For the last 20 years, the road to the FCIAC girls volleyball championship has gone through Darien. And for the foreseeable future, it will continue to do so.

The Blue Wave captured their 21st FCIAC title by surviving a determined Fairfield Ludlowe squad in straight sets to complete an undefeated conference season. The visiting Darien team won 25-22, 25-23 and 25-20 to finish the FCIAC regular season and tournament with a 21-0 record.

"This is just the best feeling ever," said Darien senior hitter Isabelle Taylor, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "It was a really good game. There was never one moment when we didn't come into the gym thinking, `This is our game.' We had to fight for everything."

And fight they did. 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.

But against the Falcons, Darien found itself having to battle back from deficits in all three games. In Game 1, Ludlowe led 18-16 and was 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.

"We had to really fight to get this," said Darien senior Celia Martzolf. "Regardless of the score we knew we had to keep working on our side of the court. We had to play every point as kind of an individual moment and not get overwhelmed or pressured by the score."

Darien, the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Class LL state tournament (they lost a draw to Cheshire), will open state play on Thursday against the winner of West Haven-Hall. Ludlowe (19-3) and the No. 3 seed, will also play on Thursday against the winner of Glastonbury and Norwich Free Academy.

Back on Sept. 19, the Falcons lost to Darien 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.

"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 errors against such a good team."

Darien lost this season to St. Mary's, the No. 1 team in New York state and to Immaculate Heart Academy, the No. 1 team in New Jersey. But in Connecticut, the Blue Wave had been like a tidal wave. Between 1993-2014, Darien's record is an incredible 481-12 with 10 undefeated seasons.

"We've been working so hard in practice to get back here again," said Taylor.

Darien lost last season in the FCIAC championship to Greenwich, just the third time since 1993 that they didn't win or share the league title.

"All that work has been leading up to this," Taylor said. "We've had our eye on the prize since the start of the season. Now, we're ready for the states."

So is Ludlowe. And if the stars align, the Falcons and the Blue Wave will meet again in the semifinals on Nov. 13.

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