DARIEN — The Darien girls volleyball team is that rare high school sports oddity: extremely enjoyable to watch but, for the media, a hardship to cover.
When the Blue Wave are on, as they most certainly were in a dominant 25-12, 25-18, 25-15 win over Fairfield Ludlowe on Monday afternoon in a battle of unbeaten teams, they take a graceful sport and elevate it to a higher plane.
Unfortunately, we will never fully know what the coach felt about the performance. Laurie LaRusso, who has done a magnificent job building a model program, rarely consents to postgame interviews anymore.
And when one of her players, a junior, was being interviewed by another reporter, three senior captains were rushed over like EMTs to an accident scene for a group session that produced stock answers.
It is too bad, because as someone who has covered the team since LaRusso’s first year, she not only produces outstanding players, but even better people and role models. Their insights, when unfiltered, are usually compelling.
But rather than turn this into the rantings of a frustrated writer, lets focus on the first and most important point made here: this year’s edition has the makings of a special team.
Darien jumped out to leads of 9-3 and 14-5 in the first set and never let up. In a battle of two of the last three unbeaten teams in the FCIAC — the Blue Wave can stand alone when they face the third, St. Joseph, on Wednesday — it was obvious they were charged by the prospect of facing the Falcons.
“I think we had a lot of confidence coming in and it was really nice,” said setter Celia Martzolf, who finished with 19 service points, 10 assists and two kills. “I think we work very well together. We pick each other up.”
After rolling in the first set, the Blue Wave were tested in the second. Ludlowe jumped out to a 9-5 lead before Darien started to chip away. The Falcons were still up, 17-16, when Taylor tied the match, finishing a perfect set from Martzolf. Two Ludlowe hitting errors allowed Darien to take the lead and hold on for a commanding lead.
Taylor, a spectacular hitter and all-around player whose two older sisters are program graduates, finished with eight kills, 11 service points, three assists and two blocks. Claire Naughton added seven kills, three blocks and three service points.
Darien quickly took the lead in the third game. Taylor had a resounding kill, Naughton a big block and kill, and the Blue Wave easily pulled away.
Overshadowed was a defensive effort that may have been the Blue Wave’s greatest asset. They covered the court well. Some of the Falcons’ hitting errors may have been unforced but they were often the result of balls that had found the floor previously during the year coming back over the net.
“We needed a test and unfortunately there were some errors we need to fix,” Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. “Darien was consistent. They are a great, great, great team covering. I think some of our players were intimidated and some of them were kind of off.”
Being a Darien volleyball player comes with a huge commitment. There are three-hour practices and six-day work weeks.
There is also a lot of pressure that comes from the outside, one reason LaRusso, understandably, can be overly protective. There have been 22 FCIAC and 16 state championships during LaRusso’s tenure, a remarkable accomplishment. There were no trophies a year ago, and with success comes a higher level of expectation.
Darien had a young and inexperienced team a year ago, factors sometimes overlooked by a rabid fan base unaccustomed to anything less than the top rung.
“It’s exciting. There’s this level of standard that you have to live up to,” Taylor said. “Darien volleyball is not a program that lets you relax. We’re always pushing, always striving to do our best.”
So far, that best is a standard opponents may find difficult to match.