'A great way to end it': Ludlowe girls lacrosse ready to face Darien in Class L final

FAIRFIELD — For the first time in her career with the Ludlowe girls lacrosse team, senior Callie Cirilli knows her next game will be her last as a Falcon.

No matter the outcome, playing against Darien in Saturday’s Class L final will be a shining moment for the program and its seniors.

“This is the first time that all of us know this is going to be our last game,” Cirilli, a co-captain, said before Ludlowe’s final practice at Taft Field on Friday. “In past years, it’s been win or lose, this could be our last game. (Saturday), we know it’s definitely the final one and honestly, it’s hitting me today a little bit.

“It’s super bittersweet but a great way to end it all.”

The seventh-seeded Falcons (17-4) will face the fourth-seeded Blue Wave (17-3) at noon, Saturday, at Bunnell High School in Stratford, capping the best season in the Ludlowe program’s history.

While all eyes seemed to be on the Darien-New Canaan semifinal game on Tuesday, won 8-4 by the Wave, Ludlowe was punching its own ticket to the final with a 9-5 win at Simsbury.

The Falcons will be ready to roll on Saturday, but are true underdogs.

Darien is the most prolific team in state finals history, having won 10 straight appearances, including in 2019. The Blue Wave also defeated Ludlowe 19-7 on May 18.

However, this second meeting is all that matters now.

“Darien and New Canaan are incredible teams but this whole season, we have learned and trusted in ourselves,” senior co-captain Ellen Kelly said. “We’re just going to play our game. We’ve never been in the situation where we know it’s our last game. So I think going out and putting everything we have on the field is amazing and such a great feeling to have.”

The final will be especially interesting for Cirilli, who has played in Darien coach Lisa Lindley’s Connecticut Grizzlies program since the sixth grade.

“I love Lisa but (Saturday), we’re just going to go at it,” Cirilli, who will play at USC next year, said. “I play with those girls and they’re all great players, but we have a team with amazing players too. Playing Darien is a great challenge but I think we’re up for it.”

The Falcons are ranked No. 4 in the Connecticut Coaches Poll and are making just their second appearance in a state championship. The other trip was in 2010 when they defeated Staples for the Div. II title.

Ludlowe was solid in 2019, but after having the 2020 campaign canceled due to the pandemic, the Falcons have come back with talent, depth and perspective.

“It’s such a privilege to just be out here,” senior co-captain Anna Paulmann said. “That’s something we talk about in practice every day. We just live in the moment. We’re excited that we get this opportunity. We’ve worked really hard for this.”

Jay Fellows, who took over as coach this year, said the players are resilient and the “toughest group of students” he’s been around. They’ve also developed a tight bond on and off the field.

“From before the season even started, they talked about how they wanted their relationships as a team to be strong,” Fellows said. “They’ve intentionally developed that. It doesn’t just happen accidentally. Relationships need to be worked on and they’ve worked on it all year.”

The Falcons have featured a good mix of veterans and newcomers as well.

Cirilli leads the attack with 58 goals, Paulmann stars at midfield and along with Kelly, helps anchor the defense. Among the newer stars, sophomore Kaleigh Sommers has a team-high 63 goals and 111 draw control wins.

Beyond the numbers, however, the Falcons’ captains said the key has been chemistry and confidence.

“Throughout the season, everyone’s confidence has really grown and you can see that by the way we play,” Kelly said. “It’s really incredible to see these young kids step up. Everyone has a role on this team and that’s really important.”

The players’ bond served the Falcons during their bus trip to Simsbury in the semis.

“We’ve never had a bus ride that far or a game in that humidity,” Paulmann said. “We walked off the field and we were all drenched. It looked like we had jumped in a pool. Simsbury went on a few great runs, so coming together and keeping our confidence and composure, realizing we’ve got this (was key). We just had to take a minute to play like ourselves.”

As they prepared for their final practice, Fellows offered a bit of advice to his players.

“Just to be themselves and play their best game of the season,” the coach said. “That’s all we can do, that’s all we can control.”

While the Blue Wave has the ‘“heavy favorite” tag and a storied history, the Falcons are ready to make a run at the title.

“They’re really good, but any team is beatable on any given day,” Paulmann said. “We know that, we’ve talked to our teammates about it. So we’re just keeping our confidence up and focusing on what we’re going to do, not on what they’re going to do. That will be key for tomorrow.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports