MADISON—Through its first seven games of the regular season, the Darien field hockey team took no prisoners with a 7-0 record, including five shutouts, while outscoring opponents 35-2.
On Saturday, the Blue Wave kicked off the toughest stretch of their season — their last seven regular season games — against non-league host Hand. At first glance, it would seem like the same old story this season with a one-sided victory.
Molly Hellman scored three goals to lead Darien to a 7-2 come-from-behind win over Hand on the Tigers’ turf field. But Darien coach Mo Minicus called it one of her team’s most competitive game of the season, especially in the first half when the Tigers held the lead twice and only trailed 3-2 at halftime.
“The score was 7-2, but this was a very competitive game for us,” Minicus said. “This game starts the toughest part of our season and was the kind of game we expect from Hand. We have been coming here to play Hand for several years now. They are well coached and always prepared. We love coming here because it’s always a challenge and that makes it a lot of fun.
“The first half was tough. It wasn’t until we scored our third and fourth goals that you saw a turning point in the game. It was at that point we just started connecting and our passing really started coming on. I’m proud of the way my girls came back. Molly (Hellman) is our worker bee. She works so hard and you saw that in the game today.”
Hand scored the first goal of the game when Jacqui Sandor wristed a shot from about eight feet out to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead with 26:16 left in the first half. But the Blue Wave responded 21 seconds later when Evelyn Hidy tied the game at 1 off a scramble in front of Hand goalie Maddy Kilduff with 25:55 to go.
The Tigers continued to pressure Darien goalie Monisha Akula. There was a wild scramble to take control of the ball amid a scramble in front of Akula. Amy Woods got her stick on the ball and blasted a shot to give Hand a 2-1 lead with 20:53 left in the first half.
Hidy answered again for the Blue Wave off a wild play in front of the Hand net. Her shot bounced off the right post and into the net to tie the game at 2 with 16:16 to go. Molly McGuckin gave Darien its first lead with 3:31 left in the half.
McGuckin took a shot that Kilduff saved. But the ball rebounded to McGuckin who sent it between Kilduff’s leg pad and the post for a 3-2 lead that held up at halftime.
Darien opened the second half with two straight penalty corners. Hellman made the second one count and scored her first goal with 27:36 to go in the second half for a 4-2 lead.
“This was a great game and very competitive,” Hellman said. “A lot closer than what the score indicates. It was a tough first half but then we started executing, passing better and communicating more. It wasn’t until we got that fourth goal before we sensed the momentum really changing in the game.”
Hellman scored the next two goals with 17:14 to go and 3:30 to go in the game for a 6-2 lead. Maddy Hult provided the final score with a goal with 53 seconds to go in the game.
“A lot of great things happened for us in the first half,” Hand coach Sue Leckey said. “But as the game wore on you could see Darien’s experience showing from girls who play year round. They became more efficient with their ball movement and they just challenged us to beat them.
“My girls are starting to understand what they are capable of doing and that showed in the first half. We’re bringing along our goalies and they are improving. We’ll learn from this and that’s why we like playing Darien. Playing against that high caliber talent helps our girls develop and become better and it also helps me become better as a coach.”
Kilduff had 10 saves in the game.