DARIEN >> Darien senior goalie Phil Huffard has always worked hard on developing his skills going back to his youth lacrosse days.
While there was always natural ability, he admits his overall strengths — quickness, aggressiveness, field vision, making plays outside the crease and communication — were acquired through hard work and coaching.
This past year another skill was improved upon, and has ultimately made Huffard a complete player — leadership. The third-year starting goalie will be bringing his leadership and much more to New Haven next year. Huffard has committed to play at Yale.
Darien coach Jeff Brameier, whose team is 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Register Top 10 Poll, said the leadership of his seniors has been important in sustaining success. It’s a trait that has Huffard making more of an impact than ever before.
“Phil is a student of the game and understands his role on our team defense,” Brameier said. “He’s a great leader, but it’s something he needed to grow into. Early on here he struggled with leadership, playing with guys who dominated in that role like (current Cornell sophomore) Tony Britton.
“Last season was tough for him (after a semifinal loss in the FCIAC tournament and a quarterfinal loss in the Class M state tournament). He was determined to work hard in the offseason to be prepared and ready to go this season. Stepping into that leadership role was something he worked on, and overall he’s been playing great.”
Brameier said Huffard is the quarterback of the defense and his communication skills are one of the many reasons why he stands out in that role. Huffard notched a shutout in the Blue Wave’s season-opening 22-0 win over Trinity Catholic and has allowed more than five goals in just three games.
“I would like to believe my communication skills are one of my strengths as a goalie,” Huffard said. “It’s something I have worked on. We have a very special group of guys on defense and all 4-5 of them make an impact. But I can see the entire field. Because of that I need to communicate and do a good job of orchestrating our entire defense to get them in the best position possible.
“My other strengths are my athleticism and efficiency of clearing balls.”
Huffard comes from a long line of successful goalies at Darien, including Chris Madalon, who graduated in 2006 and went on to play at the University of North Carolina. Madalon is now Darien’s goalies coach.
“Phil has always had the goalie skills, but the big difference this year is he settled into his role as a leader,” Madalon said. “It was a tough year last year for everyone, especially Phil, who is the backbone of this team, the rock of our defense. …It’s been very tough to score on him this season. He’s a great clearer and he does his research on every team we face.”
In 2012, Huffard made an early commitment to play at Yale. He also considered Harvard, Georgetown, Dartmouth and Brown.
“I’m real excited about going to Yale,” Huffard said. “They have a great team up there and I couldn’t be more excited about playing there. It’s a great place. Yale academics speak for itself and I connected with the coaching staff immediately.
“The thing is, it feels like a real college when you’re there. Whenever I was there the guys (Yale players) always made me feel like I was part of the team.”
Brameier and Madalon expect Huffard to excel at the next level.
“Yale is getting a great goalie,” Brameier said. “He’s learned a lot, he’s practiced hard and he’s done all the hard work to get where he is today. When he graduates from Darien he’ll be ready to go to Yale.”
Madalon added: “It’s always a challenge on the Division I level. But Phil has prepared himself well. He sees high-caliber shots from guys on our team and other teams every day who will be playing at other Division I colleges.”
While the long-term future looks promising for Huffard, there is still the short term to deal with. Huffard and the Blue Wave will get another crack at the FCIAC and Class M tournament titles.
“There is definitely pressure on me all the time with the talented teams we play,” Huffard said. “I get tested all the time in practice from guys on our team who can shoot from anywhere. But that’s good pressure for me because it makes me better.
“The key is to stay focused and keep our defense focused and accomplish all our goals.”