Photo: Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Shelton's Rebecca Kliff (23) fronts the ball under pressure from Darien's Emily DeNunzio (19) during a Class LL Second Round game in the CIAC 2017 State Girls Soccer Tournament.
Photo: Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Shelton's Maggie Howard (32) and Darien's Emily DeNunzio (19) battle for the ball during a Class LL Second Round game.
Photo: Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Darien varsity girls soccer head coach Leigh Parsons gives directions to his players.

DARIEN—Often when you think about Darien female athletes playing at the next level it’s either for field hockey of lacrosse.

Emily DeNunzio, a 2018 graduate, is out to prove that stigma wrong.

DeNunzio was somewhat of a rarity in Darien, specializing in soccer, but that commitment earned her a spot as a NHS All-American and as a freshman player at Division I Colgate University in New York.

“She really exemplifies what you can achieve in soccer from just playing soccer,” Blue Wave coach Leigh Parsons said. “I don’t know if it’s a misconception or just where we live, because lacrosse is a popular sport. But it shows if you dedicate yourself to soccer now she’s going to the All-American game and is going to a Division I school and playing as a freshman.”

Playing as a center-back, DeNunzio and goalie Christine Fiore helped form one of the toughest defenses to score on in the state. So much so, that opposing coaches revealed after contests that they had to base their game plan around Darien’s stopper in the middle.

“Chrissie and I knew going into most games we had to stay strong and we had the mentality we didn’t want anything in the back of our net,” DeNunzio said. “No matter what other teams did that was the goal for us. What really helped is the whole team really worked as a unit to make sure shutouts were on the table.”

DeNunzio was as big a reason as any that Darien advanced to the Class LL semifinals this past season—the farthest the program has been.

“Last year was definitely an amazing year,” DeNunzio said. “We had been building to go farther and farther each year. Me along with the rest of the seniors were a really close class, so going that far is something we’ll never forget and we had a fun time doing it and I think that was the most important thing.”

As a four-year player with the program, DeNunzio was instrumental in its climb, but she did so with an effortless grace about her that really stuck out to Parsons.

“She came in as a freshman as a quiet solid soccer player and then her play commanded the respect of all her players,” Parsons said. “The older she got, the better she got and turned into a true captain. On the field as a leader from the back she limited so many chances against our team and she made other people better and that was such a big thing to have. One player is making the other three players that much better because of all the respect she commands and I think it speaks volumes to make players that much better and she was able to do that.”

DeNunzio played a multitude of sports growing up, and isn’t against players who continue that in high school, but what she wants younger soccer players to understand is that you don’t have to play one of the mainstream sports in the town to get recognition at the next level.

That’s a message that Parsons is fully behind.

“It’s a good thing for the younger kids coming into the school that if they’re on the fence you can get there with soccer,” Parsons said. “She really showed that as a great example of what you can do if you commit to one sport. She didn’t walk around with an ego, but had the presence that she’s the best player here, she was really great for the program.”

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP