NEW CANAAN — Having lost to its rival three times already this season, the Darien girls lacrosse team was in an unusual position for the CIAC Class L semifinals.
“Coming into it 0-3,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said, “my girls had something to prove.”
Consider that mission accomplished.
Riding a tremendous defensive performance, the second-ranked Blue Wave finally broke through against No. 1 New Canaan, punching their ticket to the state finals with an 8-4 victory in the semis Tuesday night at Dunning Field.
“We were so prepared for this game,” Darien junior goalie Shea Dolce said. “It stinks losing to a team as talented as New Canaan three times, but this whole season we’ve been waiting for this moment. We owe it all to the coaches. They’ve been pushing us so hard in practice and we earned it today.”
“We all feel like we earned it,” said junior Ceci Stein, who had a hat trick and two assists. “We came in here with a bunch of heart and we did a bunch of team bonding before this. The energy was a lot different, so we had that momentum.”
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) June 9, 2021
The fourth-seeded Blue Wave (17-3) is making its 13th trip to the CIAC finals, and has a 10-game winning streak in the title game. Darien won five straight from 2013-17, and after losing to New Canaan in the 2018 semifinals came back to beat the Rams 12-6 in the 2019 Class L final.
Darien will face seventh-seeded Ludlowe (17-4) in the final at Bunnell in Stratford on Saturday. The Falcons reached the final with a 9-5 win in Simsbury on Tuesday.
Lindley, who said her team never got into a rhythm during its loss to the Rams in the FCIAC final on May 29, was pleased with the way they responded in the state semis.
“We played outstanding,” Lindley said. “We were better on the draw circle, we were excellent on the clears, we were patient and we got our looks (on) 1-v-1s. We didn’t convert on all of them but we converted when we needed to. And defensively, we played outstanding.”
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) June 8, 2021
For New Canaan (20-1), the loss ended a 20-game winning streak and a bid for a perfect season.
“I’m really proud of the whole season,” New Canaan coach Kristin Woods said. “They played extraordinary. It was only the second undefeated regular season we’ve ever had and they won their first FCIAC. That says a lot about this team, and this program. Winning 20 games straight was pretty impressive.”
The Wave made big defensive stops on New Canaan’s first two possessions, and that set a tone.
Darien’s defense, which featured goalie Dolce, along with senior co-captains Nelle Kniffin and Kate Bellissimo, sophomore Kaci Benoit and freshman Maggie Bellissimo, denied the Rams any good looks, after they had scored quickly in their previous three meetings.
“I had to start hot,” said Dolce, who made six saves. “New Canaan’s been a very good team off the first whistle. We wanted to win the first draw and score a goal. Unfortunately we didn’t win the draw, but we had a stop and that pumped up the defense. The defense played unbelievable and won us the game.”
“We definitely didn’t have the start we usually have,” Woods said. “In most games we’d usually score within the first 20 to 40 seconds. When shots didn’t fall early, I think we struggled.”
After Darien’s Chloe Humphrey and New Canaan’s Quinn McKiernan traded early goals, The Wave went on a three-goal run, with the last two goals coming from Stein.
New Canaan’s Kaleigh Harden scored on a free position 1:04 before halftime, making it 4-2 at the break.
But in the second half, Darien’s defense was nearly untouchable and kept the Rams off the scoreboard for nearly 17 minutes.
The Wave pushed its advantage to 7-2 during that time, and New Canaan was unable to get closer than four goals the rest of the way.
Stein said one of the differences for Darien this time was the confidence level.
“Honestly, for me, I thought we had it the entire game,” Stein said. “That was the mentality I had going into it because we had nothing to lose. We were super-hyped up on the sidelines cheering each other on. Even if we were down, I think we would’ve been able to come back.”