NORWALK – It would be understandable if the New Canaan girls lacrosse team had a certain royal blue and white neighboring rival on its collective mind when tonight’s FCIAC semifinal against Staples began.
New Canaan had just watched seven-time defending league champ Darien vanquish Wilton in the first game. New Canaan ended Darien’s in-state undefeated streak at 107 games in last year’s state semifinals, and then lost by one goal in the teams’ regular-season showdown earlier this month, to say nothing of the long-time rivalry between the schools, one that is the most intense in the state.
So it would not have been that surprising if New Canaan was thinking more about the state’s top-ranked team early on instead of Staples. No doubt, though, that an early deficit reminded the Rams there was business to take care of before any rematch with Darien could materialize.
Sure enough, the Rams woke up and scored 10 consecutive goals after falling behind by two and went on to a 15-8 victory over Staples at Testa Field. The Rams can officially start thinking about Darien. The rematch with the Blue Wave is now set.
“We always want to play Darien,” said New Canaan coach Kristin Woods, adding that she did not think her team was caught up by that prospect. “We did not have the best warmup and it showed in the first five minutes.”
New Canaan (15-3), the No. 2 seed, will take on top-seeded Darien (16-2), a 19-9 winner over Wilton, for the title on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Staples jumped to a 3-1 lead just over three minutes into the game. The quick lead was the best start possible for Staples. Considering the response by the Rams, however, it may also have been the worst thing to happen to the No. 3 Wreckers (15-3).
“I don’t know what happened,” Staples coach Nicole Gerosa said, “but we came out strong and then they made adjustments and completely changed the game.”
The changes the Rams made might have been as much mental as physical. The now-focused Rams scored seven consecutive goals in eight minutes and then took a 9-3 halftime lead when Quincy Connell scored the second of her three goals. Two New Canaan goals in the first four minutes of the second half made it a 10-0 run.
“It was a total team effort,” Woods said. “After (falling behind), the intensity was there.”
The Rams dominated the final 20 minutes of the first half and never looked back after their slow start.
“We watched Darien (win the first game) but (after the slow start) we got our heads back,” Connell said. “We’re always taught that it’s one game at a time. You’ve got to be able to bounce back.”
“We’re really excited to be playing Darien again,” added Rams freshman midfielder Kaleigh Harden. “We always are. But it’s supposed to be one game at a time.”
Staples never gave up but also never got closer than four goals the rest of the way.
“This game was frustrating,” Gerosa said. “The second half was 5-5 but (after taking the lead) we just got frantic with the ball.”
Staples, which did not play New Canaan or Darien during the regular season, scored four unanswered goals after falling behind 11-3. But the Rams kicked it into high gear in the final 10 minutes.
Connell, Campbell Connors and McKenna Harden each had three goals to lead New Canaan. Dillyn Patten added two goals while goalie Caroline O’Dea finished with five saves.
Shira Parower had three goals, while Kyle Kirby and Ellen Fair had two for Staples. Goalies Sara DiGiovanni and Zoe Macris combined for three saves.
Darien 19, Wilton 9
The recipe has been in place for years at Darien and nothing changed tonight in the semifinal victory over Wilton.
Establish dominance early, then win most of the draws and ground balls to control the clock and protect the lead. When and if it gets close, revert to early strategy. It has worked well for at least the last seven years – all league championship seasons for the Blue Wave – and did once again today.
Darien scored four goals in the first six minutes and added four in the final six minutes to advance.
“It’s very important to set the tone,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. “That’s always one of our goals. And then after getting ahead we didn’t let them get the momentum. I’m pleased with that.”
In the opening minutes Darien looked determined to pick right up where it left off in Friday’s quarterfinals. The Blue Wave routed Trumbull, 20-2, raced to the early 4-0 advantage and led, 5-0, midway through the opening half.
Stanford-bound Ashley Humphrey had two of those goals for No. 1 seed Darien (16-2) and assisted on another, while Sarah Jacques (five goals, three assists), Maddie Joyce (4 goals, 2 assists) and Shea Van den Broek also scored before halftime for Darien.
“We were looking for that perfect 50 minutes,” said Humphrey, who led the Blue Wave with six goals and three assists. “We want to keep it going rather than letting up once we get the lead.”
Wilton (11-7), the No. 5 seed, which lost a close 10-8 decision to Darien on May 10, managed to stay within three (7-4) at halftime. Sophia Sudano, who had six goals in Wilton’s 12-6 quarterfinal victory over Ridgefield, scored three of her four goals before halftime.
Darien, however, wouldn’t budge. Wilton would get no closer than three the rest of the way. And when the Warriors still had a shot down six (15-9) with six minutes remaining, Darien finished exactly the same way as it started with four consecutive goals to wrap it up.
Now the Blue Wave go for an eighth consecutive FCIAC championship. Is there pressure to keep the streak going?
“Just being in the Darien program, there is always pressure,” Humphrey said. “It is what it is, but we’re ready for it.”
Anna Sherman added three goals for Wilton while Warrior goalies Bridgette Wall (two) and Tate Paulson (four) finished with six saves. Darien goalie Shea Dolce stopped six shots.