Girls Lacrosse

Rams Finally Open Season — And Impress With Win Over Darien

New Canaan’s Dillyn Patten makes a run toward goal. (David Whitham)

NEW CANAAN — Perhaps it is fortunate that the New Canaan girls lacrosse team is going to have few chances to practice over the next several weeks, because coach Kristin Woods’ players made a compelling case today to just show up for games.

Back on the field for the first time in 689 days, a layoff due last year to the COVID-19 pandemic and elongated this spring because they were forced to quarantine for two weeks after a player caught the virus, the Rams were back on Dunning Field with just one day of practice and their biggest rival, Darien, the last opponent they faced, on the other side of the field.

Playing with unbridled energy and a far greater sense of urgency, New Canaan earned a 7-5 win. Given their previous outing was a 12-6 loss to the Blue Wave in the Class L final, this turned out to be a case of one of the longest waits to avenge a defeat.

Darien’s Ryan Hapgood is defended by the Rams’ Carolyn Baran. (David Whitham)

Practice makes perfect?

“They were real excited after two years of not being able to play on Dunning Field,” Woods said. “They were focused and ready to go.”

While Woods said film of the game will reveal areas for improvement, without that benefit, moments after the game, there was little for the coach to be upset with. Everywhere she looked on the field, there were reasons to smile.

The defense, led by Emma Schuh, Courtney O’Connell, Carolyn Baran, Ella Patterson and Emma Caione, in front of goaltender Claire Mahoney (eight saves), served as a fortress, giving the Darien attack few openings.

New Canaan’s Devon Russell looks for an opening as the Blue Wave’s Colette Quinn tries to force her outside. (David Whitham)

“Our defense has four of the strongest defenders in the state, and I would stand by that,” said midfielder McKenna Harden. “I would vote for all of them as the top defenders and they’re just such a talented unit, individually and together. Communication was there, steps were there. We knew what we were doing on defense, we knew what they were running on offense, so we really shut the down and minimized how many goals they got today.”

Harden, as was the case her first two years with the team, was all over the field in a variety of roles. And the Rams got balanced scoring from six players, with Dillyn Patten and Kaleigh Harden each scoring twice.

“I thought they outhustled us, won every groundball, every draw control,” said Darien coach Lisa Lindley, whose team has won the previous eight FCIAC titles but as today proved will have to work hard and perform well to get that ninth. “They were sharp and their goalie was outstanding. They didn’t look like they had a two-week hiatus.”

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Darien goaltender Shea Dolce carries the ball upfield. (David Whitham)

Darien (3-1) never led. The teams traded the first four goals before New Canaan scored three in a row. The Blue Wave never got closer than two goals. Kate Avitable scored off a free position with 7:07 remaining for Darien but that turned out to be the final score of the game.

“We were slow, we were very disorganized, I was very disappointed in the lack of senior leadership,” Lindley said. “It just seemed scattered in what they were doing. It’s one thing if you don’t practice it, it’s another if you have been practicing and don’t execute it. That was disappointing.”

Darien’s two standouts were Shea Dolce, one of the nation’s top prep goaltenders, who made 13 saves, and Ryan Hapgood, who scored twice. The absence of attack Chloe Humphrey, who is sidelined with a stress fracture in her back, was apparent.

McKenna Harden said though the team had just one practice the previous day, it served as a springboard.

The Rams’ McKenna Harden picks up a groundball while surrounded by three players. (David Whitham)

“Unfortunately we had a couple of weeks off but we had a long practice yesterday and we kind of knew that the momentum would be on our side today,” she said. “Just because practice yesterday looked so good. We had a lot of chemistry going today. We kind of just set the tone and it kind of showed in the game today.”

The Rams will play their first 10 games over a span of 17 days. Hopefully today was a foreshadowing of how they will perform with few workouts.

“I’m happy for the kids. I’m really happy for these kids,” Woods said. “At the end of the day they’ve had a hell of a year, like everyone else has with COVID, and then being able to get back on this field and showing everybody what they’ve got.”