Ask any volleyball coach and they’ll tell you deception is as big a part of the game as sets, digs and kills.

But there was absolutely no mystery to what St. Joseph was trying to do during Friday afternoon’s FCIAC matchup against town-rival Trumbull. Every time the ball went over the net, the Cadets were doing everything in their power to get it in the neighborhood of senior Kevin Stapleton.

The Eagles knew it. Everyone sitting inside the Trumbull High School gymnasium knew it. But that didn’t seem to faze Stapleton, who overwhelmed the Eagles with some of the most powerful hitting likely to be seen on the high school level, leading St. Joseph to an exciting 3-1 victory in the season opener for the Cadets.

St. Joseph, which has now five straight matches against Trumbull dating back to 2010, was playing without one of its top hitters with senior Eric Lewicki out of state on a prior commitment.

That left Stapleton alone to handle all of the swinging, and he came through with an amazing 39 kills and two blocks as St. Joseph won by scores of 25-22, 25-18, 25-27 and 25-18.

“Typically, (Lewicki) would be opposite of Kevin. He’d be getting more of the balls and taking a lot more pressure off Kevin,” St. Joseph head coach Martin Dempsey said. “They’re the cornerstone of our offense.”

That forced St. Joseph to play with a totally new lineup, including a first-year setter in senior Marc Mrozek.

But Mrozek played like he had been passing to Stapleton for years. No matter where Stapleton was on the court, even when Stapleton was serving, Mrozek set it up perfectly, finishing with 31 assists.

Mrozek also led the Cadets with 19 service points.

Stapleton, a two-time All-FCIAC pick and an All-State selection as a sophomore, made his share of unforced errors.
But for the most part, Stapleton had the Eagles back-pedaling with his steady stream of lightning bolts. He was, simply put, unstoppable.

“We’ve been practicing our new rotation the last few days and I knew I could rely on my team,” said Stapleton, a Milford resident who also had nine service points, including three aces.

“We made some errors. We missed some serves and lost a little energy in the third game. But we came out strong again in the fourth game and had a great finish.”

Trumbull (0-2) jumped out to leads of 10-4 and 13-6 in the opening game behind the play of senior captain Zach Yellen, who led the Eagles with 16 kills, one block and six service points.

The Eagles, who suffered a 3-0 setback against the Fairfield co-op in the season-opener, allowed the Cadets to build momentum with a litany of unforced errors.

St. Joseph took advantage, coming back to take a 2-0 lead. The third game was delayed 20 minutes as the officials and coaches tried to clear up an illegal lineup call. Trumbull caught St. Joseph napping after play finally resumed and pulled out a 27-25 win.

However, Trumbull just couldn’t stop Stapleton, who helped seal the victory with a number of thunderous spikes in the fourth game.

“It’s really tough with someone like (Stapleton) over there. We tried to stop him, but he’s a very high-caliber player,” Trumbull head coach Tamara DeBerry said.

“We knew what we needed to do, but we were missing our outside hitter and my right side had an emergency. So we weren’t ourselves.”

Without starters Jeremiah Caraballo and Jovaro Cucuta, the Eagles were nearly defenseless against the top-spin cannon-blasts by Stapleton.

“That took us out of our rotation a little bit,” DeBerry said. “I had to switch things up at the last minute.”

Trumbull has made improvement in each of DeBerry’s four previous seasons. She’s hoping to take another step up and lead the Eagles into the state tournament for the first time since 2009. Trumbull went 6-12 last year.

“My goal is to reach .500,” she said. “We’re trying to build a program and I think we’re doing it the right way and making progress.”

St. Joseph has all but two players back from a team that went 10-7 and lost in the first round of the Class M state tournament.
With Stapleton leading the charge, the Cadets are hoping for a breakthrough campaign.

“Our goal is not just to make the state tournament but to go far in the state tournament,” Dempsey said.

“We haven’t made the FCIACs in the while. It’s been about six or seven years. The only take the top four, so we’re really shooting for that. I think we have a legitimate shot.”

Everyone knows what needs to be done.

“We gotta keep improving and be a little more consistent,” Stapleton said. “Set me the ball and we’ll get points.”

Charles Wade had two kills and a block for St. Joseph while Pat Thompson had one kill, one block and eight service points. Junior Matt Reis added nine service points and one ace.

Freshman Matt Yellen led Trumbull with 10 service points while Matt Douglass added nine. Junior Justyn Schueler gave Zach Yellen support at the net with five kills. Jason Miccalizzi had two kills and a block.