Top 5 Storylines
1. Can anyone beat Darien? …Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?
Plot line: Last season, Darien held on to beat Ridgefield 6-5 in the Class L boys final last season for its ninth state title in the last 11 seasons. If experience means anything, most of the players from last season’s team are back with nothing less than a state title as an acceptable finish to this season.
The Blue Wave returned their goalie Ryan Cornell, top two defenders including last season’s Connecticut Player of the Year Mark Evanchick, four of their six midfielders and their entire attack with starters Colin Minicus, Jack Kniffin and Kevin Lindley.
You should know: Darien coach Jeff Brameier’s goal each season is perfection.
The Blue Wave play the toughest regular-season schedule of any team in the state. They defeated New Canaan 9-5 for their third straight FCIAC tournament title on Thursday and enter the Class L tournament 19-0.
2. New Canaan might be a slam dunk in Class M
Plot Line: The Rams, led by a strong, talented defense that creates matchup problems for opponents, are in position to win their second straight Class M title. Among the top defenders are David Strupp and Frank Cognetta.
The Rams are exceptional in the midfield, led by Kyle Smith (committed to play at University of Denver), Ryan O’Connell and Peter Swindell.
The Rams also have arguably the best goalie in the state with Drew Morris. And oh yeah, the Rams can score.
With all due respect to the teams in the Class M upper bracket, the Rams look to have a clear path to another Class M championship game.
You should know: In the last five years, the Rams have been in the Class M final four times with the one title happening last season.
3. Fairfield Prep vs. Darien in the Class L final would be fun to watch
Plot line: Fairfield Prep has a shot for a deep run in Class L, but it won’t be easy.
If the Jesuits keep advancing, they will face SCC foe Cheshire in the first round, most likely Greenwich in the quarterfinals and Wilton in the semifinals.
Like Darien, the Jesuits have a strong goalie (Jack O’Connor), strong defense led by Nick Franchuk, strong midfield led by Brendan Hoffman and coach Chris Smalkais’ son Colin Smalkais, and solid offense led by attackman Mitch Savoca.
Then there would also be two of the most talented coaches matching wits — Darien’s Jeff Brameier and SCC legend Chris Smalkais of Prep. Talk about fun for fans.
You should know: Prep is coming off a 12-11 OT win over Guilford in the SCC tournament final. The Jesuits ended the regular season with an impressive 7-6 win over Delbarton (New Jersey), ranked No. 10 in the nation at the time, Bottom line — Prep can play with anybody.
4. Do not count out St. Joseph in Class S
Plot line: In Class S, the Shoreline Conference has teams like Old Lyme, North Branford and Haddam-Killingworth with talented players who can lead their teams far. Weston, Granby and East Catholic are other teams that could advance to the semifinals or final.
But St. Joseph, despite going 8-8 in the regular season, has something those other teams don’t have — a built-in regular-season FCIAC schedule against elite teams. That FCIAC schedule helps develop and raise the level of play.
The Cadets faced Darien, New Canaan, Staples, Ridgefield and Wilton in the regular season, and those games were all losses. But they were productive, developmental losses.
This tough schedule is why the Cadets have been in six Class S finals the last seven years with S titles in 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2015. By the way, St. Joseph rolled past Montville 22-3 in a Class S qualifying round game on Saturday.
You should know: In 2011, the Cadets went 8-8 in the regular season and went on to win the Class S championship. They outscored their four tournament opponents 37-18.
5. Other teams who could go on deep tournament runs
Plot line: Simsbury and Glastonbury in Class L are certainly the hope for northern Connecticut teams for a state title, but they are in a very tough bracket.
Cheshire, Guilford, Hand, North Haven and Notre Dame-West Haven are SCC teams that can advance in their respective classes. Outside of Prep, Guilford and Hand have the best shot to get to a final and will likely face each other in the Class M semifinals.
Goalie James Bright might give the Indians an edge. Other than Darien, New Canaan and St. Joseph, other FCIAC teams with exceptional talent and coaching are Greenwich, Ridgefield, Staples and Wilton. Any of these four teams could go on a roll.
You should know: Last season, FCIAC teams won five of the six state titles that were up for grabs (boys and girls combined).
Top 5 Players to Watch
Mark Evanchick, Darien
This list has to start with arguably the best boys lacrosse player in the state.
The 2015 All-American defender is exceptional at his position and was selected the Connecticut High School Lacrosse Coaches Association and MSG Varsity Player of the Year last season.
He scored the game-winning goal in Darien’s 6-5 win over Ridgefield in the 2015 CIAC Class L final and was named the 2015 Gatorade Football Player of the Year.
We can expect similar accolades this season. He will play lacrosse at Pennsylvania.
Nick Franchuk, Fairfield Prep
Another top defender, Franchuk has been one of the top players in the Southern Connecticut Conference this season.
He is one reason the Jesuits have limited opponents to seven goals or less in 13 of 17 games this season.
A standout running back on the football team, he has committed to play lacrosse at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Jack Kniffin, Darien
One of many prolific scorers for the Blue Wave, the attackman showcased his knack for the net in a recent 13-12 overtime comeback win over FCIAC rival Greenwich.
He scored five goals, including the game-tying goal and game-winning goal.
He has committed to play lacrosse at Brown.
Drew Morris, New Canaan
Like the Blue Wave, the Rams are one of the most exceptional teams in the state. While they excel at both ends of the field, defense is a strength and one reason why is elite goalie Morris.
Communication, experience, excellent field vision and directing the defense in front of him are his strengths.
His quickness usually has him in position to make a save. The Rams were tested by Wilton in the FCIAC quarterfinals and Morris had 12 saves in a 7-6 win. He has committed to play at Maryland.
Kyle Smith, New Canaan
The Rams strength on defense gets a boost from an extremely strong group of midfielders.
Defense, ball possession and a strong transition is why defending CIAC Class M champ New Canaan is favored to win another title.
Smith’s quickness allows him to excel in transition. He is a scorer, but his field vision allows him to quickly spot an open player. He has committed to play at the University of Denver.
- Overview: No. 1 Darien rolls with either No. 6 Fairfield Prep or No. 14 Greenwich the Blue Wave opponent.
- Upsets on the horizon: Greenwich starts off in the qualifying round. If you go by seeding, any win thereafter would be an upset, although in reality the Cardinals would be the favorite (except for a Prep or Darien matchup). No. 7 Wilton over No. 2 Simsbury in the quarterfinals.
- Final Four: Darien, No. 5 Ridgefield, Wilton, Fairfield Prep.
- Champion: Darien defeats Fairfield Prep 12-10.
- Overview: No. 1 New Canaan is the clear favorite. In the lower bracket, No. 2 Guilford should face No. 6 Hand in the semifinals. Whether it’s Hand or Guilford in the final, New Canaan has too much talent to overcome.
- Upsets on the horizon: No. 9 North Haven should beat No. 8 East Lyme in the first round.
- Final Four: New Canaan, No. 5 Notre Dame-West Haven, Guilford, Hand.
- Champion: New Canaan overcomes some impressive saves by Guilford goalie James Bright for a 10-5 win over the Indians in the final.
- Overview: No. 18 St. Joseph will have to come out of the qualifying round but should roll to a third straight title thanks to a strong regular-season schedule.
- Upsets on the horizon: Any win by St. Joseph would be considered an upset based on seeding.
- Final Four: No. 1 Somers, No. 4 Granby, St. Joseph, No. 3 East Catholic.
- Champion: St. Joseph defeats Granby 13-10.