Dominant Darien: Boys lacrosse team carries 54-game win streak into new season
The success of the Darien boys lacrosse team has always made the Blue Wave a prime contender for FCIAC and state championships. In recent years, however, its winning has approached otherworldly levels.
Since the beginning of the 2014 season, Darien is 89-3 overall, and after back-to-back unbeaten campaigns, owns a 54-game winning streak. The Wave has also won 28 consecutive playoff games resulting in four consecutive league and state titles.
Jeff Brameier, who is starting his 35th year as Darien’s head coach, credited that success to the town’s youth program, which prepares the players so well, and the spirited competition for coveted starting spots on the team.
“We’re fortunate that our numbers are big every year, and those that really want to, compete and work hard to earn their time,” Brameier said. “Guys that should be starting are backups because we’re so deep, and then finally, their senior year comes along and they get a chance to step into the role, and they’ve been champing at the bit for three years.”
The sky’s the limit again for the Wave, which enters the 2018 season ranked third in the Nike/US Lacrosse national rankings, and is looking to remain at the top of the FCIAC and Class L ladders.
Leading the way is a quartet of captains who are spread across the field: Brian Minicus and Logan McGovern on attack, Blake Sommi at midfield, and Andrew Darby on defense. Three of the four have experience as captains with other DHS teams: Minicus in football, Sommi in soccer, and Darby in basketball.
“We’ve had good leaders for our new leaders to model,” Brameier said. “I do a lot of training with those leaders and the seniors as to how their role is important. They’re all going to be different in the way they lead — some are more vocal, some get along with everybody — and I’ve pushed them to understand that their role is to get everybody to play better, to work together, and to be a better team. They’re four very nice kids, yet they’re very competitive and they play hard.”
McGovern was the Wave’s second-leading scorer behind the graduated Kevin Lindley last season, while Minicus is shifting from a starting midfield spot. Last season, he had been blocked by Lindley at that spot, but now he’s back at his natural position as a lefty attack.
“Brian Minicus has been waiting to play lefty attack for three years, and he’s finally there his senior year,” Brameier said. “He was a tremendous player for us, and I had to get him on the field as a junior, so he played midfield. Now he’s back at his natural position. So where we lost Kevin Lindley, our all-time leading goal-scorer, now we pick up a great player with Brian Minicus.”
In addition to McGovern and Minicus, the Wave boasts a deep group vying for attack time.
“We have a good battle going on between senior Ethan Dewbrey and junior Hudson Pokorny, so they’re trying to win that third attack spot and they’re giving each other a run for their money,” Brameier said. “And we’ve got a few other kids who are right on the cusp with junior Charlie Walsh, Michael Minicus, a sophomore and another solid lefty attack, and sophomore Sean Gifford.”
Sommi and returning veteran Jack Joyce, a senior, lead the first midfield line, and they’ll soon be joined by junior Henri Pfeifle, who is recovering from an illness after the ice hockey season.
Jackson Peters, who moved to Darien from Greenwich, has been filling in for Pfeifle, and he and junior Ryan Darby are strong players in the midfield. Juniors Ryan O’Neil and Bruce Ferguson are fighting for the sixth spot, with sophomores Carter Flanagan and John Henry Slonieski also in the mix. Tommy Hellman, a junior who is sidelined to start the season, will figure prominently at midfield when he returns.
The Wave is also looking for a big senior season from its faceoff man, Tanner Strub, who has improved each year.
“He’s a three-year starter; last year he was that much better, and this year I think he can be one of the best in the state,” Brameier said. “He just focuses in on it and takes care of business. And we’ve got a junior right behind him, Matt Freeman, who’s been working really hard to hone his skills. We’re hoping that will be an advantage for us, because that’s a huge factor in a game.”
Captain Andrew Darby leads the long poles on defense, alongside Matt Gould, a senior who is moving into a starting spot, and junior Tyler Strub. Sophomore Sam Cragin is making a strong bid to be the No. 4 pole, with sophomore Peter Graham and junior Pierce Hoyda also in line for time.
Senior Charlie Olsen and junior Connor Olson give the Wave a pair of solid long stick middies.
Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill are at goalie with the graduation of three-year starter Ryan Cornell, who is now at the University of Vermont. In his stead, Darien has a pair of seniors — Sean Collins and Will Cullitan — who are ready to take over.
“Sean Collins is probably our front-runner right now with Cullitan as the guy who’s pushing him,” Brameier said. “They’re both seniors and they’ve been waiting their turn behind an All-American. That’s the good thing — we’ve got two seniors who have played a lot of lacrosse and have a lot of experience. They’re athletes and they just have to continue to hone their skills and gain the confidence of the defense.”
The Wave is facing its typically imposing schedule this season, as in addition to games against FCIAC foes New Canaan, Wilton, Greenwich, and Ridgefield, Darien will face several non-conference powers.
The Wave opens the season with a game at Yorktown on Saturday at 7 p.m., and will host Torrey Pines of California at 6:30 p.m., Friday, April 6. It also has home games against Manhasset (April 14) and St. Anthony’s (May 3) on the slate.
“We’ve been playing Yorktown pretty much every year since 1991 and that’s a great game to open the season with,” Brameier said. “The next weekend, we have Torrey Pines, one of the best teams from California, coming out to play us. It’s nice to see what a different part of the country plays like, and it makes you prepare for a team that you haven’t seen.”
No matter what the outcome, it’s sure that everyone will bring their ‘A game as they take a stab at ending the Wave’s winning streak.
“Obviously we’re used to having a bull’s-eye on our back, but that’s the fun part,” Brameier said. “How much can these kids step up to the plate and handle the pressure? It’s pressure but it also drives them. They rise to the occasion.”