Going through the gauntlet that is the FCIAC every season can only make you a better girls soccer team when the postseason rolls around.
Darien is a perfect example. In two of the last four seasons, the Blue Wave have pulled a seeded upset in the FCIAC tournament quarterfinals. That includes a win over top seed Staples last year.
“Our team takes pride in challenging these teams. They don’t take us lightly. We have earned their respect the last five or six years,” Darien coach Leigh Parsons said. “Come the postseason, we are a force to be reckoned with.”
It’s not just the FCIAC tournament. Darien has beaten an undeafeated Suffield team the last two seasons: in the Class LL quarterfinals as the No. 8 seed and in the Class LL second round last year as the No. 18 seed.
“We are prepared going into those tournaments,” Parsons said.
The Blue Wave was eliminated by fellow FCIAC teams that advanced to the final: Staples in 2017 and Ridgefield last year. The Tigers went on to win their second straight LL championship. Darien also lost to eventual champion Glastonbury in both 2014 and 2015.
And despite losing key seniors from each of the last two seasons, the Blue Wave are off to a 4-1-1 start, including a key 3-0 victory over McMahon last Wednesday.
Darien also shut out McMahon in the Class LL first round last year. So that’s twice the Blue Wave have been able to future Ohio State product Peyton McNamara out of the scoring column.
“The game plan is to know where she (McNamara) is and when she has the ball, can we get numbers around her,” Parsons said.
Psrsons said junor captain Kate Bellissimo drew the main assignment on McNamara. Bellissimo is joined by fellow juniors Maggie Ramsay and Nelle Kniffin and Katie Chandler on defense. The quartet has allowed just two goals this season.
Parsons has rotated a pair of goalies thus far, senior Olivia Maniscalco and freshman Jillian Fox. It was Fox who drew the assignment against McMahon.
“If the freshmen are good enough (to play), it doesn’t matter what your age is,” Parsons said. “Some are good technically, but some need that transition to adjust to the varsity level.”
Another pair of freshmen, Colette Quinn and Chloe Humphrey, did all the scoring for the Blue Wave against McMahon. Quinn scored a pair 2 minutes apart and Humphrey scored in the second half.
With Ridgefield at home on Friday and New Canaan, St. Joseph and Staples coming up in the latter half of October, there are plenty more chances for the Blue Wave to rise up.
“We personally look forward to those challenges,” Parsons said. “You don’t want 10 easy games to say we made the (tournament) … I don’t think people look forward to seeing us on their schedule.”
Speaking of defense
West Haven had one of its best weeks in years, recording three shutouts against Sheehan (1-0), Hand (0-0) and East Haven (0-0).
Coach Peter Trenchard said the turnaround came during its early three-game losing streak.
“In the Sacred Heart (Academy) game, we took it on the chin,” Trenchard said. “We started to turn things around in the second half of that North Haven game. Cheshire is one of the top teams in the league. We were unlucky to not get a tie there.”
Against Sheehan, the Westies were able to keep Olivia Dubuc off the scoreboard. In the rain against Hand, it was Kayla Howard held scoreless. Both were Register All-Area selections last season. Then it was another scoreless tie against East Haven.
The Westies rotate three players at center-back: Tomalyn Williams, Grace Novak and Riley Severino. “They are all very, very capable. Going up against all-state forwards, in order to try and shut them down, you need to have someone fresh in there. You can make a mental mistake when you are fatigued.”
Taylor Novak, Grace’s older sister, switched to defense from midfield to give the Westies even more experience in the back. Goalkeeper MaKenzie Gardner came through with nine saves against Sheehan.
“We talk about not letting them (forwards) receive the ball in open space and turn at you,” Trenchard said. “We were always aware of where they were.”
Julia Tsakonas, a freshman, scored with 10 seconds left in regulation against Sheehan.
West Haven gets a rematch with Sacred Heart Academy Friday on the road.
“Sacred Heart is very experienced and physical. Anything less than our best the next time we play them and they will take it to us again,” Trenchard said.