Girls soccer drops 1st game of season
Blue Wave remains confident following first defeat
With six wins, a tie and not a single loss to show entering Tuesday afternoon's FCIAC tilt with visiting Ridgefield, the Blue Wave girls soccer team has jumped out to a tremendous start to the 2010 season.
Leading scorer and senior All-FCIAC striker and tri-captain Georgie Highton cited several key qualities that have fueled her team's early-season success.
"We are very united as a team, and we always maintain great communication out there at all times," said Highton, who has eight goals this year. "We're very close knit, and it's really paid off for us."
Added fellow senior tri-captain and goalkeeper Charlotte Phillips:
"Our team this season has a very high soccer IQ across the board, and we're extremely fast both on and off the ball. Another key to our success has been how many skilled younger players we have."
Youth is indeed in abundance, as only three seniors are firmly entrenched among the starting 11. With just seven seniors within the program, the majority of varsity players brandish a mix of youth, speed and aggressiveness.
"We don't have a ton of experienced players, but technically, this group of players has a high talent level," Darien head coach John Bradley said. "We have a nice blend of youth and experience, as our three captains have meshed well with the younger players."
Surely that mix has paid dividends through seven matches this fall, but on Tuesday afternoon, rainy and windy conditions coupled with a highly skilled opponent from Ridgefield spelled the end to the unbeaten streak, by way of the Blue Wave's 3-1 defeat to the Tigers.
Sound technical play took heed to numerous losses of possession on errant passes, subsequently snapping the unblemished record through seven games for Darien, which still sits atop the FCIAC with the likes of New Canaan and Westhill.
The crisp passes and footwork that had previously paved the way to Tuesday's match with Ridgefield (6-1-1) were few and far between, as much of the first half featured passes that missed their intended targets along with costly turnovers.
Rather than playing to their strengths on the ground, Darien fell victim to the visiting Tigers in a match that featured dozens of balls played high into the cloudy air above its home turf field.
"So far this season, we've really kept the ball on the ground and remained under control," said Bradley. "Today though, we could have killed several ducks with all the passes and plays that went up in the air out there. We are normally much sharper than that, so we'll have to clean that up. We also lost our composure at times out there, myself included, so we'll need to get back on track in our next few matches."
With the game scoreless in the second half, Ridgefield's Jaclyn Giordano, with her right side facing goal, received a cross from co-captain Monica Brown at the top of the six-yard box. In one deft touch with her left foot, she redirected the ball through her legs and inside the back post. Brown carried the ball to the touch-line and fed it across to Giordano for the creative finish.
"I love to play the ball with the outside of my foot, but I knew I wouldn't be able to get to it with my right foot," Giordano said. "It kind of just happened. It's a move I've done in practice but never as a shot during a game."
The Blue Wave did make a match of it as the second half wore on, when Highton, the team's leading scorer, got the hosts on the scoreboard with just over 24 minutes remaining.
Highton knotted things up at 1-1 after corralling a savvy cross from teammate Phebe Wong along the right flank and one-timing it into the Tigers cage for a sudden shift in momentum.
Nonetheless, an unlucky play doomed the Blue Wave a short time later, when Ridgefield midfielder Kathryn Cholko blasted a free kick towards the Darien goal. A Darien defender misplayed the blast and a deflected ball spelled a 2-1 Ridgefield lead.
A late goal off the foot of Tigers forward Ellie Gravitte with just under 10 minutes to go put the finishing touches on the first defeat suffered this season by Darien. Darien goalkeeper Charlotte Phillips did get a hand on the shot diving to her right, but was unable to take enough steam off of it as it trickled over the line.
The Tigers lost their opener after graduating eight starters, but haven't dropped a game since. The run has included victories against Staples and defending Class LL state champion Westhill, and last week's draw against another FCIAC favorite, Greenwich.
"Today they were the better team, hands down," Bradley said. "We did score an excellent goal to get back level, then the winner was just unlucky. Our main problem today was that we could have killed birds with some of our passes. Air. Air. Air. We need to remember to keep it on the ground."
Despite the loss, the Blue Wave captains remain confident that this season can prove to be special in the long run.
"We've enjoyed a great start to the year, and today is tough to take, but we have plenty more games to play this season," senior tri-captain Ellie Bullitt said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work during practice, a return to going over the basics, and us pulling together as a group to help re-light the fire we have had all season long. With our talent and our drive, I think we can run the table. Our goals are to return to the States and make the FCIACs, so I definitely think we're going to bounce back from this one."
Upcoming contests include games against St. Joseph's, a team that Darien has traditionally taken care of, and New Canaan, which always promises to be a showdown from start to finish. Either way, there remains plenty of upcoming play on the pitch for this promising Blue Wave squad.
"St. Joseph's is in a bit of a rebuilding mode, so I'm confident we can take care of business against them," Bradley said. "After that, it's on to New Canaan, and they are always a really tough opponent. Sure, today was tough, but it's only one game. It comes down to staying composed and playing to our strengths. We've got a long ways to go, so I'm eager to see how the girls respond following this loss."
-- Mike Levitt contributed to this story.