In recent years the Darien and Staples field hockey programs have had several memorable showdowns, scripting a new rivalry in a sport where historically the Blue Wave have had the edge with the Wreckers having closed the gap over the past couple of seasons.
A new chapter of that rivalry was written Thursday night as the No. 2 Blue Wave re-established themselves as the best team in the conference, defending their FCIAC championship by knocking off the top-seeded Wreckers in a 2-1 thriller at Brien McMahon’s Jack Casagrande Field.
“Our goal was to get here and obviously playing Staples is always such a great, fun competitive game,” Darien head coach Mo Minicus said. “We wanted nothing more than to beat them and these girls played their hearts out.”
After Staples took an early 1-0 lead when junior Kyle Kirby scored on a penalty stroke less than eight minutes into the contest, Darien’s Shea Van den Broek, who scored a hat trick in the semifinals against Greenwich, picked up right where she left off in the semis.
The senior co-captain took a beautiful lead pass from senior Bridget Mahoney and fired a shot past Wreckers goalie Bridget Mulloy to even the game at one with 18:29 left in the first half.
“That was key,” Minicus said. “Shea is smart, she keeps it simple. It’s her ice hockey skills and she plays her position the same exact way — she’s a finisher. Everyone played great today. They saved their best for last.”
Staples had a great chance to break the tie early in the second half as Darien was issued a yellow card, giving the Wreckers a five-minute man-up advantage.
The Wreckers, however, were unable to take advantage and shortly after getting back to even strength Darien scored the deciding goal.
Junior Molly Hellman fired a shot toward the cage and as Staples attempted to clear, stole the ball and put it home off Mulloy, giving the Wave a 2-1 advantage with 19:47 left in the game.
Staples had several opportunities off penalty corners as the game wound down, but solid defense from senior co-captain Katie Elders, senior Emily Schwartzman and junior Tala Garcia kept the Wreckers at bay until the final buzzer.
With the win, Darien (15-2-1) took home its seventh conference crown in the past 10 years and avenged a 2-1 season opening loss to Staples back in September. Since starting off the season at 2-2, the Blue Wave have gone 13-0-1 and will enter the CIAC Class L playoffs as perhaps the hottest team in the state.
“We worked so hard and to come this far is so exciting for our team,” van den Broek said. “We’ve improved so much since we first played them in the first game of the season. This just sums up the accomplishments we’ve worked toward this year.”
The loss was the first of the year for Staples, who fell to 16-1 on the season. The two-time defending CIAC Class L champions will look to regroup for the state playoffs, set to begin next week with the first round scheduled for Wed., Nov. 7.
“The ball bounces one way and we could get a tie or a win,” Staples head coach Ian Tapsall said. “Our girls never gave up and that’s why they’ve done so well this year. Unfortunately it didn’t work out but I’m really proud of them. We made a couple of mistakes but we could easily have snatched a draw or gotten to overtime.”
Darien drew three penalty corners and had nine shots on goal. Junior goalie Catherine Vogt made one save in goal for the victors, who dominated the transition game led by sophomore Lindsey Olson, senior Liliana Kulesz and sophomore Brinsley Rushe, who was named MVP.
Mulloy made two saves in goal for the Wreckers, who had strong defensive efforts from senior co-captains Ellie Fair and Grace Cooper. Staples recorded four shots and seven penalty corners.
FCIAC Field Hockey Championship
Thurs., Nov. 1 at Jack Casagrande Field, Norwalk
Darien 1-1 2
Staples 1-0 1
Darien: Shea van den Broek 1g; Molly Hellman 1g
Staples: Kyle Kirby 1g
D — Catherine Vogt 1 save
S — Bridget Mulloy 2 saves