "They worked harder than we did."
The loss put into even greater clarity how great a dynasty LaRusso constructed. Darien came into the night 15-0 in state finals. It had dropped just eight sets in tournament play, and none since 2006.
"I think we were just hesitant today. Someone has to win and someone has to lose. Today just wasn't our day," Begley said. "I think we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win today."
Stueber had six kills, three blocks and a service ace, Begley compiled 23 assists and two service points, and Charlett Stevenson had four kills, two aces and six service points.
"We just said we have to give them respect. They've produced state championship after state championship," Biggs said about his team's approach to the match. "We put our knee pads on just like they put their knee pads on. We came out loose."
In the third game, Darien fell behind by three points several times, clawed back to within a point on multiple occasions, but just couldn't get over the hump. Down 13-10, the Wave closed the gap on sophomore Kelly Kosnik's kill followed by Stueber's block/kill. East Lyme answered with the next two points and four of the next five for a four-point cushion. DHS closed to within 17-15 but got no closer. The Wave simply wasn't at its best, and that wasn't good enough against the Vikings.
The difference is that one was in the state championship match.
-- Dave Ruden contributed to this story.