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BOYS VOLLEYBALL NOTES Darien back in hunt for more titles

May 3, 2019

It was a statement that reverberated loudly across the FCIAC and the state.

The Darien High School boys volleyball team swept defending FCIAC and Class L champion Staples High 3-0 on Wednesday, snapping Staples’ 37-match win streak in the process.

So when the talk turns to boys volleyball titles in 2019, the Blue Wave (13-1 overall, 10-0 FCIAC after Friday night’s 3-0 victory over Greenwich) are squarely in the conversation.

Darien had captured FCIAC boys volleyball championships in 2015, ’16 and ’17. Darien won the 2017 Class L title and lost in the L finals in 2015 and ’16.

So the 2018 campaign was an aberration of sorts for the Blue Wave as they lost in the FCIAC semifinals and Class L quarterfinals. But not truly surprising after seven seniors graduated following the 2017 season, leaving a very young group.

“Boys volleyball is a sport where you have to look at things in a two-year cycle when you have a new and young group on the roster,” said Darien senior co-captain Tyler Herget. “Last year we all gained valuable experience and began building our chemistry. This year, we’re collectively at a level to win titles. We all want (championship) banners.”

And Darien has been all that, reeling off 13 straight wins and 39 straight sets since a season-opening 3-2 loss at Newtown on March 30.

Veteran coach Laurie LaRusso has a starting seven of four seniors and three juniors ready to add another chapter to Darien boys volleyball history.

“It’s an honor to see the championship banners on the gym wall every day in practice. It’s dandy motivation, not a burden,” said Darien senior co-captain Piers Roofthooft. “We see what we’re working toward this year.”

This Blue Wave group fits the trend in boys volleyball teams toward more athleticism and defense rather than funneling offense through one extremely tall hitter.

Tyler Herget, who was the setter as a freshman and sophomore when his older brother Tim was one of the top hitters for Darien, has moved into that No. 1 hitter role the last two seasons.

The Blue Wave hit opponents like a fist. Senior co-captain Roofthooft, fellow seniors Nik Tinaj and Joshua de la Rivera, along with juniors John Barsanti, Jack Roberson and Jackson Leone, have become a well-oiled machine on the court.

“The chemistry comes from our relationships on and off the court,” Roofthooft said. “We fight for every ball. You see the passion to succeed in our eyes.”

As the setter and general for the offense, Leone’s growth over time has been a critical development for Darien.

“Jackson is the one touching the ball every play,” Herget said. “He’s the one who puts everything in motion.”

“Jackson is important on defense as well,” Roofthooft said. “He has a hunger to dig out every ball. He pushes the rest of us.”

So Darien (10-0 league), with the lead in the FCIAC East Division over New Canaan (7-2) and Warde (6-2), is pushing through the stretch run (six contests) of the regular season.

The stretch will be highlighted by a rematch at New Canaan (May 13) and a regular season-closing, non-league home encounter against Joel Barlow (13-1 overall in Class M, 11-match win streak).

FINE PERFORMANCES

There are still two undefeated boys volleyball teams in the state as we reach the stretch run of the regular season.

Newtown (13-0): The Class L Nighthawks were unbeaten heading into Friday night’s match at Amity. They beat Masuk (3-2) on Monday and Cheshire (3-1) on Wednesday. They host Shelton on Monday.

Southington (12-0): The Class L Blue Knights were perfect heading into Friday night’s match at Maloney High. They swept Simsbury on Monday and East Hartford on Wednesday. They will play at Conard on Monday.

Taking a look at the former undefeated teams in Connecticut:

Newington (14-1): The Class M Indians have won three in a row since their April 22 loss to unbeaten Southington. They will have the rematch at Southington on Tuesday, May 14 at 6 p.m.

MATCHES TO WATCH

Joel Barlow (13-1) at Newtown (13-0): Wednesday, 6 p.m.: It’s rematch time for Barlow as the Falcons’ only loss this season was to Newtown at home on April 3. Barlow has won 11 in a row since. These two schools also battled for the 2018 SWC boys volleyball crown, where Newtown beat Barlow.

Farmington at Southington: Thursday, 6 p.m.: Farmington (9-3, No. 5-ranked in Class M) gets a chance to stop Southington’s quest (12-0) for an undefeated season.

rdepreta@stamfordadvocate.com