GREENWICH -- Greenwich and New Canaan each had their moments during Tuesday's FCIAC girls swimming championships, but the final one belonged to a team that has ridden a big, Blue Wave of momentum for most of the season.
While the Cardinals and Rams battled for the top spot through the first seven events, the Blue Wave made their move in the 500-yard freestyle and much to the delight of coach Marj Trifone -- never looked back.
Displaying its impressive depth, Darien won its second FCIAC title in four years, amassing 368.00 points Tuesday at jam-packed Greenwich High School. Greenwich, which was the runner-up last season, placed second again (336.00), followed by New Canaan (309.50), which entered the meet as the two-time defending league champion.
"We have a real deep team this year and we really showed that tonight," said Trifone, whose squad placed fifth at last year's FCIAC Championships. "Last year was a tough meet for us, but we came back strong this year. We showed that we're a mentally tough team by finishing ahead of great teams."
The Cardinals, who edged the Blue Wave in a dual meet during the regular season, trailed the Blue Wave by just a point (248-247) after winning the 200-yard freestyle relay. But Darien clinched the meet before the final event of the meet -- the 400 freestyle relay -- with numerous impressive swims.
"I thought our team swam a great meet, Darien was just a little bit better tonight," Greenwich coach Dick Hawks said. "I knew we had to swim like crazy at the end to win this meet. I'm very pleased with our results, especially in the relays."
Senior Olivia Leunis won the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:06.25 and recorded a second-place finish in the 200 individual medley for the Blue Wave.
"This is the second time we've won the FCIAC title and it feels really great," said Leunis, a co-captain. "Everyone on our team swam great today and stay focused throughout the entire meet."
Caroline Orem placed third in the 100 backstroke (1:00.31) and finished sixth in the 200 individual medley for Darien.
"We went into the season knowing we had a lot of depth and that's what carried us through tonight," said Orem, also a senior co-captain. "Tonight's performance is a big confidence-booster for our team for the state meets."
New Canaan senior Maddie Rusch produced one of the meet's most exciting moments. Rusch touched the wall first in the 50 freestyle (:23.88), breaking her own FCIAC record in the event. The victory marked the fourth straight year Rusch won the 50 freestyle at the FCIAC meet -- believed to be the first time anyone has done so in the event.
"It felt kind of surreal to win the 50 free again," Rusch said. "To win it all four years is special. I'm glad that I was able to carry out one of my goals my senior year. I'm so proud of our team because it's been such a strange week. We went from just sitting around not doing much to coming out here and swimming so well tonight."
Greenwich was sparked by junior Katie Evans, who won the 200 individual medley (2:07.88) and posted a third-place finish in the 500 freestyle.
"I was very excited about winning the 200 IM because I had to go up against a great swimmer like Olivia (Leunis)," Evans said. "Everyone on our team tonight stepped up and really swam great times."
"The first half of the meet was tough for us, but we really showed what we can do at the end," Dunn said. "Our relays are really shaping up and are looking very strong heading into the open."
Indeed, Greenwich ended the meet in style, touching the wall first in the 400 freestyle relay (3:36.67).
"I was very pleased to see us win the 400 relay even though our team knew Darien had already won the meet," Hawks said. "The relay results were outstanding."
Wilton placed fourth (257), followed by Norwalk (217), Staples (190), Trumbull (170) and Westhill (131). New Canaan began the meet by winning the 200 medley relay in 1:50.98. Staples junior Verity Abel then finished first in the 200 freestyle, touching the wall in 1:52.54. New Canaan junior Jenna Egan was the runner-up, followed by Wilton junior Kristen Moss. Leading from the opening lap, Verity also won the 500 freestyle (5:00.46).
"I felt nervous prior to swimming the 200 freestyle, but I started strong and swam a good race," Abel said. "I'm really proud of our team. I think we impressed ourselves with how we performed tonight at this great meet."
Westhill received a winning effort from freshman standout Rachel Burston on the diving board. Burston earned a score of 404.95 in her first appearance in the meet. Kylie Towbin of New Canaan finished second (394.85), followed by Darien's Caroline Ashcraft (379.80).
"I went into the meet not expecting to do as well as I did," Burston said. "I was aiming for a top-six finish, so to get the first-place medal was very surprising. My front 2 1/2 really helped me out today."
Wilton senior Caroline O'Brien (100 butterfly, :57.89), Fairfield Warde junior Chelsea Pond (100 freestyle, 53.72) and Trumbull junior Alexa Bragg (100 backstroke, :59.68) also won their respective events.
"In the beginning of the race I was real nervous, but I remembered what my coach said about taking it out slow and finishing strong," Bragg said. "I just concentrated on swimming against the girl next to me."
Freshman Megan Egan finished third in the 100 freestyle, while Jenna Egan took fourth in the 100 butterfly for New Canaan, which also received a third-place finish from Libby O'Hare in the 100 breaststroke.
Led by Courtney Ferreira's fourth-place finish, Darien had four swimmers finish among the top 11 in the 500 freestyle and also had four finishers in the top 11 of the 100 backstroke.
"I think we learned a lot from last year and really showed how strong a team we are," Trifone said.
1. Darien 368, 2. Greenwich 336, 3. New Canaan 309.5, 4. Wilton 257, 5. Norwalk 217, 6. Staples 190, 7. Trumbull 170, 8. Westhill 131, 9. Fairfield Warde 102, 10. Ridgefield 98, 11. Fairfield Ludlowe 46, 12. St. Joseph 40.5.
Top three swimmers in each event
200 medley relay: 1. New Canaan 1:50.98; 2. Wilton 1:51.71; 3. Darien 1:52.83; 200 freestyle: 1. Verity Abel (S) 1:52.54; 2. Jenna Egan (NC) 1:57.02; 3. Kristen Moss (Wi) 1:57.12; 200 IM: 1. Katie Evans (G) 2:07.88; 2. Olivia Leunis (D) 2:09.52; 3. Stephanie Czulewicz (N) 2:12.16; 50 freestyle: 1. Maddie Rusch (NC) 23.88; 2. Chelsea Pond (FW) 24.64; 3. Madeline Dunn (G) 24.89; 100 butterfly: 1. Caroline O'Brien (Wi) 57.89; 2. Cristi Frias (G) 58.94; 3. Lisa Ward (T) 1:00.10; 100 freestyle: 1. Pond (FW) 53.72; 2. Megan Egan (NC) 54.23; 3. Grace Hendee (Wi) 54.26; 500 freestyle: 1. Abel (S) 5:00.46; 2. Maggie Kauffeld (Wi) 5:13.99; 3. Evans (G) 5:14.17; 200 freestyle relay: 1. Greenwich 1:41.46; 2. Norwalk 1:41.81; 3. Darien 1:42.03; 100 backstroke: 1. Alexa Bragg (T) 59.88; 2. Czulewicz (N) 1:00.21; 3. Caroline Orem (D) 1:00.31; 100 breaststroke: 1. Leunis (D) 1:05.25; 2. Amelia Bullock (S) 1:09.58; 3. Libby O'Hare (NC) 1:10.28; 400 freestyle relay: 1. Greenwich 3:36.67; 2. New Canaan 3:38.00; 3. Norwalk 3:38.43.