NORWALK — Ryan Cornell’s final minutes on the field for the Darien boys lacrosse team were winding down, the outcome and accompanying goals were secured, so the Blue Wave goaltender did something for the first time in his career: morphing from player to fan while still minding his cage.
Cornell had already stopped 12 shots in what would become a 16-3 win in the Class L final against Cheshire, including four in the first period, when the Rams had their chances to at least provide some early theater.
Now, with an undefeated season and the No. 1 ranking in the state assured and, likely in one poll, a mythical national title teed up, Cornell did what we all do, watched in wonderment at the artistry delivered during a 23-show run by arguably the best team in the state in any sport this year.
The only difference was Cornell’s vantage point.
“It was great to watch a little bit as a fan and see what this team has come to be,” Cornell said. “In the second half I finally got to settle down and watch what this team has worked its way up to be. Honestly watching the offense from the other end of the field was quite amazing. The work that they do each and every game, the goals they put up were unbelievable and I don’t think anyone in the country could stop them.”
Today, with all due respect to a Rams team that should take pride in reaching the final, was a coronation. A fifth straight state title. The 54th win in a row.
In terms of game information, Kevin Lindley finished with 7 goals, giving him 106 for the season. Logan McGoven, another 100-point scorer, added 4 goals and 2 assists. Brian Minicus had 2 goals and 2 assists and Matt Meyjes 1 goal and 3 assists.
But the only battle for the Blue Wave was internal, to reach their destiny and earn the chance to revel in it.
“When we broke for the half it was put the pedal down, do what you do in big games in the third quarter and try to gain some separation,” said Darien coach Jeff Brameier, whose team built on an 8-2 lead with five straight goals. “So the next huddle at the end of the third quarter was congratulations, now enjoy the moment. And that was what was kind of nice today, they could relax and enjoy each other.”
Though a prohibitive favorite — Darien outscored its four opponents, 68-19, in the tournament — Lindley said there was no complacency, staying true to what has been the main theme to this season.
“We knew what we had to do,” Lindley said. “We knew what was on the line. The national championship was what this team wanted. We knew we had to come out on fire and not flat. We executed our gameplan to perfection.”
The Blue Wave have become a challenge to we who cover them: all story angles have been exhausted. There is probably little curiosity in the stretch Brameier has gone unshaved during the tournament, when he will pick up a razor and whether he is a gel or a cream guy.
Interestingly, except for some direct questions about Cornell, Brameier brought up almost each of his starters by name, unsolicited, during a quick flurry of postgame reflection.
Of Cornell he said, “He’s kind of the impenetrable wall and then we have the guys that can’t get beat one on one. It’s a great defense. He had a couple of early saves and one turned into a fastbreak goal that Riley set up. He’s been a focal part of three straight championships in a row, coming up big time in all three games. It’s not like a goalie goes unnoticed, but sometimes with an offense putting up such big points, our goal scorers get a lot of hype — and deservedly so.”
Riley is Riley Stewart, and Brameier singled him out as well.
“And a guy that kind of goes unnoticed in some ways because he’s not putting up huge points is Riley Stewart,” Brameier said. “The guy does everything. He’s on the wing on faceoffs, he’s clearing the ball on clearance, he’s getting assists on goals and then he plays man-up and man-down on defense. He’s a one-man clearing machine. He is probably the most superb conditioned athlete I’ve coached in the sport. He can go all day.”
It would be disrespectful to ask any of the seniors how this team ranks with the others they were a part of, or Brameier to rank them from a historical perspective.
More telling, presenting a response that was unanimous, was asking the protagonists what has distinguished this team.
“This is the most hard-working team I’ve ever been a part of in my life,” Lindley said.
Cornell seconded it.
“I definitely think that’s true,” he said. “Each and every day we’re grinding. We’re at practice, there’s no let up. It’s full intensity, full throttle and I think it shows on the field each and every time we come out.”
Added Brameier, “I just think the chemistry is great. Last year they were a bunch of fun-loving athletes and phenomenal athletes, and this group is similar but they had a pitbull mentality on defense.”
Cornell’s moment as a fan on the field soon turned to a different location, as he and the other starters were taken off for a deserved curtain call. There were hugs, with Lindley, the goal scorer, and Cornell, the goal stopper, finding each other on the sideline.
“When I got pulled out it kind of hit me that I’ll never put on this jersey again,” Lindley said. “It was kind of depressing but it’s not like I’m not playing the sport anymore. It’s a bittersweet feeling but right now it feels awesome.”