By Dave Ruden
TRUMBULL — Her nickname, fittingly, is “Meelz On Wheelz.”
And with her high school volleyball career on the line Thursday night, Staples’ Amelia Brackett delivered.
She jumped a little higher, hit a little harder. And, when the ball on her final swing of the night could not be returned, Brackett and her teammates celebrated a little more joyously as the Wreckers finally solved their one nemesis of the season, defeating Greenwich, 3-1, in a hard-fought CIAC Class LL semifinal match, 25-22, 14-25, 25-20, 25-21, at Trumbull High School.
“I wasn’t going to let my season end today,” Brackett said. “I wanted to play tomorrow. We all were really excited. We wanted to fight so hard so we could stay together at least a few more days.”
Mission accomplished. After losing to Greenwich in their previous two meetings, a pair of memorable five-set matches that included the FCIAC championship, second-seeded Staples (21-2) finally got the best of the one opponent it had been unable to in what has been a glorious season, with one more chapter remaining.
While it might seem unfair to single out one player on a night when so many players made vital contributions, Brackett was the brightest star. And given the caliber of the competition on the other side of the net, the Wreckers needed every one of her 25 kills, most of which were delivered at a thunderous speed.
“She was on a mission,” Staples coach Jon Shepro said. “She wants it so bad, wants a piece of hardware she can look at the rest of her life in the gym. She played a great game tonight.”
Except for some serving issues early on — which, given the totality of her contributions, Shepro said he was more than willing to accept — Brackett was flawless.
“I really, really wanted this,” Brackett said. “I wanted to prove we could beat them.”
To get to the state final for the first time since 1992, the Wreckers accomplished two things it failed to in the previous meetings with Greenwich: winning the first and third sets, to take a 2-1 lead. The psychological benefits were enormous.
“A lot of it is mental in this sport,” said Lauren Mushro, who was similarly outstanding. “Starting off strong was the key, and to finish it in four was insane.”
After dropping a first set in which neither team led by more than four points — and that was on just three occasions — Greenwich rolled to a convincing 25-14 win in the second game to even the match.
The third set again was close throughout — on just one occasion did either team lead by as many as three points — until a Brackett kill put Staples ahead, 22-20, and sent Knox Schieffelin to the service line. She punched out three straight winners, and made a spectacular save that led to a bullet from Mushro to close out the game.
“We had nothing to lose,” Mushro said. “It was our third time playing them and we already lost to them twice. We were not going out without a fight.”
Staples broke open the final set midway through, taking an 18-12 lead and withstanding one last Greenwich run that closed the margin to 21-20. Mushro and then Brackett offered their personal exclamation points, and the Staples players were soon engulfed by a huge and vocal student section.
“I think I’m so excited I might faint,” Mushro said. “I literally felt my face get so hot I could fall over.”
Mushro finished with 11 kills and 10 digs. Schieffelin added 4 kills. The Wreckers’ unsung hero, overshadowed by the people she sets up, was again Ariana Sherman, who finished with 32 assists. Val Kirsch and Dayna Gelman ended up with 14 and 7 digs, respectively.
“The fight in Greenwich is unbelievable, the fight in us was just a little bit better tonight,” Shepro said. “We wanted it so bad. We worked so hard for it. We weren’t going to be denied tonight.”
Now the Wreckers get a chance to try and achieve one final elusive goal: their first state title. Standing in their way is top-seeded Cheshire, which swept Fairfield Ludlowe in Thursday’s second match.
“To be able to come into the gym in 10 years and see our names up on a banner would be incredible,” Mushro said. “All of us seniors want to leave a legacy. We don’t want to leave without leaving a mark on the school.”