Darien volleyball ousted by Newington in five sets
WOODBRIDGE -- In boys volleyball, Game 5 is when you find out about leadership, character and championship mettle.
It was Game 5 and he had watched Darien High fight back from deficits of 4-1 and 7-4 to grab an 11-9 edge.
Darien was four points from a trip to the Class M finals. The same Darien which had broken Newington's heart and soul in the Class M 2011 championship.
Coming out of Newington's final timeout of the evening, Gallicchio gathered his Indians around him and posed a simple question.
"Do you really want to go out losing to THEM AGAIN?"
The answer came as No. 1 seed Newington won six of the next eight points -- three on power spikes from Gallicchio -- to complete a 25-21, 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-13 triumph over Darien.
"Fortunately, we dug deep and pulled through," Gallicchio said. "We lost to Darien in five games last year in the states. This year was about revenge. This time we had to play to win instead of playing not to lose."
And so, instead of a matchup Tuesday with Oxford a Class M crown, it was a long, quiet bus ride home for a gutty, gritty No. 5 Darien squad that left everything it had on the court.
It was a night where Darien couldn't play from in front enough once the Blue Wave fought back for a 2-1 edge.
"Darien is a great first contact team. That's how their program has become the gold standard," said Newington's veteran head coach Curt Burns. "What we learned last year was that we had to play our best game tonight to get by them. We had to stay aggressive. We had to go for broke. And we did."
As was the case in Darien's FCIAC Championship loss to Ridgefield, the Blue Wave got worn down by the spectre of multiple power hitters.
Every time Newington surged, it was the power spikes of Gallicchio, Ian Aprea and Tyler Willgoos that made the evening for the Indians.
"They all hit hard, heavy balls," Burns said.
While Darien was elegant and inventive Blue Wave senior setter Matt Lee couldn't win the chess match against Newington senior Peter Feeney.
"Newington is a very good team that played so well tonight. Hats off to them," said Sam Bryant, one of Darien's five seniors who saw their careers end Tuesday. "Our tough start in Game 5 cost us. Newington has a lot of strong hitters. It just wasn't our night."
But this squad leaves Darien with an enduring legacy.
"It's a sad moment right now," Bryant said. "But for me it's an honor to finish with this group. Frankly, nobody expected us (as No. 5 seeds) to get here (M semifinals). We played hard. We played with heart. You can't ask for anything more."
And their singular head coach Laurie LaRusso appreciated the sweat, the tears, the commitment and the effort.
"It was a wonderful group to work with. Many of the kids were starters the last three years," LaRusso said. "It's a very special group. For me, it was a pleasure and an honor to coach them. It doesn't get better than that. We simply lost to a very good team in Newington."
A Newington team looking to become Class M champions.
"After last year's loss, we were fueled with pure revenge," Gallicchio said. "We were ready to play tonight."
Newington 3, Darien 2
DARIEN 21 25 25 20 13--2
NEWINGTON 25 22 23 25 15--3
Records: Darien 18-6 Newington 21-2.
Highlights: D--Sam Bryant 11 kills, 7 service points. Matt Collier 20 kills, 3 blocks. George Phillips 14 kills, 4 blocks. Sean Lee eight service points. Matt Lee 8 service points, 3 kills. Tommy Nicholls 5 service points. Ryan Stracuzzi 7 service points. N--Newington will play No. 2 seed Oxford for Class M title. Oxford beat Fermi in 5 games.