DARIEN — It’s the same story every preseason.

How could Darien possibly go undefeated again? There’s too much talent in the FCIAC, the Blue Wave have graduated too many superstars.

Yet, here we are again, with to-ranked Darien looking to make it 77-straight wins and five-straight state titles on Saturday at 3 p.m. against No. 6 Ridgefield.

There’s a lot of reasons Darien is what it is year in and year out, but the biggest may be no matter the level of talent they graduate, there’s Division I caliber players ready to step in to the vacated roles.

Case in point: the Blue Wave defenseon. It lost an All-American defender in Arden Cohen (now an All-Freshman honoree at Notre Dame) and three-year goalie Ryan Cornell — another former All-American currently at Vermont.

Stepping in at close defender were seniors Andrew Darby and Matt Gould, both already DI commits coach Jeff Brameier knew would be more than capable of getting the job done.

The biggest question mark on the entire team was what first-year starter Sean Collins would be able to do in net.

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CASE FOR THE DEFENSE

The Darein boys lacrosse team has won 76 straight games and will for No. 77 in Saturday’s Class L championship against rival Ridgefield. A major factor in the Blue Wave’s success has been the play of their defense. Some hightlights.

Allowed 4.4 goals per game in the regular season

Allowed two or fewer goals in five game

Gave up 7 GPG in the state playoffs

Winners of four-straight state titles

Completely new starting lineup in 2018

Four All-FCIAC players

“Ryan Cornell was a great mentor for me,” Collins said. “He taught me how to go through practice and the work ethic of getting out here every day and putting in the hours to get better at every moment you can. Seniors graduate every year and new guys have to step up. I wanted to be that guy, I put my mind to it and put in the hours.”

To say the extra work has paid off would be putting it mildly. Collins hasn’t just been serviceable, he’s been remarkable at times in earning All-FCIAC first-team honors this season.

“He’s been a difference maker,” Brameier said. “Did I think he could become the best in the state? No, I thought he would be a solid contributor to this team. But, he’s basically been one of our MVPs if not the MVP. He’s first-team All-League and could be first team All-State and could be All-American.”

On a team stacked with big-name talent other coaches dream about, it’s was the little-known Collins that was the reason Darien won one-goal contests like its 11-10 victory over St. Anthony’s of Long Island.

Collins isn’t a physical specimen, and he doesn’t have to be. He’s a fundamental technician that never lets the moment get too big for him.

That was most evident in the Class L semifinals, when he stopped a would-be tying shot against New Canaan in the final minute.

“Coach B’s philosophy is to play in 30-second segments and not worry about the next segment or the one before it,” Collins said. “You play each like it’s the last one and not worry about anything.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt having two of the best close defenders in the state in front of him.

After graduating All-American’s Mark Evanchick (Penn) in 2016 and Cohen in 2017, the time finally came for the talented — and patient — duo of Darby and Gould.

“The two of them have been beasts,” Brameier said. “You could see we put them both on (New Canaan’s Quintin O’Connell and Owen Shin) and they’ve taken away the one-two combination that a lot of teams have.”

Darby has slid right in where his predecessors left off, assigned to cover the opponents top-scorer. Where some would be intimidated by the constant spotlight, Darby relishes in it.

“I love the challenge, it’s fun for me,” Darby, a Michigan commit, said. “I like watching film on them and learning what guys like to do.”

That usually leaves Gould with guarding the No. 2 scorer, and his role is less defined. In a given game, he could have to take on multiple roles to counter what opposing attack’s will try to throw at him.

Luckily, he’s much more than just a one-trick pony.

“Last year I played more long-stick middie than close, and throughout my playing career I’ve always prided myself on being able to play both because it was a way to get on the field and it was fun,” the Providence-bound Gould said. “So, taking that step has translated to me being versatile being that I can play down low and up top and it’s just having that experience in my back pocket.”

It may seem that besides the names on the back of the jerseys, nothing changes at Darien.

That’s largely because each class that steps on the field mimics the leadership style that was displayed to them as underclassmen.

One of those former players was Quinn Fay, a defenseman that graduated in 2017 and is at Tufts now. Fay also had to wait his turn to shine as a senior, but knew when he left that side of the field was in good hands.

“The big thing that stands out is all these young kids, they’re not scared of anybody,” Fay said. “As sophomores, when we scrimmaged at the end of practice they were guarding Colin Minicus and Jack Kniffin and they’re always up for the challenge. They always want to compete and get more reps, they’re really just not scared to face anybody and very determined players and I think that shows.”

And while it may be new for those outside the program to see these faces in the spotlight, their rapport amongst each other has already been well-established.

“This is our core group, we’ve grown up together and it may seem like this is our first year playing together, but we’ve been playing together since we were little kids,” Gould said. “To you guys it seems all new, but to us it’s the same thing, we’re just starting on the varsity team now.”

Even after winning FCIAC and state titles — and every other game — as members of the varsity program, getting to leave their mark as starters is really what it’s all about.

“If we’re able to do that, it’d be awesome because of all the work we’ve put in as a unit,” Darby said. “It’s been fun and it’s been hard at times, but it would mean a lot to us.”

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP