Field Hockey

Blue Wave Edge Staples For 8th FCIAC Field Hockey Title In 11 Years

The Darien field hockey team celebrates its 2-1 FCIAC championship win over Staples. (Photo: John Nash)

NORWALK — Longtime Darien High School field hockey coach Mo Minicus had plenty of adjectives to sum up the 2018 edition of the Blue Wave program.

“They’re fun, they’re loose, they’re silly,” Minicus said. “It’s just a great group of kids.”

She can now add defending FCIAC champions to that list.

The second-seeded Blue Wave defeated previously unbeaten and top-seeded Staples, 2-1, tonight at Jack Casagrande Field.

Molly Hellman’s goal on a scramble in front of the Staples net deflected off the goalie’s pad and into the cage to snap a 1-1 tie, giving Darien the lead.

That advantage held up, giving the Blue Wave their eighth title in 11 years.

“You know what? It never gets old,” Minicus said. “It’s a whole new group of kids every single year and they want it as much as the team before.”

This year’s group lost to Staples by a 2-1 score back on Sept. 7.

Darien’s Liliana Kulesz protects the ball from Staples’ Kyle Kirby during the first half. (Photo: John Nash)

The Blue Wave even fell behind early as the Wreckers were awarded a penalty stroke just 7:31 into the game.

Kyle Kirby netted her 25th goal of the season to put Staples up 1-0.

“I wasn’t even nervous,” Darien senior Bridget Mahoney said. “I knew we’d get one, maybe even two.”

Mahoney played a big role in getting the Blue Wave even, setting up Shea Van den Broek less than four minutes later.

Hellman had forced a Wreckers turnover and quickly fed Mahoney on the Staples’ side of midfield. Mahoney, in turn, sent a diagonal pass to Van den Broek, who was streaking up the right sideline toward the circle.

“I actually didn’t see her,” Mahoney said. “But I know Shea is always making that cut. I saw a little bit of black and I thought it was her, so I just sent it around the defender and she took it from there.”

Staples’ Laine Ambrose battles Darien’s Brinsley Rushe for possession. (Photo: John Nash)

Van den Broek beat Staples goalie Bridget Mulloy (2 saves) to the far post, tying the game with 18:46 left in the first half.

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“It was an unbelievable goal,” Minicus said. “Those three all year, they’re just so smart. Shea is a crafty player, a smart player and she finishes.”

In the second half the Blue Wave needed somebody else to finish and it was Hellman who finally did, with 19:47 left to play.

“It was just a scramble in front of the goal and I pushed it on and it deflected off the goalie’s pad,” Hellman said. “We didn’t think about the fact we were playing in the finals. We’re a close team and we have a lot of fun just being out there playing with each other.”

From there, the Blue Wave just had to hold back each and every surge the Wreckers threw at them.

Staples’ Elle Fair reacts in disappointment after the team’s first loss. (Photo: John Nash)

One slight defensive adjustment by Darien made a big difference, as well.

Minicus decided to face-guard Staples midfielder Laine Ambrose all over the field, using sophomore Brinsley Rushe, who was named the game’s MVP, and freshman Molly McGuckin to keep the ball off of Ambrose’s stick.

“Laine is a great player and she is an outstanding dribbler,” Minicus said. “We had done that (face-guarded an opposing player) before, but not this year. We just didn’t want her touching the ball.”

In the end, though, Darien still had to ward off one last Staples corner with 45 seconds to play.

Darien goaltender Catherine Vogt (1 save) and her defense were up to the task, clinching the Blue Wave’s latest title.

The Darien captains accept the championship plaque. (Photo: John Nash)

“I’ve had this conversation before. Sometimes, it’s just the bounce of the ball,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “We had our opportunities in the second half to sneak in a tie and maybe a win, but hat’s off to Darien.

“It was just a couple of things that broke down,” Tapsall added. “Against Darien, because they’re such a good team, if you make one mistake they punish you. It Darien had made that one mistake, we would have punished them.”

The Wreckers — two-time defending Class L state champs — will take an 18-1 record into the state tournament. Staples saw a 22-game win streak snapped, as well.

Darien improved to 16-2-1.

“They don’t expect (to win championships),” Minicus said. “They work their butts off. Nothing is taken for granted. They earned their way here, they got better from the first time we played Staples. We’ll keep working, working and working.”