The email went out to families of players, fans and alumni last Thursday. New Canaan’s showdown with the Wilton Warriors in the FCIAC boys lacrosse championship game was being postponed one day due to a forecast of thunderstorms.
The response was overwhelming.
“I probably got about 40 to 50 email responses, phone calls, and text messages,” New Canaan head coach Chip Buzzeo said. “A lot of the guys wrote long messages of support and we posted them up in the locker room. It’s just amazing. Guys who were from the 1990s or 1980s teams, telling us how important the Wilton-New Canaan rivalry was and still is.
“They were just so proud that we were in the FCIAC championship game and playing Wilton. To get that type of feedback from our alumni base really helped us.”
The Rams did their alumni proud, rallying from an early deficit to defeat Wilton 8-7 at Brien McMahon’s Jack Casagrande Field last Friday. It was the Rams’ 10th FCIAC championship, and their first since 2013, which was also Buzzeo’s first year as head coach.
The meeting for an FCIAC title was remarkably the first between the two old rivals in 23 years. Ironically, that last meeting, in 1996, was settled by the same score, 8-7, with the Warriors winning that time.
“This is our 15th time meeting Wilton in an FCIAC championship game,” Buzzeo, who was a senior captain on that 1996 team, “said. “Wilton was an incredible opponent and they were awesome this whole tournament. So I congratulate those players and those coaches for doing an incredible job.”
The oldest lacrosse rivalry in the state will add another chapter on Saturday when the Rams host the Warriors in the CIAC Class L quarterfinals at Dunning Field. New Canaan has beaten Wilton twice this season, both time by 8-7 scores, but this next match-up will send one team packing from the season.
Buzzeo is well-versed in the rich history between New Canaan and Wilton.
The two teams, led by New Canaan’s Howard Benedict and Wilton’s Guy Whitten, met in the conference finals 14 times in the first 20 years a league tournament was held. They combined to win 18 titles during that span: Wilton taking 12 and New Canaan taking six, with only Darien sneaking in to win two league crowns.
It was a similar story in the state playoffs, with the Warriors winning 16 championships and the Rams winning five when the tournament was run by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.
The CIAC took over in 1995, with New Canaan and Wilton meeting in the first two state finals. Wilton won 12-6 in 1995, and New Canaan won 5-4 in 1996, which was also Buzzeo’s last game with the Rams.
Buzzeo went on to play one year at Avon Old Farms, and then played for legendary coach Bill Tierney at Princeton. He also finished his career there as a captain and champion, as the second-seeded Tigers defeated No. 1 Syracuse, 10-9 in overtime, in the 2001 NCAA final.
Playing in so many championship games has made Buzzeo appreciative of what it takes to stay in the moment.
“Enjoy it,” he advised his Rams. “As a player, you always want to play in the championship game. As a coach, it’s a little different in your approach, but I told them to enjoy it and have fun. This is something you’re going to remember forever. This is why we work so hard. They relished in the fact that they did this together. They believed in each other and the whole day, they were positive.”
In the aftermath of their championship celebration, it’s clear the Rams took his words to heart.
“This is something I’ve been waiting for since I was in the sixth grade watching my brother play in the final,” senior co-captain George Dumbauld said. “The last time we won was in 2013 and he was a sophomore and that was amazing to watch. It’s been a few years, but we got it this time and it feels amazing.”
“This is what you dream of,” senior co-captain Carl Mazabras said. “The entire team is ecstatic about this win and we’ve been waiting for about five years now. All four of my years in high school, I’ve been working for this and it’s just an awesome feeling.”
Having players who have been together through the youth leagues and in high school makes the title even better, according to Buzzeo.
“The best thing about sports is the relationships you create with teammates, schools, communities,” Buzzeo said. “It just makes winning so much more special.”