RANKED, NO REWARD
It’s been talked about many times before, but the seeding for the state tournament is, to put it mildly, unfortunate. Half of the top 10 teams in this week’s Connecticut State Coaches Poll are among the eight teams on one side of the bracket in Class L, including No. 1 New Canaan, No. 2 Darien and No. 3 Wilton. The other two teams have already been eliminated, as No. 5 Staples lost to Darien 15-8, and No. 8 Ridgefield lost to New Canaan 15-5 in the first round on Tuesday. Consider the case with New Canaan, which is unbeaten and earned the No. 1 seed in Class L. The Rams’ reward? A quarterfinal contest against No. 3 Wilton, with a possible match-up against No. 2 Darien in next Tuesday’s semifinals.
Speaking of that possible semifinal matchup, it would be a fourth clash between No.1 New Canaan and No. 2 Darien, who have topped the coaches poll since the start of the season. While the old saying is it’s tough to beat a team three (or four) times in a season. the Rams have been consistent since game one and seemingly have it all: Multiple scoring threats, a lockdown defense, speed throughout the lineup. They’re strong on draws. The Wave has looked equally tough at times, but hasn’t found a rhythm in three games against New Canaan. Darien’s best performance was the second meeting, but the Rams still found a way to win,10-9 in overtime. There’s no doubt the Wave is the biggest threat to end New Canaan’s bid for a perfect season, but they’ll need to be on point to win a final meeting.
Ludlowe is a team on the rise. The Falcons were solid in 2019, and continue their ascent this spring, going 13-3 during the regular season and starting the Class L playoffs with a blowout win, 14-4, over Southington on Tuesday. While the other side of bracket is stacked with FCIAC and Top 10 teams, Ludlowe’s side has just one such team – Greenwich, a team the Falcons face in the quarterfinals. The Falcons defeated Greenwich 14-9 on May 15 and if they can pull off another win, they’ll be one step away from a trip to the title game.
The FCIAC is clearly dominant in Class L, but it’s the SWC which has a legitimate chance to take home two state championships this season. While there’s no team as dominating as New Fairfield was in 2019, the SWC has been highly competitive. In Class S, New Fairfield is the No. 3 seed and will be in the hunt for a fourth consecutive title, while Weston is a live contender as the No. 12 seed. In Class M, No. 4 Joel Barlow is coming off its SWC championship run and is playing superb defense. There are stumbling blocks, of course: SCC Div. I champion Guilford has its sights set on a Class M title, and unbeaten Old Saybrook is the No. 1 seed in Class S, but it would be no surprise to see three SWC teams still playing on championship Saturday.
Guilford was the clear-cut SCC favorite all season and followed through with a repeat conference championship when it beat Daniel Hand 13-6 in the final. In 2019, the Grizzlies’ bid for a state championship ended in the semifinals with a 14-10 loss to St. Joseph, an FCIAC team which plays a difficult regular season schedule. This year, Guilford is the No. 3 seed and has several veteran stars, including Maddie Epke and Hannah Tillier and goalie Sydney Widlitz, along with newcomer Payton Root, who has had a stellar freshman season. It won’t be easy. Quarterfinal opponent Masuk has also played a strong schedule, and waiting in the semifinals will be either St. Joseph or SCC Div. II champion SHA.
– Dave Stewart