My Point

Darien Girls Soccer Team Left To Rely On — And Passing — Eye Test

Darien’s Chloe Humphrey goes after a ball during today’s 5-0 win over Westhill. (Mark Conrad)

DARIEN — The members of the Darien girls soccer team are enjoying their best start ever, even if it comes with an asterisk, one that will ultimately leave them unable to assess their own talent level at the end of the year.

And that is a shame. The Blue Wave are strong across the field, move the ball well, have a desired blend of experience and young talent and look like a title contender.

But it will never know. Darien is 6-0 following today’s 5-0 win against Westhill. All the scoring came in the first 19 minutes. There were a number of near-misses and then coach Leigh Parsons turned the second half over to his reserves.

The Blue Wave, a perennial solid program, certainly pass the eye test when trying to judge how it would do against Staples, St. Joseph and Ridgefield, the recent FCIAC powers in the sport. But in this pandemic-affected season, the four teams are currently spread out in three different divisions. With teams staying in their regions for postseason play, all we will have are eye tests.

Kate Bellissimo makes a run with the ball for Darien in the first half. (Mark Conrad)

Asked if he and his players were frustrated that Darien’s most talented roster in years will not get the desired matchups, Parsons said, “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t. We’ve done relatively well in the past with them. This year we do have that kind of team that we feel we could give them a run for the money. We felt we could have been in the mix.”

All Darien can do is make a run at perfection in its five-team pod. It has swept New Canaan, an FCIAC Tournament semifinalist a year ago, with a pair of one-goal wins, and has another one-goal win over an improved Greenwich squad.

The Blue Wave has outscored its opponents by a 23-3 margin, not surprising given its strengths across the field.

Darien’s Francesca Highton tries to control a ball. Highton is one of the team’s leading scorers. (Mark Conrad)

“I think our technical skills have gotten a lot better than previous years, as well as our shots,” said Nelle Kniffin, one of the team’s defensive leaders. “We’ve really been capitalizing on the opportunities we’ve been given.”

Five different players scored today against Westhill, including Chloe Humphrey, a talented sophomore, who along with Francesca Highton, who assisted on the play, are Darien’s leading scorers.

“Today was a great reflection of how we’ve been playing,” Kniffin said. “Everyone has been moving the ball really well. Finding the open girl has definitely been a struggle in the past but everyone has been keeping their head up, really communicating well in the field.”

Highton joined the team this year after playing academy soccer. She has been a welcome addition to bolster the attack.

Chloe Humphrey and the Blue Wave have risen about the pack in the Central Region. (Mark Conrad)

The strength coming into this year was going to be an experienced defense, with Kniffin, Courtney Ball, Katie Chandler, Maggie Ramsay and Kate Bellissimo leading the way in front of goalkeeper Jillian Fox, another sophomore.

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“From a talent standpoint we knew we were going to be really good,” Chandler said. “We did lose a couple seniors but we quickly filled those spots.”

Colette Quinn, who along with Shea Dolce leads the defense, scored the first goal today, ripping a bullet into the top right-hand corner of the net.

“We knew we had good depth and we knew we had a solid defensive line coming back, we knew we had a very good midfield,” Parsons said. “And we have very good attacking players who can attack and score.”

That covers everything except depth, and the Blue Wave has that too. The team’s biggest problem right now is only having room for 11 players on the field at one time.

Sophie Smith is one of the new additions to the Darien lineup. (Mark Conrad)

“I think having the preseason and the practice before the first game got us into good shape and working as a team, and I think that’s been shown in our record,” Chandler said.

The season-opening 2-1 win over New Canaan set the tone, and a 1-0 win in the rematch — the teams will meet one more time — was a reaffirmation.

“That was awesome,” Chandler said of the first match. “I think after that game we knew our season was going to be great. That has also given us a lot of motivation to bring that same intensity to every single game.”

There are a maximum of six games left for the Blue Wave. The players wish they could have the chance to prove themselves against the FCIAC’s best. At a time when the world is making sacrifices both large and small, they have had to give their goals a reboot.

“Ideally we want to play teams we have in the past,” Kniffin said. “Our biggest games like Ridgefield, Staples, we’ve definitely missed a lot. I think we’re just happy to get in the season that we can and are able to work for something and winning something at the end. Our goal is to be undefeated.”

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