WESTPORT — The Staples field hockey team came into the penultimate game of the regular season in need of a signature win that could provide an intangible factor heading in to what could be among the most contested conference tournaments in league history.
The Wreckers had a final chance this afternoon and made the most of it. Meghan Johnson scored once in each half and the defense held steady after a late goal by the Blue Wave for a 2-1 victory that secured a first-round home playoff game.
“This is huge,” Johnson said. “It really put us back in the FCIAC considering we lost to other top teams. This field just brings us joy and when we are on it we don’t lose. No place like Ginny.”
Johnson was referring to the Wreckers’ Ginny Parker Field, where they are 7-0 this season. Their road losses came against Greenwich and Norwalk, which started the day tied with the Blue Wave at 11-1, and an overtime defeat to Wilton, which right now is fifth in points. Staples scored a total of three times in its defeats.
“The top teams we’ve lost to are very good teams and they deserved the wins, but they’ve always been close,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “I want to get my girls in the frame of mind where they get their confidence back because against those teams we’ve had opportunities, but we want to get that circle entry that leads to goals. We haven’t been able to score. Today on the counterattack, which I don’t mind at all, we just put two beautiful goals away, and if we can do that and defend as resolutely as we did there I think we have a good chance going forward.”
In a rematch of last season’s scoreless state championship meeting, the Blue Wave had the edge early before Staples settled down and had the advantage in possession time. That led to the first of Johnson’s goals, with 17:39 left in the half, off a feed from Abby Najarian.
“She crossed it to the middle and I just came in and swept it through,” Johnson said.
The Wreckers had another good chance before the half, with Najarian being set up by Gabriella Vega, but the Blue Wave’s Shea Van den Broek swept in to break up the play.
Johnson made it 2-0 with 21:08 left, after a ball delivered into the circle by Laine Ambrose.
Darien goaltender Erica Blaze then kept her team in the game with a spectacular save when she came out and stopped Najarian on a breakaway.
Darien finally broke through with 10:42 left, when Sydney Schrenker scored in front, but the Wreckers did not allow any good equalizing chances.
“It’s composure and discipline,” Tapsall said. “If you can keep the ball out of the circle then they can’t score. And if you want to clear the ball out and regroup that’s what I want to do. It’s tough coming back from 2-0 to get three goals. Their goal was well deserved but we managed to stick it out.”
Darien coach Mo Minicus, whose team’s only other loss was to Norwalk, gave her players a mixed review.
“Tough first half,” she said. “We took it to them at the beginning but didn’t capitalize on chances that we had. They scored but it was an ugly goal on our part, lucky goal on their part but that doesn’t matter. It went in and it shouldn’t have. The second half I thought we woke up and adjusted to the style of play we were supposed to be playing. The second goal was disappointing because I thought we had momentum but again they capitalized on an opportunity that they had and we struggled doing it. We have to play a full game.”
In a season when the level of balance has been striking in most FCIAC sports, field hockey is no different. The reward for two top seeds will be quarterfinal visits from Wilton and Fairfield Ludlowe, each a legitimate contender.
“It’s going to be a brutal FCIAC Tournament,” Minicus said. “This is the most parity we’ve ever had. Ever had. But it’s fun. We have to wake up to the level we’re expected to play.”
The Wreckers today afforded themselves an important early edge.
“We needed to get home field advantage and to play on this field, we really needed that,” Tapsall said. “If we play as well as we did today and as disciplined as we did today, good things will happen.”
Added Johnson, “It’s a amazing. I can’t explain the feeling. I’m so excited we are going to get home-field advantage.”