Darien holds off New Canaan to advance
DARIEN — With the memory of a six-goal loss to rival Darien not too far in the rearview mirror, it would’ve been relatively easy for the New Canaan field hockey team to call it a day when the Blue Wave scored three early goals in their state tournament clash on Wednesday.
Instead, the Rams attempted to rewrite the script.
New Canaan scored a goal in each half but the comeback bid ultimately fell short as the Wave took a 3-2 victory in a first-round Class L playoff thriller at Darien High School.
“They had nothing to lose,” Darien head coach Mo Minicus said. “They were on fire, they stepped up, they had a fast pace and a great game plan. As is typical when you’re winning and the other team starts to steal momentum and score goals, it’s the natural swing that we were trying to stop and regroup.”
Darien’s offense was led by senior co-captain Shea van den Broek, who scored twice and now has five goals in the last three playoff games. Molly Hellman also hit the back of the cage, and senior co-captains Katle Elders and Bridget Mahoney had assists.
In the end, it was the Wave’s transition strikes which were the difference.
“That’s definitely key,” van den Broek said. “We have very strong offensive rushes and that’s a big point for our team. It was obviously very big for us to get those three goals in the beginning.”
No. 6 Darien (17-2-1-0) will now play at No. 3 Hall (16-0-1-0) in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m., Friday.
No. 11 New Canaan (11-6-0-1) may have had its season come to an end in the first round, but the Rams went out fighting.
“We’ve grown a lot as a team this year and we’ve practiced what to do if we’re behind, so they found that energy and came back even harder,” New Canaan head coach Kelly Marks said. “I can’t be prouder of their mentality in this game, their work ethic and how they played today. It was just phenomenal.”
Darien’s first goal came during a penalty corner, as the Wave played tic-tac-toe for the goal with Elders assisting van den Broek on the score at the 3:01 mark.
New Canaan generated many of the offensive chances for the next 10 minutes, but eventually the Wave’s quick-strike attack struck twice
With Darien on a rush upfield, Mahoney slid a pass from the right corner across to the far post for van den Broek, who nailed it home for a 2-0 lead with 16:34 remaining in the half.
One minute later, Molly Hellman scored in transition to give Darien its three-goal advantage.
New Canaan wasted little time responding, as the Rams earned a penalty corner and cashed in with a goal from junior Estelle Asker. Senior co-captain Brielle Connelly inserted the ball up top to junior Emily Knight, who passed it off to Asker for the score.
Throughout the middle portion of the game, the Rams had the better of play in the midfield and on offense, keeping the pressure on the Wave’s back line and goalies Catherine Vogt and Monisha Akula, each of whom made one save.
“They had a really good game plan and played a really good game against us,” van den Broek said. “We had some issues defensively, clearing it and working together, and I think that was the difference.”
“Our energy was connecting more,” Marks said. “The first game, we came out like we wanted it but we were very timid and back on our heels. In this game, they didn’t sit back once and just went for it. That’s when we play our best.”
The result was a 12-7 advantage on penalty corners for New Canaan, which scored both of its goals on those set plays.
Knight found the cage on one of those corners, cutting the deficit to 3-2 with 11:28 remaining and setting up a tense finish.
Darien managed to find its footing in the closing moments, but the offensive pressure was met by Ram goalie Emily Gaeta (9 saves), who made several great stops down the stretch.
“Emily was fantastic,” Marks said. “I’m so proud of her. Those were great saves and good shots and she stepped up. She was amazing and you can’t take that from her.”
“As much as New Canaan was stepping up, we finally got into our groove within the last eight minutes,” Minicus said. “Then we were stepping up on them and we really took control and kept the ball in our offensive end.”
For the Wave, which won its second straight FCIAC championship 2-1 over Staples last Thursday, the state tournament features some tough potential match-ups, as New Canaan, Staples, Wilton and Norwalk are all on their side of the bracket.
“The FCIAC championship was our goal and that felt so good, but now we’ve got to regroup,” Minicus said. “We have to reset and unfortunately, our side of the bracket is like playing the FCIAC championship to get to the state championship. But we’re ready for the task and we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
DARIEN 3, NEW CANAAN 2
NEW CANAAN 1 1 — 2
DARIEN 3 0 — 3
Scoring: New Canaan — Emily Knight 1g, 1a; Estelle Asker 1g. Darien: Shea van den Broek 2g; Molly Hellman 1g; Katie Elders 1a; Bridget Mahoney 1a. Goalies: NC — Emily Gaeta 9 saves D — Catherine Vogt 1 save; Monisha Akula 1 save Shots: NC 5; D 16 Penalty Corners: NC 12; D 7