Staples volleyball swept by Ludlowe in opener

The Staples girls volleyball team enjoyed a season for the ages in 2013, putting together a magical run that reached the FCIAC and Class LL title games.

Wednesday's opponents Fairfield Ludlowe, with the same puzzle pieces fitting together, is trying to emulate that formula this fall and got off to the perfect start to the season against the Wreckers.

The Falcons came away with a 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-15) sweep of Staples at home, led by April Cooke's 16 service points and nine kills. The six-foot-three senior tormented the Wreckers frontline and ended a number of rallies with thunderous spikes.

"She's just grown even more in her confidence and her ability," Falcons coach Meghan Skelton said. "It's nice to have a senior leader like her."

Staples spent long stretches trading points with Ludlowe, but the Falcons' class eventually prevailed. Cooke and fellow hitter Keki Cardenas (eight kills) controlled the middle enough to cause the Wreckers problems.

"The two middles are awesome; running that quick set is tough to block," Staples coach Jon Shepro said. "(Wreckers junior middle) Reece Schachne I thought did a great job blocking a couple of them and had a couple good offensive plays as well."

The Wreckers had their biggest lead in any game in the third (12-7) before Ludlowe soared back. Trailing 12-8, Cooke rattled off 12 straight service points to effectively end the match. Once the rally was over, the Ludlowe faithful gave Cooke and her teammates a standing ovation.

"We have to work hard because this is the first one of many," said Ludlowe setter Andrea Alvarez, who had 16 assists. "We can get way better."

Ludlowe, which hasn't won a FCIAC championship outright since Fairfield High accomplished the FCIAC and Class LL double in 2000, believes this is a team capable of being special.

"This team is going to be very dangerous in the state," Skelton said. "We have a lot of potential. We have a lot of returners and a lot of fresh blood; we got girls in new positions and they are capable."

Staples lost virtually its entire core from last year's 22-3 squad, but Shepro was encouraged by the progress shown by his young team Wednesday. More than 12 players got onto the court as the early-season lineup adjustments were in full effect.

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"I thought they played great, I really did," Shepro said. "I thought they had the effort; obviously we were outgunned. Ludlowe is a great team. ... The girls were nervous but they stepped up; we just kept giving the ball back."

The Falcons celebrated one point too quickly after they thought a rally had ended in their favor. Staples' Kaela O'Kelly made a lunging play to keep the point alive, and it took Skelton's voice from the sideline to alert the Falcons. Cooke eventually ended the long rally with a kill that sent Ludlowe on its way.

"It's a good thing I'm very loud," Skelton joked. "I got to yell at them and they realized the point was still going on. Lucky we were able to catch that."