By Dave Ruden
BERLIN — The differences were apparent as soon as the teams took the court for Saturday night’s Class LL volleyball championship at Berlin High School.
Second-seeded Staples was dancing to the pregame music, revelers at a party.
Top-seeded and undefeated Cheshire was all business, the players carrying their briefcases, ready to work a 9-to-5, with no discernible display of emotion.
The differences were equally apparent once play commenced. The Wreckers rallied from a 23-18 deficit, winning the opening set, 26-24, just the sixth one the Rams dropped all season.
But quickly, Cheshire started swinging a little harder and serving a little surer, digging up everything the Wreckers threw at them until frustration set in.
“It got a little tough,” Amelia Brackett, the Wreckers’ star hitter, admitted after Cheshire stormed to a 24-26, 25-17, 25-15, 25-17 victory. “After the first game we never seemed to get the momentum.”
For Staples, there was a melting pot of feelings. Disappointment after failing to bring home what would have been the school’s first state title in the sport. Having to settle for the team’s second runner-up trophy in two weeks, after losing the FCIAC final to Greenwich in five sets.
“I’m really frazzled right now,” said the Wreckers’ Lauren Mushro. “But I am so proud of the team. They are like my sisters. We fought every point. Cheshire just played a great game.”
Brackett finished her high school career on a high note, with 17 kills and 8 digs. Mushro ended up with 7 kills and 14 digs, while setter Ariana Sherman finished with 25 assists.
If a complex sport with many points can have one defining point, it came early in the third game, with the score tied at 7-7. A long rally that took what seemed to be minutes ended up with the Rams (27-0) taking the lead. It grew until suddenly the Rams took the second set.
Though Staples (22-3) would take a 5-1 lead in the final game, it was never the same.
“After that first game it showed we could do it,” Brackett said. “But after that we could also never get the momentum. We never got to the point where it went downhill.”
Staples coach Jon Shepro dissected the outcome.
“They served well and we didn’t handle the serve,” he said. “We made some silly mistakes that you can’t make. It is tough when you get your swings and they get dug up. No excuses, Cheshire is just a good team.”
As Shepro spoke, his players in the background soon saw there tears replaced by the same carefree attitude that started the night. It was not that the Wreckers were any less driven, but in the end their collective personality had led them to the precipice of a title in the first place.
“That’s just who we are,” Shepro said as he glanced at his players. “There are different ways to compete in a big match. Our girls have been doing this all season long. They are a loose and goofy bunch of girls.”
Mushro said there was an appreciation of what the Wreckers accomplished this season.
“We talked about how only two teams make it to double L,” Mushro said. “In takes insane ability to be there. It showed how hard we fought. We would have liked to take it to five (games).”
But no one took the Rams to five games this season, and no one was able to take them down.
The trophies Staples takes home may not be the ones it most desired, but there was an appreciation as they departed for home on a heartfelt journey that changed their tears back to smiles.
“We had a good time all season long,” Shepro said. “We didn’t want it to end. But we couldn’t play tomorrow anyhow.”