Coming into the 2018 season, Darien field hockey coach Maureen Minicus knew she had some rebuilding to do. After graduating 12 seniors last year, only a few starters from last season remained.
Adding to the pressure this year was the schedule: The first game of the season was against last year’s state champion, Staples, a game that Darien ultimately lost 2-1. The team now stands at a record of 4-2, after wins against Brien McMahon, Fairfield Warde, St. Joseph and Stamford and a loss against Garden City, N.Y., 3-1
Yet, despite two early losses, Minicus says the Wave is just beginning to find its rhythm.
“Opening up with Staples was tough,” Minicus said. “Staples as a team plays pretty much year- round together, so they’re familiar with each other. I think their skills are more fine-tuned at this point in the season, just because most of them commit to field hockey in the off-season: Even if they are multiple sport athletes, they still pick up the stick. A lot of our players don’t, so at the beginning of the year it’s ‘Okay, let’s start from scratch.’”
The Garden City loss, Minicus said, was more disappointing because it is a game she said the Wave should have won.
“Statistically, we out-cornered them 15-3,” Minicus said. “And so when you think about it, we kind of did everything right: We got the ball, we controlled the ball, we got the ball into the circle, and if we couldn’t get a shot off or couldn’t score a goal, we got a corner. On the flip side, we only gave up three corners against a really good, athletic team defensively, so that’s great.”
In the end, according to Minicus, the team’s youth and relative inexperience made the difference. The Wave’s entire defensive unit is first year starters, including goalie Grace Aronsohn.
“We had a breakdown in the defensive circle,” Minicus said. “Two of their goals were scored on fast breaks, so we need to clean up. We’re young, we’re just trying to figure out the roles and the trust in each other.”
Offensively, Minicus said, the Wave had too many missed opportunities.
“They executed to get on board first, and we should have,” Minicus said. “We started the game with four or five corners in their offensive end in the first couple minutes of the game. We definitely need to have the focus, the energy, the intensity, the urgency to feel the need to score a goal at that point in the game to really set the tone.”
Going forward, Minicus said that many of the team’s challenges are “easy fixes,” especially given the strength and talent of the starting roster, including last year’s full-time starters Bridget Mahoney and Katie Elders, and Molly Hellman and Shea van den Broek, who both also saw time in the starting lineup last year.
“Bridget and Katie bring intensity to every game; they are focused and fast,” Minicus said. “Molly is doing a great job at right wing, and Shea has figured it out offensively and has confidence at left wing.”
Seniors Lily Kulesz and Emily Schwartzman are also among the players replacing last year’s graduating starters.
“Lily is bringing just a ton of energy and spunk, she moves the ball quickly, she’s hustling,” Minicus said. “Emily is holding down the defense and the midfield in the middle. She’s a great distributor of the ball, and that’s really her role: to pre-scan and move the ball quickly from one side of the field to the other.”
First-year varsity starters Catie Duggan, Tala Garcia, Lindsey Olson, Sarah Bogdan and Brinsley Rushe are also integral to the Wave’s success, according to Minicus.
“Catie is getting better every day; she’s a true presence in the backfield, she has a great voice. She’s just a great leader back there,” Minicus said. “Tala is so scrappy, she has great stick skills. She’s stepped into a nice role for us defensively. Lindsey and Brinsley are first year sophomore starters — they’re playing with confidence, and they’re learning every day.”
Bogdan, MInicus noted, had three goals in her first three games.
“She has a very quick stick in the circle and is able to redirect the ball right into the cage offensively,” MInicus said.
Also ready to help out as key players for the Wave, according to Minicus, are senior captains Daphne Cutler and Olivia Stein offensively, as well as senior Riley Joyce in the midfield.
Goalie Aronsohn, Minicus said, is improving alongside the rookie defensive unit.
“Our entire defensive unit is first year starters, including the goalie, so it’s just a matter of really jelling and Grace taking control back there as far as directing the defense,” Minicus said. “She’s great between the pipes, she’s aggressive, she likes to come out. She needs to trust that the defenders are doing their job and she doesn’t have to come out and put herself out of position.”
The Wave faces its next big matchup against rival Daniel Hand, followed by tough games against Greenwich, New Canaan and Norwalk. According to Minicus, her team will be up to the challenge.
“The Staples game — in a game of that caliber it was too soon for us,” Minicus said. “So my outlook on that was tough loss, move on, we have so much more room to grow. I think that moving forward my outlook is: We’re going to get there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and really taking it one day at a time, and also holding the players accountable: They are trying to get to that next level every day, and learning from their mistakes and getting better.”