Dominant Darien field hockey blanks Staples, wins fifth straight FCIAC championship

NORWALK - Raina Johns was to the point when asked about this year’s Darien field hockey team.

“We are having so much fun,” Johns said with a smile.

That much is clear.

With the playoff spotlight at its brightest, Darien delivered another impressive performance to win its fifth consecutive FCIAC championship 3-0 over Staples Thursday night at Brien McMahon’s Jack Casagrande Field.

Blake Wilks scored at 2:01 of the first quarter to give the unbeaten Wave the lead and the defense pitched its 16th shutout of the season en route to the title. Darien is 19-0-0-0 and has allowed just four goals in a so far spectacular season.

“It's a pretty special team,” said Mo Minicus, Darien’s head coach since 2000. “There’s tons of talent, there’s tons of depth, there’s tons of speed and strength. It’s just a real special team. We’ll celebrate this now and then on to states.”

Johns, who was in the center of things on defense and offense, was named the MVP of the tournament, which saw the Wave outscored its three opponents 14-0. She scored on a penalty stroke in the second quarter of the final to give Darien a 2-0 lead.

“I honestly believe she’s the best in the state,” Minicus said of Johns. “She’s all over the field. She’s on our defensive unit and she’s a wall back there, and on our offensive unit, she’s an absolute threat. She reads the field well, she’s a key distributor and she knows when to take it when she can. She also makes everyone else around her even better.”

For Staples (13-6-0-0), reaching the tournament final was a step up for a young team. The Wreckers faced three teams they had lost to during the regular season and beat Greenwich and Wilton before falling to Darien.

“We’ve struggled a bit all year, and it’s been a learning process for a lot of the underclassmen,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “I hoped that in the FCIACs, we’d overcome the teams we’d lost to in the league and we did. We beat Wilton, we beat Greenwich, but Darien is just too strong.”

The Wave’s road to the FCIAC title did feature one tight game, as they were scoreless after three quarters in the semifinals against New Canaan on Tuesday.

Darien then broke through for two fourth-quarter goals to get that win.

The Wave wasted little time in getting ahead of Staples, as Wilks smacked a back-hander over Wrecker goalie Alexia Ninios (11 saves) for an early goal.

“That definitely took the pressure off,” Wilks, a junior, said. “Getting ahead in the beginning obviously is the way to go. (In the semis) we didn’t do that and it was a struggle to the end, so today that relieved the pressure.”

“We just worked on doing your job and finishing in the circle, early and often,” Minicus said. “Get on the board early and try to do it as many times as you can and we certainly had great opportunities. I’m very proud of the team.”

After Johns’ penalty stroke in the second quarter, junior Ashley Stockdale scored with 3:25 to play in the third quarter. Senior Kaci Benoit had the insert on the penalty corner, and Wilks had the assist.

Darien outshot Staples 21-3, with most of the Wreckers’ opportunities coming during the third quarter when they had two shots and all six of their penalty corners. The defense of Johns, junior Katie Savino, and seniors Morgan Massey, Chi-am Daugavietis and goalie Lindsay Darby turned away those chances.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Raina Johns, Darien: Minicus said she believes Johns is the best player in the state and the senior showed that in the final with contributions all over the field while earning MVP ho]nors.

QUOTABLE

“We’ve had an awesome season, we’re undefeated and we came into this game knowing it was going to be a hard game because we played Staples earlier in the season. We just stuck to what we knew, played our game and we were able to finish.” - Darien senior Raina Johns

David.Stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports

No. 1 DARIEN 3, No. 3 STAPLES 0

Staples 0 0 0 0 - 0

Darien 1 1 1 0 - 3

Darien: Blake Wilks 1g, 1a; Raina Johns 1g (penalty stroke); Ashley Stockdale 1g.

Goalies: S - Alexia Ninios 11 saves; D - Lindsay Darby 0 saves.

Shots: S - 3, D - 21; Penalty corners: S - 6, D - 8

Records: Staples 13-6-0-0; Darien 19-0-0-0.