Darien girls lacrosse sets sights in regaining state championship
The 2019 Darien High girls lacrosse team found itself in a very unfamiliar position when preseason practice began.
For the first time in six years, the Blue Wave will not be defending a state title. Darien’s impressive streak of five straight Class L crowns came to an abrupt end in 2018 with a stunning 12-11 loss to rival New "Canaan in the state semifinals. It was the Blue Wave’s first state tourney defeat since falling in the 2012 Class M state quarterfinals, also to New Canaan.
Darien moved up to Class L in 2013 and had reeled off 22 straight wins in state-tournament play until that semifinal loss last spring.
What’s more, the Blue Wave also saw its amazing 107-game winning streak against in-state opponents come to a crashing halt.
So you can begin to understand why there’s been a slightly different feel to the preseason over on High School Lane. And why motivation will not be a problem for this year’s team.
“Absolutely,” agreed veteran head coach Lisa Lindley, who’s beginning her 26th season at DHS. “No one likes to lose, but it gives us the opportunity to refocus our priorities, redefine what our goals are, and remember what our traits are that made us successful in the past.
“It’s also an opportunity to reset the start button,” the seven-time Connecticut Coach of the Year added. “We hadn’t lost to a Connecticut opponent in 107 games, since 2012, and now that monkey is off our back.”
But while that’s all true, it’s important to remember Darien will still be defending a championship this season after winning a seventh straight FCIAC title in 2018, the program’s record 17th overall.
That quality of FCIAC competition returns this season and Darien is expected to once again be in the chase. Graduation did claim seven players from last year’s 19-3 squad, all of whom were part of four straight FCIAC championships and three state titles.
But a host of players, including six starters, are returning. That group includes senior captains Katie Elders, Charlotte Wittstock and Nicole Humphrey at midfield and Shea van den Broek on attack. Two more returning starters are junior midfielder Sarah Jaques and Ashley Humphrey.
Jaques and the Humphrey sisters are returning All-Americans, while Elders and Wittstock were All-State first team honorees.
“I have a lot of middies and we will again emphasize our speed in the middle,” Lindley said. “I have the luxury to run two or three lines, which is good.”
Making that midfield even stronger is the return of senior Mason Maloney, who missed last season with a knee injury. She can also play attack.
Lindley also expects juniors Kit Arrix at attack and Jordan Vaught at midfield “to step up” this season.
Meanwhile, sophomore Kate Bellissimo, junior Molly Hellman and senior Emily Aysseh are being counted on to anchor the defense, along with senior Eva Finn and juniors Catie Duggan and Emma Williams.
There’s also no shortage of talent at goalie with senior Maggie Brooks and junior Kennison Harmon returning, while freshman Shea Dolce is also in the mix.
“We have very strong competition there and I really don’t know who is going to be starting,” the DHS coach said.
Darien will open its season Tuesday at home against Fairfield Warde at 4 p.m. The Blue Wave won’t have to wait long for its first big test as it hosts perennial power Garden City, N.Y., next Saturday at 10 a.m. Darien beat Garden City 15-13 last year in Long Island.
Playing elite out-of-state powerhouses is nothing new for the DHS girls lacrosse program. The only regular-season losses last year came against Manhasset, N.Y., and St. Stephens/St. Agnes of Virginia in overtime, both by identical 13-12 scores.
This season, in addition to a rematch against Manhasset May 2, Darien hosts Bishop Ireton of Virginia on April 25.
“They’re ranked No. 2 in the nation,” Lindley noted. “So that’s a significant test for us.”
The Blue Wave, ranked 11th in one national poll and 13th in another, will also play teams from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts this season. And if you’re interested, the rematch against New Canaan isn’t until May 4.
“We have a lot of significant games before that,” Lindley said.
Of course, the most significant games will come in the postseason when Darien hopes to win another FCIAC crown and regain the state title that slipped away a year ago.
“That’s our goal,” Lindley agreed. “My expectations for this group are very high.”