Ludlowe nearly put up a championship roadblock.

For two decades, the road to the FCIAC volleyball title has gone through Darien. The Blue Wave had won outright or tied for 20 conference crowns since 1990, heading into the 2014 FCIAC title match. But in two of those four years Darien didn't win, it was a Fairfield school as Fairfield High won the crown in 2002 and in 2012, Ludlowe shared the title with the Blue Wave.

And Ludlowe nearly captured a third title. The Flacons lead late in all three games but as champions do, Darien rallied back to win 25-22, 25-23 and 25-20 to finish the FCIAC regular season and the tournament with a perfect 21-0 record and capture their 21st conference championship.

"It was amazing volleyball on both sides, I'm so proud of my girls," Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. "I feel like we did everything difficult beautifully and it was all those little, small no-brainers where we were making the mistakes and you can't have those unforced against such a good team"

Ludlowe (19-3) opened CIAC play on Thursday afternoon against the winner of Glastonbury and Norwich Free Academy.

Ludlowe became the first FCIAC team this season to take Darien into the 20s in all three games. In its previous 60 FCIAC games, the Blue Wave had been taken into the 20s just three times -- Wilton did it once, Ridgefield twice.

"Coming in, we knew we could beat them," That was a big thing," Ludlowe senior hitter Keki Cardenas said. "That first time (September 19) we might have gotten a little rattled. But this time, we felt really good."

In the regular season match at Darien, the Falcons lost to the Blue Wave 25-12, 25-18 and 25-15. But this time, under a lot more pressure, Ludlowe stood toe-to-toe with the 16-time CIAC champions in all three games.

"We came into this match really confident and we've really come to trust each other," said Cardenas. "We've gotten so much better. It was our trust in each other and knowing that we could beat them."

Darien found itself having to battle back from deficits in all three games. In Game 1, Ludlowe led 18-16 and were tied at 21-21 before Darien rallied. In Game 2, the Falcons led 21-18 before Darien scored seven of the last nine points to win. And in Game 3, Ludlowe led 18-16 before the Wave surged in front to stay.

"It could have been a little bit of nerves, it could have been too much aggression at times where we were really amped up and hitting the ball 10-feet out of bounds," said Skelton. "But we played such a beautiful match."

Serving, however, continued to be a problem. Against Darien, Ludlowe managed just to score seven points off its serve in Game 1, nine points in Game 2 and nine in Game 3. Darien, on the other hand, scored 34 points off its serve.

"That's (serving) where we went downhill," Skelton said. "If we fix that area, I feel like the outcome would have been much more competitive. We just have to keep focusing on our side, what we did well. That's the best volleyball I've seen our girls play and just fixing those little things so we're not making those mistakes at critical times. We have to come out aggressive right from the beginning and try to continue to start slow like we have been doing."

And if the stars align, the Falcons and the Blue Wave will meet again in the CIAC Class LL semifinals on Nov. 13.

"That would be fun," Cardenas said. "We want to play them again." http://Twitter@elsctpost