DARIEN — For the first time in six years, the Darien girls lacrosse team entered a season coming off a defeat. It occurred in the state semifinals and was the springboard to rival New Canaan winning the title.
For the Blue Wave’s veterans, there was a perceptible psychological change in the offseason.
“A lot of us were on the team last year and we knew what it meant to have such a promising start and lose, so we’re really hoping that through hard work and dedication this year we can turn it around and come out on top again,” said Sarah Jacques, one of six senior starters. “Now we have a chip on our shoulders where we are not the team with the dynasty. We’re coming in as the same level as everyone else and we have something to prove just like everyone else does.”
Thus far, the Blue Wave are on a plane with few other occupants.
After a slow start today, Darien gained momentum as the game went on to defeat Ridgefield, 14-8. Jacques finished with four goals, one of eight players to score.
“We had a couple of issues at the beginning but we really tried to turn it around and work together as a team instead of an individual effort,” Jacques said. “We tried to move the ball faster. We knew that Ridgefield was going to come out aggressive so the more we held the ball, we just ended up getting caught with it. The more we moved the ball, we did better.”
Darien improved to 5-0, 4-0 in league play. It was the first time this season it was held under 18 goals.
“Today I think we came out flat-footed,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. “We were playing back on our heels and as it went along we got a little bit better. My message to the team is you can’t afford to come out flat. You need to dictate the tone and the pace of play from the get-go. It can’t be us reacting to them.”
Nicole Humphrey, Kit Arrix and Ceci Stein each scored twice for the Blue Wave.
Stein and Molly McGuckin, who had a goal, were two freshmen Lindley thought stood out as she looks to make the most of the depth at her disposal.
“What helped us today was our bench, helping me to get in some other people,” Lindley said. “On a day like today, when I think we were sloppy, you never know who is going to rise. I thought the two freshmen played really well. They showed some grit and heart and did very well. That’s the beauty of having the younger kids. They really play with no fear and they just go out and give 100 percent. There is nothing in their mind to lose.”
Another freshman, Shea Dolce, is the starter in goal.
“She had three saves on free positions in a row and that’s really hard to do,” Lindley said.
Ridgefield (2-3, 2-1), which lost to New Canaan in last year’s state final, was led by Caitlin Slaminko’s four goals. Maeve Tobin added a pair.
“We did play well. I’m proud of them,” Tigers coach Cece Berger said. “There are definitely some things that we didn’t do well but it was a really good game. I just wish a couple of things went our way. It was the first league game we had where we were challenged a lot and they have some great players.”
The Tigers played Darien evenly for the first 15 minutes and had a 4-3 lead on a goal by Slaminko.
The Blue Wave countered with four straight goals, by Stein, Nicole Humphrey, Arrix and Jacques.
Darien led by 9-6 at halftime and extended its lead on goals by Jacques and Ashley Humphrey.
“We started to do a much better job capitalizing on the shots that we took and we tried not to force it as much, so we waited until we had a good shot,” Jacques said. “Our coach tells us a lot it’s not the slam-dunk shots so feel free to take time off the clock and work the possessions, so we really try to do that instead of rushing.”
Lindley said her team played closer to its capability after the break.
“In the second half we were better but to be honest with you I thought Ridgefield played a great game,” Lindley said. “In a lot of senses they were winning every category. They were winning the ground balls, they were executing on offense. We were fouling on defense, slow-footed. That was difficult.”
Darien now faces a stretch of three straight difficult games against out-of-state schools. Lindley said there is an important tangible that should help the Blue Wave over the long haul.
“I think this team chemistry is much better than last year. That’s huge,” Lindley said.
Similarly, Berger sees a bright future for the Tigers.
“We’re dealing with some injuries and it has given us a little bit of a slow start, but I think once we’re up and healthy and keep working on things we’re going to really start to connect more on the field,” Berger said.