As I arrived at Wilton High School on Thursday afternoon, a semblance of normalcy returned for the first time since March 9, when I watched the Staples girls basketball team defeat Glastonbury in the Class LL quarterfinals, my last high school game.
Reporter’s notebook? Check. Two pens? Check. Microphone attachment for iPhone to hear people talking through a mask? Check. Mask? Check.
OK, maybe it wasn’t complete normalcy, but it was nice to have a game to cover, to see athletes and coaches, to see support staffs from different schools that you get to know so well, even if the absence of student fan sections created a noticeable void.
As for the games, there are going to be some negatives, the biggest being the absence of real races in the hunt for FCIAC championships. But there will also be some benefits. The regionalized pods mean top rivals will meet more than once, often in home-and-home series.
We won’t have the Greenwich boys soccer team playing many of the league’s top sides, the St. Joseph girls soccer team misses both Staples and Ridgefield and the Staples and Darien field hockey teams are in different regions.
But there will be a lot of Stamford-Westhill, New Canaan-Darien, Ludlowe-Warde and Trumbull-St. Joseph, just to name a few.
Two of those rivalries last Thursday yielded the biggest outcomes from the first three days. Sophia Lowenburg’s goal in the 60th minute gave the Trumbull girls soccer team a 2-1 win over St. Joseph, which would have been the heavy favorite in the league in a normal season.
Liz Foley of the Eagles answered a goal by the Cadets’ Maddie Fried, who left the game in the 39th minute after taking a horrible fall. The nature of the injury and how much time Fried, one of the state’s best players, will miss is unknown.
At the same time, over in Darien, the New Canaan field hockey team used a late rally to overcome a 2-0 deficit and defeat the Blue Wave in overtime, 3-2, on a goal by Shawna Ferraro.
In a meet between two perennial powers, the Staples boys cross country team defeated Danbury.
It was a good couple of days over at Darien though, as its boys and girls soccer and volleyball teams got the best of New Canaan. The Rams’ girls soccer team made it to the league semifinals a year ago, but Darien has a lot of returning players and might be a top-four side in the conference.
The New Canaan volleyball team would have been an FCIAC favorite along with Greenwich and Trumbull in a non-pandemic season.
While there is not a reliable body of work to go by yet, some pods in different sports are going to give teams much more difficult tests than they would have received.
In boys soccer, Wilton, Danbury, Staples and Norwalk are going to play each other twice. Add Ridgefield looking improved in a 1-0 loss to Wilton on Friday and Brien McMahon likely to be competitive and this could be the most difficult grouping in any sport.
Wilton girls soccer coach Renato Topali noted after his 1-1 tie with Ridgefield on Thursday that the Warriors now have to come back and play the Tigers again before their home-and-home series with defending FCIAC champion Staples.
The Staples field hockey team may not get to face Darien, but it will be tested with two games each against Ridgefield, Norwalk and Wilton. The Tigers might have been a title contender.
In volleyball, Greenwich, New Canaan, Westhill and Darien is going to be a tremendous round robin.
In girls swimming, Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan will compete against each other twice.
There are rivalry games or matches between teams that would have been conference contenders almost every day.
And as several coaches have told me, in this abbreviated and regionalized fall season due to the coronavirus, with no titles to be earned, they would rather play as many difficult games as possible to test their players and teams.
It does not make up for an incomplete season but it is a consolation nonetheless.