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Tuesday, November 12 High School Sports

After scoreless tie, Darien and Staples share FCIAC field hockey crown

NORWALK — Coaches and players have their own feelings about co-championships.

On the one hand, you get to take home a winning medal and the title that comes with it, but on the other, it sure would’ve been nice to play the game out until the end.

Whatever the case, one thing is certain: The Darien and Staples field hockey teams staged an epic clash for the FCIAC championship before finishing in a scoreless tie Thursday night at Jack Casagrande Field in Norwalk.

Each team had chances — Staples had the better of the play in the first half, and Darien returned the favor in the second — and both defenses came up big to keep the ball out of the cage.

Darien had beaten Staples in overtime of last year’s final, so for the Wreckers, getting a share of the crown was a step forward.

“We came into this definitely wanting to win, but considering that we haven’t won an FCIAC championship and every time we’ve been in it we’ve lost, tying is really good for us,” Staples’ Grace Cooper said. “We’re looking forward to taking this energy into states.”

“I thought my team played the best they’ve played all season,” Darien coach Mo Minicus said. “We had chances to go ahead, Monisha (Akula) made some great saves, and we had so much great pressure in the second half and they’re goalie and the defense came up big. The ball didn’t bounce our way down there, but I thought my team played lights out.”

For top-seeded Darien, it’s the third straight FCIAC championship, as well as the Wave’s 13th league title overall. Staples, the No. 2 seed, has now won six FCIAC championships with this being its first since 2011. The teams have matching records of 17-1-1-0, with the Wave beating Staples 3-1 early in the regular season.

The co-championship is the sixth in FCIAC history. The last time was in 2012, when Darien and Greenwich were declared co-champs after Hurricane Sandy caused the conference tournament to be cancelled following the semifinals.

Staples and Darien have developed quite a rivalry in recent years and, after falling in the FCIAC final last fall, the Wreckers came back to top the Wave 2-1 in overtime in the Class L semis. The two teams met for the state title in 2016 (a 0-0 tie) and 2017 (a 1-0 Staples’ win).

“We’re playing Darien and Darien’s one of the best teams around,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “I think we’re one of the best teams around as well, so all in all it wasn’t a bad finish. They did quite well.”

Fittingly, two players on the defensive side of the field were named co-MVPs: Darien goalie Akula, who collected five saves and was aggressive in cutting off several Wrecker breaks, and Staples’ back Cooper, who was part of a backline which held Darien to six shots.

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Akula came up especially big in the first half, as Staples had the advantage and outshot the Wave 5-1.

Akula worked well with defenders Charlotte Domittner, Raina Johns, Tala Garcia and Madelyn Hult.

“A big part of defense is communicating with your teammates and making sure they know when to go to the ball and telling them where to go,” Akula said. “What works for our team is that we’re always positive. Sometimes, there was a close call, but we’re always there saying ‘you’ve got this.’ We do a great job handling the pressure.”

In the second half, Darien flipped the field and kept the heat on Staples’ defense, with Cooper, Izzy Deveney, Maisie Dembski, Erica Fanning, and goalie Roxanne Augeri (4 saves) coming up big for the Wreckers.

“They really put a lot of pressure on the defense and we were having a hard time getting it out to our midfielders and forwards,” Cooper said. “Everyone on defense did a really good job of just holding it and making sure Darien didn’t score in spite of the pressure.”

After 50 minutes of scoreless play, the teams played two 10-minute overtime periods of 7-on-7.

In the first OT, Darien’s Molly Hellman just missed on a great shot during a scramble in the Staples’ circle, as the ball skidded just wide of the far post.

Staples countered with Julia DiConza making a run on the left side of the field, but Akula raced out to block the ball and Domittner then cleared it.

When the final horn sounded, both the Wave and Wreckers left the field as champs.

“I’m so proud of this group of girls,” Akula said. “This is my last year playing and this was just amazing with the teamwork, the spirit, the players on the field, and the bench. We just never gave up till the end.”

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Grace Cooper, Staples, and Monisha Akula, Darien. A game which ended with co-champions also had co-MVPs, and fittingly they were on the defenses, which stole the show in the scoreless tie.

QUOTABLE

“I hate it. There’s a history to it, so I respect the decision, but that was many, many years ago and I’d rather play it out. It’s happened to us too many times.” — Darien coach Mo Minicus on co-championships.

STAPLES 0, DARIEN 0 (2 OT)

STAPLES 0 0 0 0 — 0

DARIEN 0 0 0 0 — 0

Saves: S - Roxanne Augeri 5; D - Monisha Akula 5

Records: Staples 17-1-1-0; Darien 17-1-1-0

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