Darien lacrosse teams miss out-of-state rivals in 2021

While Darien was on its way to winning state boys and girls lacrosse championships two years ago, just one opponent managed to upend both Blue Wave teams: Manhasset, N.Y.

That’s not earth-shattering news by any means. The New York power is consistently ranked nationally and has given Darien all it could handle for the past decade.

Not having Manhasset, or any other out-of-state opponents on the schedule this year, has been disappointing for the Blue Wave boys and girls teams.

“There’s no question,” Darien boys coach Jeff Brameier said. “We have a bigger rivalry with St. Anthony’s, Manhasset and Yorktown than we have with even the FCIAC schools. Obviously, New Canaan is Darien’s rival, but those out-of-state teams are a 50-50 crap shoot sometimes.

“We miss that opportunity to see what we can do against those teams.”

The Blue Wave’s schedule against all Connecticut teams is a result of the state’s ban on out-of-state competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the ban was lifted on March 1, schedules had already been finalized.

Both Darien teams are 3-0 and are ranked in the Nike/US Lacrosse National Top 25 — the boys at No. 5 and the girls at No. 6. The only other Connecticut team in the Top 25 of either poll is Brunswick, which is No. 9 in the boys poll. The New Canaan girls received votes and finished just outside the rankings.

The Top 25 includes several of Darien’s 2019 opponents. In addition to Brunswick, the boys rankings feature No. 1 St. Anthony’s and No. 11 Manhasset, and the girls rankings feature No. 3 Manhasset, No. 4 Garden City (N.Y.), No. 8 Eastport-South Manor (N.Y.), and No. 24 Bishop Ireton (Va).

St. Stephens and St. Agnes (Va.), a team which edged the Wave girls 13-12 in overtime in 2018, is No. 2.

Playing those kinds of teams provide a level of competition which is hard to duplicate.

“It’s very disappointing for the kids and for the coaching staff,” Darien girls lacrosse coach Lisa Lindley said. “What you get from the out-of-state games is the rivalries and it’s consistently a higher level. With that higher level comes greater competition. So the overall games are more challenging and more competitive. That’s what we’re going to be missing this year.”

Darien isn’t alone in that kind of schedule-building.

New Canaan, Wilton, Greenwich and Ridgefield, along with other FCIAC and state powers, also include games against regional powers to help their teams improve and get ready for the postseason.

For the Blue Wave girls, all but one of their losses for the past seven years have come against non-Connecticut teams. They had a 107-game in-state win streak snapped with a 12-11 loss to New Canaan in the 2018 Class L semifinals, and have since won 20 straight Connecticut games, including three this season. They were 21-2 in 2019, including 17-0 against state teams. An 11-10 win over New Canaan was their closest game, and the Rams have easily been their top competition. This year, the two rivals meet twice, first on Thursday in New Canaan, and then on May 3 in Darien.

Lindley said she hopes the FCIAC will take a look at splitting the league into divisions, similar to what was done for boys ice hockey this winter. In that sport, teams played in Div. I or Div. II/III, a change sparked the pandemic.

“There really needs to be a move in the FCIAC for girls and boys lacrosse to go to two divisions,” Lindley said. “That’s for teams that are less skilled not to get blown out, and for teams that are strong to not spend an afternoon just passing the ball around trying to be nice and not score.

“Player-for-player, (Darien’s out-of-state opponents) are at a higher level, although that is changing over the years with Connecticut getting stronger lacrosse.”

Darien’s boys team has also been dominant against Connecticut opponents, although there have been some notable losses, including to Wilton in the 2019 FCIAC semifinals. The Wave came back to beat the Warriors 13-3 in the Class L final.

As far as the polls, Darien will host Brunswick on May 1 — it’s only game against another team in the Top 25. While that makes it difficult to predict moves up or down the rankings, the Wave have jumped from preseason No. 7 to No. 5.

“Those polls are sort of subjective to a lot of things, but everybody’s in that boat,” Brameier said. “The polls that don’t have the prep schools in it, we’ll be ok as long as we win. If either of us lose we’ll fall out of that.

“We play Brunswick and that’s going to end up being a big game in the polls. They’re very talented, they beat us two years ago, and if we can play them and beat them, that’s a huge feather for us.”

For Lindley, who has voted in the national polls in the past, ranking teams is nearly impossible this season. She said she chose not to vote this season.

“I can’t do this honestly, because I don’t see these teams play this year,” Lindley said. “I can tell you about the Connecticut teams but I can’t tell you about Long Island or Massachusetts so I’m not doing it.

“How do you come up with it, especially after a year where no one plays (each other)? That’s tricky.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports