Fresh off a state championship triumph, the Darien girls lacrosse team enters this spring with a virtual roster facelift. Nonetheless, plenty of youthful talent promises to surface and quite possibly shine as the season presses forward.
So ... can the girls match the boys? There is a friendly rivalry between these two programs, which often lead the way and set the example for how the sport of lacrosse should be played in the state of Connecticut.
"It's going to come down to how quickly we can mature as a young team and how our players respond to adversity along the way," said Darien head coach Lisa Lindley, who saw the Blue Wave finish atop both the FCIAC and state for the 10th time each in her 16 seasons at the helm. "The girls are going to have to work hard together and develop the confidence that they can get the job done and achieve what players before them have achieved."
Those former players that lifted the Blue Wave to matching state and league titles last season were both pivotal in games and prevalent in numbers. Nine starters and 10 seniors total have since moved on, several of whom are now poised to play key roles for their respective college programs.
Gone from last season are strong contributors such as attack Sam Stevenson, Chloe Drimal and defensive stalwart Cat Nester. Star power also departed amid the graduation of All-American trio Courtney Bennett, Amy Marchesi and goaltender Phoebe Maglathlin.
Between the pipes, the Blue Wave will turn to junior Claire Dixon and freshman Caylie Waters to help off-set the inevitable exit of the stellar Maglathlin. Both have enjoyed solid pre-seasons and are locked into a close competition to claim top keeper duties this spring. Lindley couldn't and wouldn't yet say who currently leads the battle for playing time.
Callie Ceglarski and Liz Calby will spearhead the Blue Wave offense, while Kat Thomas figures to be an anchor for the relatively untested but promising Darien defense. Seniors Paige Gasparino, Leanne Stone, Corinne Sommi and Amy Fucigna will be called upon to provide leadership as the march back to the FCIAC and state championship soon commences.
"A good number of our players have watched older players perform in clutch situations up until this point in their careers," Lindley said. "Well now it's their time to lead the way."
According to Lindley, it boils down to the resolve of a cast of promising players who will be learning on the fly. A tough and unforgiving field of FCIAC foes will be looking for payback, while the march to another state championship is always a battle on all fronts.
"Offensively, I'm confident we will score a good amount of goals, while our defense, just like the majority of our team, is still developing," Lindley said. "We'll need to get stronger on defense as the season goes along. It's going to be a learning process this season, but we have the talent to have a good year. We're young, so it's certainly going to be a learning process. Whatever happens, we just can't be afraid to make mistakes."
The learning process begins anew for this group, only this time, without a big target on its back.