Harnisch scores twice as Darien blanks McMahon 2-0 in Class LL girls soccer playoffs

What a difference a week makes.

After suffering a 5-0 loss to New Canaan in the FCIAC girls soccer semifinals on Oct. 29, a dominant Darien girls soccer squad rebounded to shut out the Brien McMahon Senators 2-0 in the first round of the Class LL state tournament on Monday. Both goals were scored by senior Ellen Harnisch.

Under the lights at Jack Casagrande field, the Wave, seeded No. 18, faced the No. 15 seeded Senators under a steady, cold rain, just as they had in their loss against the Rams.

“We came into this in the same conditions as that game — slick surface, rainy night, a little nerves,” head coach Leigh Parsons said. “But we knew looking back we were a little unfortunate in that game. New Canaan was great, but we kind of had a few mistakes that hopefully we could prevent in this game.”

The first half was marked by a defensive strategy on both sides, with neither team capitalizing on its offense. Two early free kicks by the Wave sailed over the goal, as both teams sought to calm their nerves.

“It was a little hectic at first, with both teams settling,” Parsons said. “I felt we had the majority of the ball in the first half, we just didn’t really test the keeper enough or get enough clear shots and opportunities.”

Coming out for the second half, Darien appeared to have changed its strategy, playing more aggressively.

“At halftime, Leigh said ‘you guys are doing great, when we get the ball down and we play and we’re doing those one-two touch passes that’s what we’re doing best,’” Harnisch said.  “We all knew when we came off we had had a good half and it was coming — the fire was building up.”

Harnisch met the challenge by scoring her first goal in the 32nd minute on a direct kick from about the 20-yard line, launching the ball high over goalie Kayla Cocchia, and breaking open the game for Darien.

Parsons then adjusted the Wave’s defensive strategy to better cover the Senators’ number one threat, Ohio State commit junior Peyton McNamara, who the Senators moved to a more aggressive scoring position.

“She’s one of the best players in the league, if not the best in the state in some opinions, so you’ve got to respect her,” Parsons said. “So when we went one-nil up they moved her up top, so we made the decision to man mark her because she’s dangerous, you give her half a yard to turn a run at you it’s trouble for you so it was stay tight, really mark up, don’t let her get those opportunities. Also don’t foul, because she can strike a very good ball from any range.”

The Wave defense, however, was able to keep McNamara and the Senators’ offense in check.  

With two minutes left to play in the game, Harnish scored her second goal after a pass from Ava Finn, fighting off McMahon’s Sofia Tarasidis and weaving behind a pair of defenders before driving the ball into the low left corner and sealing the win for the Wave.

“There were a lot of great plays leading up to that,” Harnisch said. “Ava Finn made the assist on my last goal, and before that we had to get the foul, and we were working hard before that. It just wasn’t coming together — but then it was.”

The Wave improves to 11-6-2, while the Senators end their season at 8-5-5. The two teams tied in their regular season matchup 1-1.

Next up for the Wave is the undefeated Suffield Wildcats (15-0-1), seeded No. 2 in the state tournament. The game will be a rematch of last year’s state quarterfinal, where the Wave eliminated the Wildcats 1-0 and ruined what had been a perfect season for Suffield.

“I’m sure they are going to be looking for a little redemption,” Parsons said. “It will be a good test for our girls, but on our day we can play with anyone. If we do the little things right and not give away free kicks and just defend smart, mixed with willingness to play, we do well. It’s a good chance and a good opportunity to go up against one of the best in the state, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

And after proving themselves after the loss against New Canaan, Harnisch said, the team is hungry for more.

“It definitely feels good to have a bit of redemption, and we’re really looking to go far in states and I really think we can,” she said. “I think playing the way that we just played tonight, we proved that we are a team that wants it.”