Wave rises: Darien volleyball blanks Greenwich in FCIAC quarterfinals
The Darien Blue Wave volleyball program has quite a storied past and now, the present is looking pretty great as well.
After a two-year absence from the FCIAC’s final four, Darien is back in the semifinals after dismantling the Greenwich Cardinals 3-0 in the quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon at GHS.
For senior tri-captains Lindsay Bennett, Cristina Escajadillo and Gabby Highton, getting their first FCIAC tournament win in three years is the result of team chemistry and a lot of hard work.
“We’ve been working really hard this season and moving into the next round is something really exciting for us,” Bennett said. “We’re going to work just as hard as we always have and be prepared for the next match. Greenwich is a really good team, they were a good opponent, and it was nice to come out on top.”
“We haven’t been in the FCIAC semifinals since we were freshmen,” Highton said. “We’ve worked so hard in the gym, during practice, outside of the gym; we’ve done everything we possibly can and it feels so good to keep moving forward and finish strong.”
The No. 5 seed, Darien (14-6) will now take on the No. 1 Westhill Vikings (19-2) in the semifinals at 5 p.m., Thursday, at Fairfield-Ludlowe High School. Westhill shut out No. 8 Staples 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
Despite the three-set sweep, Darien’s quarterfinal victory was by no means easy. Fourth-seeded Greenwich (13-6) had significant leads in the first and third frames, only to have the Wave rally both times, eventually winning 25-23, 25-17, and 26-24.
The win avenged a five-set loss to the Cardinals in the regular-season meeting.
“We’ve always had really great chemistry, it was just a matter of putting in it action,” Escajadillo said. “We’ve gotten a lot more mentally tough since the beginning. The first time we played Greenwich, we went to five and we lost in the tiebreaker by two points, so that was really disappointing. We came in here working on our mental toughness and really prepared to work as a unit.”
Darien’s performance was a true team effort, as the Wave received contributions from up and down the lineup
Escajadillo, the setter, had 29 assists, 10 digs, 1 ace and 4 service points, and Bennett had 9 kills, 1 ace and 2 service points.
Junior Elaina Cummiskey had a great all-around match with a team-high 15 digs, 7 kills, 4 aces and 8 service points.
Juniors Hassana Arbubakrr and freshman Aerin Bowman were forces at the net, with each collecting three blocks. Arbubakrr matched Bennett with a team-best 9 kills, and Bowman had 8 kills.
Junior Sophie Talwalkar added 14 digs, 1 ace and 7 service points; and Rachael Perrett, another junior, had 3 aces and 9 service points.
Communication was big for the Wave, as they were able to find gaps in the typically solid Greenwich defense.
“The key was that we were all communicating on the court today,” Bennett said. “We were all talking and telling each other where the open spots were. They were giving us spots from the bench too, which was really helpful and we all listened.”
“We really worked as a unit, we focused on what we could do and the things we can control,” Highton said. “That paid off.”
The Cardinals jumped out quickly, scoring the first seven points of the match, but Darien responded. Trailing 12-7, the Wave went on a 9-4 run to tie the score at 16-16 and the two teams traded points to 19-19. A 5-2 burst put Darien one point from the win, and the Wave eventually put it away at 25-23.
Greenwich held a 5-2 lead in the second set when the Wave won five consecutive points to take the lead for good, going on to win 25-17.
The Cards were much more consistent early in the third set and seemed poised to cut the deficit in half when they went up 16-12, but again Darien responded.
Greenwich was ahead 20-18 when Arbubakrr tied the score on back-to-back hits, including a well-placed shot over the Cardinal defense to the back line. She then gave the Wave a point with a block as Darien went ahead 21-20.
Consecutive service points for Cummiskey made it 23-20 for Darien. A 3-0 run for Greenwich tied the set at 23-23, but Darien moved to match point when the Cards couldn’t return a shot by Arbubakrr.
Greenwich tied it again at 24-24, but Darien’s defense made a wild save to keep the ball alive and Cummiskey ended the point with a great deep shot.
The Wave didn’t let it’s second match point escape, as Bennett scored on a nicely placed hit between two Cardinals, sealing the Darien win.
“It was a really fun game,” Bennett said. “Greenwich is a really competitive team, they have really good serves, and it was nice for us to pass well today and really shine in our serve-receive. Overall, we just put the ball down well.”