DARIEN — In a regular season where the top five field hockey teams had 11 or more wins, being the No. 1 seed for the upcoming FCIAC playoffs is an accomplishment to be celebrated.
The Darien field hockey squad clinched the top spot for the league tournament Tuesday thanks to a rainy 2-1 home triumph over Wilton.
The victory left FCIAC East Division regular season champ Darien at 13-1 league and 15-1 overall.
“Today was a battle. Both teams played very strong,” Darien coach Mo Minicus said. “Our defense stepped up well to the challenge. We will happily take the win. Being the No. 1 playoff seed in the FCIAC in a season like this is something our girls should be so proud of.”
The matchups for the FCIAC playoff quarterfinals — set for Friday and Saturday — should be finalized following Wednesday’s contests.
Darien and Wilton (locked in as the No. 6 FCIAC playoff seed at 9-4-0-1 league) traded goals in the opening 11 minutes on the wet artificial turf.
Darien’s Sarah Bogdan tipped in a long shot by Charlotte Domittner at 4:44. Wilton’s Olivis Hahn answered at 11:09 off a pass from Sam Slough for 1-1.
Darien earned the lead for good just 4:33 into the second half. Senior tri-captain Catherine Duggan scored off a penalty corner setup.
“We followed our normal plan on a penalty corner. Tala Garcia sent the ball over to me. I probably held it longer than I should have,” Duggan recounted. “I got lucky the shot went in.”
Both defenses were tested as Wilton had nine penalty corners to six for Darien. Wilton had a potential goal clang off the post late in the first half.
Wilton goalies Megan Kaeyer and Michelle Prario each played a half and each made five saves. Darien’s Monisha Akula had one save but a number of valuable clears.
For the storied Darien program, the postseason results are the ones most important to the Blue Wave family.
“We began our preseason in 90 degree weather in August. And we ended the regular season in a cool rain,” Duggan said. “The regular season was fun. But we’re glad the postseason has arrived. It was great starting the season by beating Staples and we’re the No. 1 playoff seed now. We’re all excited to see what this postseason brings. This group is really, really good. I think it’s better than last year.”
Darien will be vying for its third consecutive FCIAC title. The Blue Wave have collected six outright FCIAC championships and one co-champion since 2007-2008.
In the Class L state tournament, Darien was co-champions with Staples in 2016, lost to Staples in the 2017 Class L final and were ousted by Staples in the 2018 Class L semifinals in overtime.
“You play the regular season to be ready for the postseason,” Darien coach Minicus said. “I’m so proud of our group’s effort thus far all season. We have great team chemistry that will get us far.”
NO ESCAPING FCIAC FOR WILTON
The Warriors (11-4-0-1 overall) are currently No. 10 in the Class L Tournament rankings. Unfortunately, all the FCIAC heavyweights will also be competing in Class L due to the CIAC enrollment standards.
“Our last three games (2-0 win over Greenwich, 3-1 loss to Staples, 2-1 loss to Darien) have been so competitive. We are very close to the powerhouse programs,” Wilton coach Mike Pallister said. “In my mind, we’re still very young. We still need to work on our situational awareness. And we need to capitalize on offensive opportunities more. Today, both Darien goals came on defensive lapses. When playing the top six or seven teams in the FCIAC, you can win on any given day if you play your best. We just need to build our experience level in high stress, tough situations.”