Soccer, football part of the longtime Wave of success for field hockey
NORWALK -- Darien High School's field hockey team makes it look easy. For the last three-plus years, the Blue Wave hasn't lost a single game and regularly dominates the "competition." Darien won another FCIAC title Friday night as the Wave retained its hold on the trophy for the fourth straight year with a 4-0 win over Fairfield Warde.
Darien will contend for -- and be favored to win -- consecutive Class M state title number four beginning next week.
It's not as if the Wave's upperclassmen, many of whom have been a part of this title run from the get-go, set out for this success as elementary school students. Many of them didn't even pick up a field hockey stick until middle school, and some not until high school.
The keys to Darien's success, in addition to the usual attributes of winning teams -- natural athletic talent, hard work, good coaching and chemistry on the field: an ability to not dwell on the success, soccer, football (yes, soccer and football), humor and a goaltender who, as a freshman, said, "I decided to try field hockey because I wanted to do a fall sport." Those are the words of now senior goaltender Perrin Brown, one of 13 -- count them, 13 -- fourth-year Darien students who have tasted almost nothing but success at the high school field hockey playing level.
Darien allowed a "season-worst" two goals in a 7-2 triumph over always-tough rival New Canaan in the FCIAC Tournament semifinals. The Blue Wave has shut out opponents in 14 of 18 games in this current season. The team has earned a ton of respect from its counterparts.
"The thing that makes them so great is, you can tell, they really take each game one at a time. They never overlook you," New Canaan head coach Erin Gildea said. "The thing that impresses me the most is they play 60 minutes like the score's zero-zero." The Blue Wave players work hard in practice so they can perform at a high level when it comes time for games.
"We really work hard for it. It's been really amazing to keep the tradition going for three years," senior Courtney Wynne said.
"We've worked hard over the past four years and we really feel we deserved it," championship game MVP Maddie Gill, another of those seniors, said of Darien's run to another conference title. "Every year the seniors take on a huge role and each year the juniors step up and fill that role."
Junior Galen Rohn is the only non-senior to start for the Wave. She says the seniors set the tone for the Wave's winning ways with their efforts on and off the field.
"They really pump us up for games. They show great leadership," Rohn said.
The camaraderie the field hockey team members have, the players believe, has been huge in their success.
"It's been so much fun. All the girls are like sisters to me. I enjoy every practice and every game," said Maddie, who actually does have a sister, fellow senior Leslie Gill, on the team.
Many of the Wave seniors played soccer together throughout their childhood before trading in their soccer shorts and shoes for field hockey skirts and sticks. The chemistry, and athleticism the players developed on the soccer field certainly hasn't hurt in their field hockey endeavors.
"I think it just helps us to know where we are on the field, we know our style of play -- and we know we can count on each other," said senior Sophie Doering, adding that she grew up playing on the same soccer team with, among other current field hockey teammates, the Gills and Ellie Riegel, whose dad coached them.
"We have such a great relationship off the field and it really translates into our play," Doering said.
So what about football? No, the Wave players didn't toss the pigskin around before their field hockey days. But they share field space with the high school's football team during practice. Darien field hockey coach Mo Minicus said she and DHS football coach Rob Trifone believe their players benefit from the practice setup.
"We think our players work a little harder because they know who's watching," she said.
"That's really funny," Doering responded with a laugh. "I definitely would agree with that. The field hockey and football team dynamic is so unique. They come to our games and we go to their games."
Doering added that it's nice to have an audience and that it pumps the players up to have that support.
The team members don't seem to feel the pressure of trying to maintain their unbeaten ways and living up to the expectations they've created by being so good.
"We don't dwell on it. We really don't talk about it much," Minicus said. "If you focus on that, it's no fun."
"Keeping our composure and not letting what everybody else is saying get to our heads," Doering said, is important in the team keeping its momentum going.
Minicus said the players keep focused by, ironically enough, not being too serious. "They're absolutely hysterical. They're funny ---- they keep it loose. To me, it's very refreshing," she said.
To keep the players modest and focused on winning each game, the coach reminds them that they have to earn each victory. "I tell the girls `You're only as good as your last game,'" she said. "I try to keep them humble. We work hard in practice -- we don't take anything for granted. A few complaints, but they do it."
The Wave players stick with the grueling running and practice drills in an effort not only to win, but to play well and have fun together.
"It's such a great team and it's been a great experience," said senior/ backup goaltender Claire Dickson, who was a defender for three years before strapping on the keeper pads.
Darien is a perennial powerhouse at both the conference and state levels but, whether or not the winning tradition continues in years to come, this year marks the end of a significant chapter in the Wave field hockey success story given that exactly half of the roster is comprised of seniors.
"This is the biggest group of seniors I've had," Minicus said. "They're probably the most talented and the biggest in numbers. I miss every group every year, but this group is special because of their numbers and their personality."
As the season comes to an end, so does a significant part of many of these girls' incredibly successful high school careers on the playing field.
State tournament play wraps up this week.
"We're all going to miss each other. It's been a great three or four years," Leslie Gill said.