Darien girls soccer team riding high at halfway point
Sometime this week, the Darien girls soccer team will reach the midway point of its regular season.
It was supposed to happen Thursday when the Blue Wave hosts Wilton at 4 p.m. But after Mother Nature postponed Tuesday’s contest at Stamford, Darien will now have to wait until the weekend to play the eighth game in its 16-game regular-season.
Whenever it occurs, the halfway point of a season is usually a good measuring stick for any team and so far head coach Leigh Parsons and his players have to be all smiles at their impressive 4-1-1 start.
“I did not know what to expect,” Parsons, now in his eighth season at DHS, said. “I knew we had some very strong players returning (from a 14-4-3 team), but we also graduated a lot of starters.
“So, it was not a new team. We had a lot of new faces, but we were not really rebuilding.”
Darien overpowered Bridgeport Central 7-0 in its season opener before dropping a tough 3-2 decision to Trumbull in its second game. But the Blue Wave bounced back to post back-to-back shutouts over Greenwich 2-0 and Trinity Catholic 6-0, then tie Brien McMahon 1-1 and blank Danbury 4-0 last Saturday.
“We’re 4-1-1 and in the one loss and one tie we had chances to win both games,” Parsons pointed out. “So, I’m happy with our good start to the season.”
But Parsons also knows Darien’s biggest challenges are still ahead. After Thursday’s game against Wilton — a traditionally strong program — the Blue Wave travels to Ridgefield Saturday to face the defending Class LL state champs, who are off to a 6-0 start.
Then next week, Darien plays Fairfield Warde and Fairfield Ludlowe, two more solid programs. After that, three of the Wave’s last five games are against New Canaan (currently 5-2), Staples (5-0), and defending FCIAC and Class L state champion St. Joseph (5-0-1). Staples was the FCIAC and Class LL runner-up in 2017.
“We’re definitely coming up to a tough stretch,” Parsons agreed. “But I’d rather come into that with five or six games already under our belts going into the big games.”
Up to now, Darien’s litmus test has been Trumbull, always among the top teams in the conference. The Eagles are off to a 4-2 start, losing only against Ridgefield and Staples.
Against Darien they led 2-0 at halftime and 3-0 in the second half before the Blue Wave rallied for two quick goals to pull within 3-2, which was the final.
But despite the loss, Parsons felt it was his team’s best effort of the season so far.
“The score definitely didn’t reflect how well we played,” he said. “We lost, but I’ve been more critical of games we won. We definitely had chances to tie or win.
“But what stood out to me was we were down three-nil and it would’ve been very easy to quit and go into a shell. Instead the girls really showed character by coming back and making it close.”
They showed that same character in last week’s 1-1 tie against McMahon, which led 1-0 on a fluke goal in the first half before Darien finally tied it in the 66th minute on a goal by senior Nathalie Bravo.
“Again we could’ve easily put our heads down, but we regrouped and Nathalie made a great free kick with about 15 minutes to go,” Parsons said. “She’s played for us all four years, since she was a freshman.
“After she scored, we put a lot of pressure on them and hit the crossbar twice.”
There have been a lot of good reasons for the Blue Wave’s success so far. One of them is a potent offense, led by senior Ellen Harnisch, who has already scored a team-high 10 goals and assisted on an 11th.
“She’s definitely our leader up front,” her coach said.
Then there’s been the play of senior captain and center midfielder Eilanna Dolan, who has five goals and two assists. The other three captains — Lauren Sulger up front, Anna Fox at midfield, and Eva Finn in the back — are also key players.
“Lauren is very fast and very dangerous,” Parsons said. “And Anna will be playing soccer at Colby (College) next year.”
Finn is just coming back from an injury and recently rejoined the squad.
“That’s a real positive,” the Darien coach said. “She’s going to be a real good addition.”
A trio of sophomores, Nelle Kniff, Courtney Ball and Kate Bellissimo, have also been solid contributors, along with freshmen Cici Stein up front, Shea Dolce at midfield, and Maggie Ramsey on defense.
“We have a lot of young players contributing on the field and coming off the bench,” Parsons said. “We have a good mix of veteran players and new players.”
Meanwhile, junior goaltender Olivia Maniscalco has also been a rock between the posts, allowing only four goals in six games (only one in the last four games), while recording four shutouts.
“She had very strong defensive results last year and this year she’s one of the best in the league,” Parsons said.
It’s all added up to a good start, which Darien hopes will be a springboard to another trip to the FCIAC and state tournaments.
“We’ve made both tournaments the last seven years,” Parsons noted. “Even longer. Before I got here.”
Last year, the Blue Wave made it all the way to the Class LL state semifinals before a 3-2 loss to eventual runner-up Staples.
“Hopefully, we’ll be in the mix again this season,” Parsons concluded. “Our goal is to make both tournaments each year and go from there.”
The Blue Wave is almost halfway there.