While the word dynasty tends to be overused in the sports world, you can make a case for it when it comes to the history of field hockey in the realm of Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference governed sports.
In simple terms, the definition of a sports dynasty is a team or person that dominates their sport or league for an extended amount of time. For the purposes of this story, assume the task of winning three straight field hockey titles satisfies the term ‘sports dynasty’.
Staples is in the midst of its own dynasty. The No. 4 Wreckers will try to win its fourth straight title when it faces FCIAC rival No. 3 Darien at 2 p.m. at Wethersfield High on Saturday. No. 1 Guilford, the most dominant Class M team the past two seasons, is on the verge of entering mini-dynasty territory when it faces SCC rival No. 7 Hand at noon at the same site.
Talented and well-coached Hand will have something to say in the outcome of today’s Class M title and can win. But the Indians’ dominance is tough to ignore as they try to win their second straight Class M title — and they have most of their talented team back again next season.
Staples is in solid ‘dynasty’ company as a three-time defending Class L champ. Branford won six Class M titles from 1985-1991, including four straight (1988-1991), and won four titles in five years from 2001-2005. Granby has won 13 state titles (12 in Class S, one in Class M) and won three in a row from 2009-2011. Old Saybrook has won four Class S titles, including three straight from 1987-1989, and Canton has won eight Class S titles, including four in five years from 1995-99 (three straight from 1997-1999).
Most recently, Darien won eight state titles from 2007-2016 (four Class M and four Class L), including four straight Class M titles from 2007-2010. Like Hand in Class M, Darien will have something to say in the Class L outcome and has the talent and coaching to match the Wreckers in every phase of the game.
For Staples coach Ian Tapsall, whose team will try to win four straight Class L titles, success the past four seasons has been due to continuity. It should be noted Darien and Staples were Class L co-champs in 2016.
“I appreciate the term dynasty for Staples,” Tapsall said. “But when I think of a dynasty, I think about a well-coached team like Darien that has been so successful in its recent past, including going on an 82-game win streak and 93-game unbeaten streak (Staples beat Darien to snap the streak on Nov. 7, 2011). For my team’s success, continuity is extremely important and it has been that way the past four seasons. I inherit in preseason, every season, a group of players that are hungry for success.
“Most if not all have been on a fitness regimen months prior to the season to ensure that they pass our fitness tests held at try outs. Most if not all attend a preseason trip in order to bond as a group where they receive coaching from some of the best coaches in the country. All have a preseason five-day session where it is arranged for well qualified overseas coaches to give them serious high-quality coaching. Everyone on the team this year plays club hockey year-round.”
Staples has outscored opponents 98-12 and Tapsall stresses defense. Keeping the ball out of its opponents’ scoring circle is the prime objective. The Wreckers have allowed an average of three shots on goal this season.
Leading a balanced Staples offense are Kyle Kirby (18 goals, 11 assists), Julia DiConza (15 goals, four assists), Laine Ambrose (14 goals, 10 assists), Izzy Deveney (11 goals, three assists) and Maya Reiner (nine goals, three assists).
“With the foundation entering every season, all I have to do is concentrate on enhancing their skill level and find out the best system that will suit those players in order to achieve the best results,” Tapsall said.
In Class M, Guilford (22-0) has taken no prisoners and have outscored opponents 123-12 and is coming off a 6-1 win over SCC rival Branford in the Class M semifinals. Guilford coach Kitty Palmer credits her team’s success to a combination of items.
“I am blessed with a great middle school program, where Shannon Cribbin, an ex-Hand player, has headed the program for many years,” Palmer said. “The girls learn the basics correctly, so when they get to the high school, we can focus on more team-oriented skills. I also have great high school assistants that have been successful Guilford field hockey players, and they are so devoted to the building of a successful program.
“We have tremendous athletes in the program, who just go game day to game day. No records or streaks are discussed by any of us. They have a determined focus, and being as superstitious as we all are, I will lay out all they’ve accomplished win or lose on the bus ride home on Saturday.”
A balanced offense, led by speedy forwards Maddie Epke, Hannah Tillier and Ella Stanley, and strong defense have been the Indians’ forte this season.
“Our strength is still our offense, but our defense led by (senior) Cat Larrow, has been so solid,” Palmer said. “They have stepped up in the big games, and we hope they have one more big game in them. Our offense has four girls with 20 or more goals, which is amazing. Never have I coached a team with such hard-working girls that every day want to get better. They challenge me to do the same.
“Hand has been and is such a quality program. Sue (Hand coach Sue Leckey) brings out the best in her players, and we’ve had such competitive games these past few years. When I saw the Class M bracket, I knew that to win, we would have to play Hand. We always play Hand at least three games a season, and for the first time to have our final game this year be for a state championship, it doesn’t get more exciting for all of us than that.”