New Canaan ends 'FCIAC Curse,' tops Darien for league girls lacrosse crown

NEW CANAAN — It’s an almost inconceivable fact of Connecticut girls lacrosse that despite having one of the most dominant programs in the state, New Canaan hadn’t won an FCIAC title in nearly three decades.

That little bit of trivia can now be relegated to the history books.

New Canaan defeated rival Darien for the third time this season and gave coach Kristin Woods her first-ever FCIAC championship with a 7-4 victory Saturday at a rain-soaked Dunning Field.

The Rams (18-0) had been close before, finishing as league runner-up seven times since Woods took the helm in 2007. This year they finally finished in the winner’s circle.

“The curse of the FCIAC is over,” Woods, who has won six state titles, said with a smile. “A few of my former players I know intentionally did not reach out because they all think there’s a curse with the FCIAC. (The key is) this team and how intense and excited they were not only to be at games, but practices. This week of practice, they were awesome and they came out with so much excitement.

“It doesn’t get better than that.”

It’s the Rams’ first FCIAC championship since 1993 — the only other league title in program history.

“I don’t have the words to explain how excited I am right now,” New Canaan senior co-captain McKenna Harden said. “This team is just so deserving and I’m so happy that all of our hard work, being undefeated and everything we’ve done, led to this opportunity.”

New Canaan’s Dillyn Patten had a hat trick and took MVP honors, and senior Quinn McKiernan had a goal and three assists to lead the Rams’ offense.

In another bit of historical trivia, Woods is a past FCIAC MVP, earning the award in 1999 while helping Wilton win that championship.

“I’m so speechless right now,” Patten, a junior, said. “We just worked so hard for this and these seniors deserve everything. We had to come out with so much fire because we beat (Darien) twice and they’re a good team with amazing players. We just had to stick to our game, get the ground balls and play the way we know how to play.”

New Canaan junior Kaleigh Harden dominated on draws, causing Darien to switch personnel multiple times. The performance gave New Canaan a big advantage in possession time.

“My sister Kaleigh was killing it on the draw, she knew exactly where to place it,” McKenna Harden said. “She won it to self-draw, she won it on the circle to Dillyn or me, and that was key. That started the momentum because we could score on offense and not have to play defense as much.”

Conversely, the Wave (14-3) couldn’t get any momentum going, losing both the turnover and ground ball battles. They had a rough time with penalties and were hit with four yellow cards, which led to playing a man down for the final 22:05 per NFHS rules.

“I was really disappointed in my team’s stick skills,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. “We turned the ball over a lot, we got checked a lot, and that shouldn’t happen at this level. The weather had a little bit to do with it but you’ve got to take care of the ball, and we just couldn’t get into a rhythm.”

The Wave’s bright spot was goalie Shea Dolce, who made 10 saves to keep Darien alive.

New Canaan scored twice in the first minute and a half, with McKiernan assisting on goals by sophomore Stella Nolan and Patten.

Darien’s first goal came from freshman Sadie Stafford 10:25 into the game, but the Wave didn’t score for the next 21-plus minutes.

The Rams scored four more times in the first half and junior Hollis Mulry added a goal early in the second for a 7-1 advantage

After that, New Canaan played the possession game while draining the clock.

“Ball possession is always huge,” Woods said. “It was so exciting for them to come out, play confidently, and come up with those draws at the beginning that got our momentum going. Defensively, we played extraordinary.”

Woods praised the play of defenders Emma Schuh, Carolyn Baran, Ella Patterson, and Courtney O’Connell, along with goalie Claire Mahoney (5 saves), for keeping the Wave in check offensively.

Even with a three-goal lead and just a few minutes to play, Woods has had too much experience with the “FCIAC Curse” to feel at ease.

“When the last second ticked off,” Woods said when asked when she allowed herself to celebrate. “I have played Darien way too many times and been in this game too many times. We’ve been up by three or four goals with six minutes left, they come back, tie it up, we go to triple overtime and lose.

“This year was a different story.”

david.stewart

@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports

No. 1 NEW CANAAN 7, No. 2 DARIEN 4

DARIEN 1 3 — 4

NEW CANAAN 6 1 — 7

Scoring: Darien: Ryan Hapgood 2g; Molly McGuckin 1g; Sadie Stafford 1g; New Canaan: Quinn McKiernan 1g, 3a; Dillyn Patten 3g; Stella Nolan 1g; Devon Russell 1g; Hollis Mulry 1g; McKenna Harden 1a; Goalies: D - Shea Dolce 10 saves; NC - Claire Mahoney 5 saves; Records: New Canaan 18-0; Darien 14-3.