Border rivals New Canaan, Darien play with state title at stake
In the latest chapter of the storied New Canaan vs. Darien novel, it will be the boys lacrosse teams battling for a Class M state championship at Brien McMahon High School on Saturday at 4 p.m. Because it is a championship game, this might be one of the few occurrences when the rivalry between the two towns takes a decided back seat to what's on the line in the game itself.
Darien, which until last year had won six consecutive state championships, is charged with the task of halting its border rivals' 16-game winning streak. Of course, the last time New Canaan tasted defeat was in lopsided fashion, a 13-3 loss in Darien on April 21.
"We're happy to have opportunity to be there, but now obviously you want to win it. It's a great matchup and we're looking forward to the challenge of playing New Canaan," Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. "It's a good rivalry, but it's a positive rivalry. It'll be a battle on the field, but kids will shake hands with respect no matter what the outcome. These are two very competitive, driven towns."
The Rams, meanwhile, go for their first state championship since 2003, and if the recently crowned FCIAC champions can also add a state title to their mantle, they will have a rightful claim as the statewide team to beat next year and will make it nearly impossible to argue that they weren't the best team in Connecticut in 2012.
"These are two teams that have a healthy respect for one another for sure. And they're both playing really good lacrosse," New Canaan coach Alex Whitten said. "(The 13-3 loss to Darien) was a turning point in our season. You can learn more from losses than victories and that was a game that we challenged our team and our coaching staff. We found some answers and found we weren't playing as hard as we could at the time."
Between last year's state tournament and this year's FCIAC tournament, Darien has fallen in the semifinals of two straight tournaments, rare occurrences for the Blue Wave. And while they've already made it a step further in this year's state tournament (a 19-6 win over New Fairfield in the opening round, a 19-0 win over Masuk in the quarterfinals and a 13-4 victory against Wilton in the semifinals), that's likely not enough for the championship-or-bust Blue Wave.
A win in the state championship game would help Darien lay claim to its spot on the top of the mountain of Connecticut lacrosse.
A picture-perfect example of a team that has caught fire at the right time, New Canaan enters Saturday on the strength of a 16-game winning streak (three in the state tournament, three in the FCIAC tournament and 10 in the regular season). Similar to top-seeded Darien, not once in the first three rounds of the state tournament has No. 3 New Canaan been in any real danger of not coming out on top (an 18-2 win over Pomperaug in the opening round, a 17-3 win over North Haven in the quarterfinals and a 17-6 victory over Avon in the semifinals).
"The kids from these teams know each other," Whitten said. "We know them as well as they know us, and tendencies are known. Personnel matchups are known. These teams are familiar with each other."
While it's nearly impossible to know exactly how Saturday's game will play out, it is safe to say that this will be an emotionally-charged clash of fierce rivals and that spectators will witness a dramatic close to lacrosse season.
"The win we had in April is out the window. It doesn't mean a thing," Brameier said. "If we don't win tomorrow, then it's a disappointment and that win will mean absolutely nothing."