Boys soccer seeking consistent team effort
T.E.A.M.: Together Everybody Achieves More.
That's what head coach Nicolae Piperea is trying to instill in the Darien boys soccer team.
For nearly half a decade, Piperea has worked to revive the Blue Wave boys soccer program from the ground up. Entering his fifth season at the helm, Piperea feels the 2010 version of the Blue Wave is prepared to show the fruits of his labor.
"We are working on getting that unity to prevail and making sure there is no ego," Piperea said. "We have the talent, we have the hunger and we just have to execute."
The Blue Wave is looking to not only bounce back from a 3-9-3 season, but push further into the post season than their last visit in 2008 -- an opening-round loss in the Class L state tournament.
"Now it's not a surprise. It's just a great feeling. We know we can do it," Piperea said of winning and contending for the playoffs. "We not only expect to make states, but to advance to the final stages."
Darien has shown signs of major improvement thus far in the preseason, posting a 13-3 goal differential in two scrimmages and one jamboree. The Blue Wave won both scrimmages against Kolbe Cathedral and Brunswick 2-0.
"It's nice to see the team improving in all aspects of the game since last year," the coach said. "We've become a team that can protect the ball and play attacking."
Piperea's influence can be seen throughout the roster since he has helped steer his seniors since they were on the under 14 squad. Of the 12 seniors on his roster, Piperea will rely most on his captains, Alex McGuire, J.P. Walsh, Rupert Hansford and Ben Burke.
"They are capable to provide the leadership necessary to keep us focused," he said.
Maturity and cohesiveness should not be an issue for the Blue Wave, which returns eight players that started or received playing time of it's dozen seniors. Darien is also loaded with 10 juniors, which bodes well for this year and next.
Most of Darien's experience lies across the back line, where Walsh anchors the defense from the center and is flanked by McGuire, right back, and Burke, left back.
Having that trio of captains on defense is solid insurance for Piperea, whose goal keeper opening was not yet settled as of press time. The battle for keeper between Graham Hotchkiss and David Bigelow was going down to the final jamboree on Sept. 11.
Each candidate excels at certain aspects of the position -- Hotchkiss is tall, controls the box and is attacks balls in the air, while Bigelow is agile and shows great reaction to shots. However, the spot will go to the player that best combines his skills with the mental aspect of being a keeper.
"The deciding factor will be the way they not only stop shots, but lead the team from the back ... be the on-field coach," Piperea said. "Each goal keeper comes with strengths, but we are looking for the more complete player."
Darien's offense will be generated up the middle through Hansford, who Piperea terms an attacking midfielder. It will be his job to play the ball to the wings and striker J.J Holmgren.
"We like to attack with the wings and get involved the out backs," Piperea said.
Unlike in past years, the Blue Wave has accumulated some depth on its roster. Hansford will be aided in the midfield by sophomore Brennan Branca. Darien's offense will get a boost from juniors Jeffrey Hubbard and Elliot Helgins. Danny Rizzuto, Jonathan Gill and Spencer McMullen will also be in the fold for the Blue Wave.
"What's exciting about this team this year is the starters can be replaced with subs that can raise the quality of the game at that point," Piperea said.
Darien opened the season at home against Brien McMahon prior to press time. The Blue Wave's next home tilt comes against Norwalk on Monday at 4 p.m.
Darien's schedule features five of the eight FCIAC playoff teams from a year ago, only two of which they play on the road -- Greenwich on Oct. 6 and the season finale against Trumbull on Oct. 27. The Blue Wave travels to New Canaan for the second to last game of the season on Oct. 25.