It was never very difficult to locate Andrew Darby on the lacrosse field for Darien High School this past spring.
All you had to do was find the top offensive player from the opposing team and there was Darby, one of the state’s top defensive players, right on him in lockdown mode the entire game.
“In all likelihood that guy was not gonna score much,” head coach Jeff Brameier noted.
Now, nearly eight weeks since concluding his scholastic career, Darby, a first-team All-FCIAC, all-state and All-American defender, is taking his outstanding skill set to the University of Michigan.
In fact, Darby, in a sense, began the next chapter in his lacrosse journey Monday morning when he flew to Ann Arbor for a three-day freshmen orientation.
“I’m so excited,” he said a few hours before boarding a plane out of New York. “It’ll be fun.”
“First of all the academics,” Darby, who plans to major in economics, said. “They have academic support groups while you’re there and student-athlete facilities, which I plan to utilize. But mainly it was the academics.
“Their lacrosse team had a great season and I think they’ll have another great year so I’m excited about that,” he added. “They have a new head coach, Kevin Conry, who came over last year from the University of Maryland and they improved both years under him.”
Darby will be joining a Division I program that is definitely on the rise. Men’s lacrosse became a varsity sports at Michigan in 2012 and following five losing seasons, Conry, who spent four seasons on the coaching staff at Fairfield University, took over in 2017 and has led the Wolverines to back-to-back 8-6 campaigns.
In fact, Michigan won seven of its first nine games this past season, including a 13-12 road upset of Notre Dame, ranked No. 4 in the country at the time. The Wolverines also led eventual NCAA champion Yale by three goals early in the second half before falling to the No. 11 Bulldogs 15-11 in New Haven.
The second portion of the schedule against all Big 10 schools proved to be even tougher, although the UM did end the season on a high note, knocking off No. 14 Penn State 10-9 in overtime. The game before that the Wolverines lost 10-9 to No. 7 Johns Hopkins.
“They had some good wins for the program and they continue to make strides,” Brameier said. “The school and the whole community bleed for athletics and lacrosse is the next great sport there.”
That’s good news for Darby, but it was only through a twist of fate that he and the Michigan program came together. He had originally committed to play at Lafayette College.
“But then they had a head coaching change and that freed me up,” Darby explained, citing NCAA rules in such cases. “I looked at Michigan and fell in love with it.”
And the Wolverines fell in love with Darby, especially after the senior year he had. After coming off the bench as a junior — “I was behind some really great players,” he said — Darby started this past spring and was key part of the Darien’s drive to a fifth straight FCIAC championship and fifth consecutive trip to the state finals.
Darby was certainly a big part of that Blue Wave success.
“By his senior year he ended up being one of the best defensive players in the country,” Brameier said. “That was a testament to the hard work he put into his game.
“He also earned the respect from his teammates who selected him as one of our captains and he served that position tremendously,” the veteran coach added. “He was a leader on and off the field. He was a leader in preseason practice, in-season, and a solid personality in the locker room.”
On the field, Darby embraced the challenge of guarding the other team’s top offensive threat.
“That was my assignment almost every game,” he said. “It was fun to play against those players. I loved watching film of them and then trying to slow them down.”
“He covered some of the best players in the country,” Brameier pointed out. “He did a great job.”
Of course, Darby had plenty of chances to work on that during Darien’s practices.
“I practiced against great players, like Logan McGovern, Brian Minicus, Jack Joyce and Blake Sommi,” Darby said. “That also prepared me to play college lacrosse.”
Which is right around the corner. After this week’s orientation, Darby will report to the Michigan campus at the end of August with the first meeting for fall lacrosse on Sept. 4. By the time next spring rolls around, he hopes to see some playing time and help the Wolverines continue to grow as a program.
“My coach said if I work hard, good things will happen. I’ve been weight lifting all summer trying to get bigger, stronger and faster for college.”
And you can expect to see Andrew Darby at a few Darien lacrosse games next spring after he’s done with his freshman year in May. After all, his younger brother, Ryan, will be a senior midfielder for the Blue Wave.
“They have a great bunch a guys coming back and it’ll be fun to go and watch them,” the older Darby concluded. “I’ll be rooting for them to win back that state championship. I’ll be there when they do it.”