If the New Canaan field hockey team is to wear the FCIAC championship crown, there are no two ways about it: It will indeed have to clear the massive hurdle that is the one-loss Darien Blue Wave, which scored a lopsided 4-0 win at New Canaan High School on Sept. 12, the season-opening tilt for both teams.
Due to Hurricane Sandy and the need to start the state tournaments, field hockey will have FCIAC co-champions. On Tuesday, the winner of New Canaan vs. Darien at 5 p.m. as well as Wilton vs. Greenwich at 7 p.m. will both be recognized as the conference champs.
"I think it's not an ideal situation. We want to have the tournament played out, but these are such extreme circumstances and this is beyond our control," New Canaan coach Erin Gildea said. "There's no point in being upset about it, and it gives one other team an FCIAC championship."
"Nobody wants to share a championship; everyone wants a shot at having the title for themselves. It's out of our hands, so it kind of makes the semifinals the championship," Darien coach Mo Minicus said. "We have to go into game treating it as if it is the championship. If this is the way it is, then let's go."
New Canaan High will be the site of the FCIAC semifinals even though Darien earned the FCIAC tournament's No. 2 seed, while New Canaan finished as the three-seed.
"We haven't met as a team since playing on Friday, but the girls were going to have the weekend off," Gildea said. "Most likely, the next time we'll be on the field will be the semifinals against Darien."
Both Gildea and Darien coach Mo Minicus acknowledged that all remaining FCIAC playoff teams are "in the same boat."
"We had a lengthy practice Sunday preparing for the storm and what might come," Minicus said. "It's not ideal that we can't practice prior to playing the next game, but all schools are in the same boat."
Outstanding seasons are nothing new for Darien's field hockey team, which finished the regular season at 16-1 (13-1 FCIAC) and suffered its only loss against top-seeded and undefeated Wilton, a 1-0 decision at Wilton High School on Sept. 19, its third game of the season.
New Canaan suffered only one loss after the season-opener -- a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Wilton -- and finished the regular season with a 12-2-2 mark (10-2-1 FCIAC).
The Blue Wave ran roughshod over the Rams in their regular season contest, building a 2-0 lead on goals by Mollie Riegel and Erika Osherow in the game's first 10 minutes. A penalty stroke goal by Osherow at the very end of the first half made it 3-0, and Riegel closed out the scoring with the game's only second half tally.
"It was the first game for both of us, and we had an early jump on them which was great for us," Minicus said. "It helped us gain momentum and confidence, but that was just the first game of season."
New Canaan recognizes the importance of not allowing its border rival to build a comfortable lead in the early stages of what is now essentially a tournament finale.
"I think a lot of what happens is (Darien) knows people are intimidated or nervous, and they can capitalize on that early before the girls can settle down and get into their game," Gildea said. "It was the home opener, a lot of people were there with expectations and we hadn't gelled as a team. If we keep them off the scoreboard early, that'll definitely favor us."
New Canaan advanced past the FCIAC quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over No. 6 Fairfield Warde, while Darien also pitched a shutout, besting No. 7 Brien McMahon 3-0.
New Canaan is excited to get one last shot at its border rival, particularly while riding a five-game win streak.
"The biggest thing we've worked on is communication. It's come a long way and it's why we've had good results lately," Gildea said. "I think at this point, the girls know that they can play with and beat a team like Darien."
Minicus indicated that she fully expects a challenge from the Rams in their highly-anticipated rematch.
"We're both very different teams, and I think both teams are better than when they played their first game," Minicus said. "Anything can go; it's a matter of being relaxed and confident and ready to play."
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