Game of thrones: Darien girls lacrosse ready to defend FCIAC, state crowns
It’s not easy being part of a dynasty. Just ask anyone in the Darien High girls lacrosse program.
Take the players on this year’s team, for example. They were just starting middle school when the Blue Wave began its streak of five straight Class L state championships and six FCIAC crowns in a row.
But with that kind of success comes a certain amount of pressure, according to veteran head coach Lisa Lindley.
“There’s a lot of pressure, obviously. Enormous pressure,” said Lindley, who’s beginning her 25th season at DHS. “No one wants to be the class not to win the FCIAC or states. So that kind of pressure is always on the current team.”
But like many elite, championship teams, the Blue Wave lacrosse players not only embrace that pressure, they thrive on it year after year.
The 2018 edition — which opens Monday at home against Norwalk — has no plans of slowing down, although even the coach admits the upcoming season presents a challenge.
“At the moment we’re working our way through a lot of injuries,” said Lindley, who celebrated her 400th career win last season. “So that will be a deciding factor as well.”
So, too, will be the players Darien’s 20-3 squad lost to graduation, including four of its five All-Americans. One of them, Logan Book, was the 2017 Connecticut Player of the Year as well as Darien’s team MVP and top defensive player.
Midfielder Emma Lesko, attack Anna Stein and defender Annie Wright joined Book as All-Americans. All-state goalie Carly Schoudel, the team’s 2016 MVP, and defender Abigail Hancock, another all-state selection, also graduated.
Together, they were the cornerstones of four FCIAC and four state championships in four years.
All of which has left some big shoes to fill this season, something Lindley is confident her team can deliver.
“In terms of ability, we have a lot of talent and depth,” Lindley said. “It will come down to how well they play together. If they can be smart and unselfish, I think we will be very good. If not, we won’t.”
Most people think they will. Darien is ranked as high as No. 4 nationally in one poll and No. 7 in another.
One major reason is the return of All-American Emma Jaques, a three-year starting midfielder and one of this year’s four senior captains.
Christine Fiore, an all-state attack who scored a hat trick and was named MVP in the Blue Wave’s 13-10 win over Wilton in the state final, is also a captain. Rounding out the senior leaders are midfielder Katie Ramsay, a second-team all-state choice, and attack Kendall Wisinski. All three are two-year starters.
“We have very good leaders,” Lindley said.
Four more key returnees are midfielders Nicole Humphrey and Katie Elders (both juniors) and Sarah Jaques, along with Ashley Humphrey (both sophomores) on attack. Jaques came off the bench last season, while the other three were starters.
Schoudel’s graduation created a void in front of the goal, but junior Maggie Brooks, last year’s backup goalie who played the last 18 minutes of Darien’s state-final victory, is back and is expected to take over. Sophomore newcomer Kennison Harmon will provide some depth.
Senior Charlotte Harmon and junior Shea van den Broek are both expected to contribute on attack, while juniors Lauren Sulger, Charlotte Wittstock and sophomore Maddie Joyce will see action at midfield. The trio played mainly JV last year but was brought up to the varsity for the 7-0 postseason run. They should make an already-formidable midfield corps even more solid this season.
“Our midfield is definitely our strongest area,” Lindley pointed out. “This year we’ll probably play a different system. Instead of a four-straight D, we’ll have five rotating midfielders with two starting at the defensive end. Between the five of them they’ll rotate who gets up on offense.
“We’re pretty balanced with our people’s ability,” the seven-time Connecticut Coach of the Year added. “I’d say for the first time I have seven people who can score pretty proficiently. It’s a nice problem to have.”
So is trying to repeat as league and state champions. Lindley, who was inducted into the U.S. Lacrosse Connecticut Hall of Fame in 2015, has guided the Darien girls lacrosse program to 16 FCIAC championships and another 16 state titles. Despite the key graduation losses, early-season injuries, and a challenging schedule, she feels all the ingredients are there for another banner season on 80 High School Lane.
“We have a very aggressive schedule with five out-of-state opponents who are really, really strong and nationally ranked,” Lindley said. “It will be a very difficult schedule.”
“But I think we’ll be in the mix for sure and hopefully peak at the right time. That’s how I approach every season. Where you begin and where you end, and to make every individual grow and improve and as a team grow and improve.”
Nobody ever said being part of a dynasty is easy.