Keeping it fun leads to winning for Darien volleyball team

Darien's Hassana Arbubakrr puts down a shot during the Wave's 3-0 win over the rival Rams in New Canaan on Monday. - Dave Stewart photo
Darien's Hassana Arbubakrr puts down a shot during the Wave's 3-0 win over the rival Rams in New Canaan on Monday. — Dave Stewart photo

Darien volleyball co-captains Cristina Escajadillo, Gabby Highton, and Lindsay Bennett had one main goal in mind as they prepared for the new season: Everyone should be having fun on the court.

“The three of us worked very hard coming into this season to make that gym a really good place to be, and to make sure this team had really good chemistry,” Highton said. “We’re really excited and happy and proud with how it’s worked.”

The Wave is indeed having fun and, as an added plus, has pushed back near the top of the FCIAC standings after two uncharacteristically down seasons.

Darien shut out rival New Canaan 3-0 in a road match on Monday — it’s second win over the Rams this fall — and is now 11-4 overall and 10-2 in the FCIAC, holding down third place in the conference behind St. Joseph and Westhill (both 11-1).

With four matches remaining, the Wave is in great shape to earn a home match for the FCIAC quarterfinal round, and judging by the smiles on the court, may be leading the league in having fun.

“We’ve focused on making the gym a good place to be in,” Escajadillo said. “We’re having fun while we play and doing well is a side effect of that.”

“This year, we have really good vibes out on the court and we have such good chemistry as a team,” Bennett said. “We all just love playing. I love going out on the court, looking around and seeing smiles all across. This year, we’re focused not on winning, but enjoying volleyball and having fun.”

The Wave held off a challenge from a New Canaan team which had won four straight and is in the thick of the FCIAC playoff hunt.

After taking the first set 25-21, Darien built a 24-17 advantage in the second set and was on the verge of putting it away when the Rams heated up, reeling off six straight points to close the gap to two points.

“We knew they were really good competition and they were not going to give up easily, so we had to keep fighting,” Highton said.

Bennett ended the threat with a perfectly placed shot to the back corner as Darien won the set 25-23, and then closed out the match with a 25-15 decision in the third frame.

Throughout the match, the Wave remained poised and in control, avoiding mistakes and playing great defense.

“Today, we had a good calm vibe out on the court and everyone was really working together,” Bennett said. “We had a peace on the court where we could just work together and get things done.”

It was the Wave’s ninth consecutive victory against FCIAC opponents, a run which includes victories over two other FCIAC contenders — Warde and Ludlowe — last week.

The win over the Warde Mustangs was a straight-sets sweep 3-0, as Darien won 25-11, 25-19, 25-9 last Wednesday.

Bennett collected five kills, five aces, nine points, and 12 digs; and Escajadillo had one ace, seven service points, three kills, and 15 assists. Rosali Pirone added two aces, 11 service points and two kills; and Hassana Arbubakrr had five kills and three blocks.

Two days later, the Wave took on the Falcons at Ludlowe High School and squeaked out a 3-2 win. Darien led 2-0 before the Falcons rallied to tie the match, but the Wave secured the match victory in the fifth, winning 26-24, 25-21, 23-25, 19-25, 16-14.

Escajadillo racked up 30 assists in the match, while Bennett had 12 kills, and Arbubakrr had nine kills.