Darien is headed back to FCIAC field hockey final on Thursday
All the Darien High girls field hockey team wanted was a chance to defend its FCIAC championship.
The Wave got their wish after they hung on to post a thrilling 3-2 victory over Greenwich in the FCIAC semifinals Monday night at neutral Brien McMahon.
Second-seeded Darien will be back at the same Jack Casagrande Field Thursday night to face No. 1 and unbeaten Staples for the conference crown in a 7 p.m. battle of regular-season division champions.
“It’s great,” veteran DHS head coach Mo Minicus said about reaching the finals for the eighth time in the last 10 years. “These girls just worked so hard for it and they felt they earned it. They plowed through all season, one game at a time. They worked so hard and played so hard and that’s all I can ask.”
It appeared as if the Blue Wave was going to coast into the title tilt after racing out to a 3-0 halftime lead, courtesy of Shea van den Broek, who scored all three goals.
“They were all beautifully set up by the team,” Minicus noted as Bridget Mahoney and Molly Hellman were credited with assists. “They were scrambling in front of the net and Shea was in there with her stick and finished it.”
But Greenwich, the No. 3 seed, answered with a pair of second-half goals to make it 3-2 and provide some intense drama down the stretch.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Minicus said. “The second half was a little tricky, but the first half for us was nearly flawless which allowed us to win 3-2.”
And when things got a little tight, it was goalie Catherine Vogt and the defense in front of her that made the one-goal lead stand.
“Catherine had some nice saves,” said Minicus, who also praised defensive standouts Tala Garcia, Lily Kulesz and Katie Elders.
“I looked at the film and it was a typical back and forth battle,” the DHS coach said Tuesday before practice. “We talked at halftime and said it was 0-0 going in the second half. We actually had two great opportunities (to add to the lead) but didn’t execute.
“And then Greenwich got momentum and put us on our heels, but we didn’t back down and our defense held onto that lead.”
Thursday’s championship game will be a rematch of the season opener back on Sept. 7, which Staples won 2-1 to hand Darien its only league loss in the regular season. After bouncing back with a pair of wins, the Blue Wave lost a non-league affair to Garden City, N.Y., 3-1, but have gone 13-0-1 since and will take a 15-2-1 record into the game.
“The Staples game was so long ago,” Minicus said. “It was the first game of our season and we certainly hadn’t put it all together yet. It was basically a whole season ago.
“We were as good as we could be that day, but we’ve made a lot of changes since then and I’m happy where we are now.”
Which is back in the FCIAC championship game, where Darien will try to win the 12th title in program history, eight of those coming under Minicus, who’s in her 19th season.
“It never, ever gets old,” she said. “It’s a new group every year. Probably half the team are first-year varsity players, so it’s new chemistry, new dynamics. It’s certainly not taken for granted and these girls earned exactly where they are going.”