Field Hockey

Goaltenders Star As Darien And Staples Share FCIAC Championship

Darien’s Grace Benedict hits the ground trying to play a ball while Staples’ Isabella Devaney moves in to defend. (John Nash)

NORWALK — Roxy Augeri and Monisha Akula took vastly different career roads to get to the FCIAC field hockey championship game.

The two senior goaltenders — Augeri for the second-seeded Staples Wreckers and Akula for the top-seeded Darien Blue Wave — wound up arriving at the exact same place tonight.

Both pitched a shutout in the biggest game of their careers, leading their respective teams to a 0-0 draw and co-champion league honors at a rain-soaked Casagrande Field.

Augeri made four saves and Akula made five in keeping the game scoreless over two 30-minute halves and a pair of 10-minute, 7-on-7 overtime periods.

Staples’ Maisie Dembski gets low to fire a pass to a teammate as Darien’s Evelyn Hidy trails the play. (John Nash)

“It’s bittersweet. It really is,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “I thought we could have won it in overtime, but we got lucky to get to overtime, to be honest. We’re playing Darien, one of the best teams around, so overall I guess it’s not a bad night.”

Darien coach Mo Minicus, whose team won its fourth straight league title, wasn’t happy with the share.

“We hate it,” Minicus said. “I understand and respect the rule, but these girls want to play it out.”

The way the goalies and the defenses were playing, though, it was a wonder if anybody would ever score.

Darien’s Raina Johns dribbles the ball upfield as Staples’ Lainie Ambrose moves in to defend. (John Nash)

Augeri had never played goalie before stepping into the role back in the preseason.

“This is the first season she’s ever had the pads on,” Tapsall said. “She didn’t even know how to put the pads on, but we didn’t have a goalie and Roxy volunteered, and today she just played outstanding in goal. Full credit to her for coming out and playing like that.”

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Playing behind a defense led by Maisie Dembski, Grace Cooper and Erica Fanning, Augeri helped shut down a usually lethal Darien offense that scored 72 goals this regular season.

“It’s been crazy, definitely crazy,” said Augeri, who had played both midfield and forward prior to this season. “But it’s really rewarding to be able to do something for my team. My teammates needed me and what are you going to do? They’re your sisters. It’s so different, but it’s the best experience I’ve ever had.”

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Staples’ Grace Cooper rips a pass to a teammate. (John Nash)

Augeri and the Wreckers dodged a major bullet late in the game when she thought a shot on goal was going to go wide.

On the wet turf, the ball spun toward the goalmouth, forcing Augeri to circle behind it and dive on the ground to protect it from going in before it was cleared by a Wreckers defender.

“It’s really hard to see on a football field because there are so many lines,” she said. “Once I realized it wasn’t going out, I hightailed it back and just got on the ground.”

Earlier in the game she had also been saved by Dembski, who came across the field to sweep away a breakaway attempt by Darien’s Molly Hellman to keep the game scoreless.

On the other end of the field, though, Akula was equal to the task.

Darien’s Madelyn Hult, left, plays the ball as Staples’ Julia DiConza defends. (John Nash)

Thrust into the starting lineup during last year’s state tournament, Akula had big-game experience that she relied on playing behind a Blue Wave defense that was led by Madelyn Hult, Charlotte Domittner and Tala Garcia.

“It’s surreal. That’s the only way I can describe it,” Akula said. “I’m so excited for my team. It’s my senior year and we’re FCIAC champs. I really believe in the fact that, yes, I’m the last line of defense, but if I get it to my team, they’ll go and do what they do. They were amazing tonight. I missed a couple of times and they saved me.”

Staples’ best scoring opportunity came in the first half when Laine Ambrose was right in the front of the goal, but shot wide as the Blue Wave defense closed in.

Darien’s Ryan Hapgood, left, and Staples’ Kyle Kirby collide while chasing down a loose ball. (John Nash)

“If you don’t take advantage of your chances against a team like Darien, you’re not going to win,” Tapsall said. “We just stopped playing the hockey we needed to in the second half, which has been a problem of ours. We stopped playing possession and started playing hit-and-hope, and I don’t like that.”

That allowed to Darien to control much of the second half and put more pressure on the Wreckers.

“Player for player, we all stepped up,” Minicus said. “Our goalie was great, and everybody made some huge contributions. We were so close in the second half.”

Two goalies who took vastly different paths to today’s title game, however, made sure their teams weren’t going to lose.