We have six teams on the menu this week for The Ruden Report FCIAC Team of the Week vote, the first one of the winter season.
This all started when Marissa Baker, a captain on Darien’s girls hockey team, tagged me this week on an Instagram posting for an account called Inside The Glass. Baker wanted me to check out some fun that teammates Cassidy Schiff, Courtney Lowe and Emily Gianunzio started last season, intra-team postgame interviews. When Baker broke a stick in a game, the two pieces became microphones.
It looks like a whole new world in Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference boys hockey. Last year it seemed it was just a matter of time before the coronation was held for Darien High School, which not only won the league crown but followed that up with the school’s first state championship in 45 years.
This year, with Darien losing a deep group of talent to graduation — not to mention its head coach, Chris Gerwig — the league appears to be wide open. Yes, there are the usual suspects: Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Ridgefield, a pack that can regularly be found residing among the top 10 in the state. Combined, the four schools have won the last 12 FCIAC titles and 19 of the previous 20.
On Saturday, Giacomo Brancato will step out onto the Fairfield Warde court for its home opener with New Milford. It will be exactly a year to the day that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Brancato played in just the Mustangs’ first two games. His situation resonated with the entire FCIAC basketball community, as Brancato was recognized by teams throughout the league, with many wearing warmup shirts with the word “Undefeatable,” Brancato’s adopted slogan. Brancato spent the ensuing months going through rounds of chemotherapy and fighting the disease at the Connecticut Challenge, a treatment center for cancer survivors in Southport.
Brancato got to train for a day with former Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu, who visited the center last May, and was the honorary co-chairman of the CT Center’s annual fundraising bike ride over the summer. On June 24, Brancato learned he was cancer-free.
Season previews always take a certain amount of guesswork, but in over 30 years as a sportswriter never has more speculation gone into any I have written than what you are about to read. Westhill’s Tyrell Alexander, a second-team All-FCIAC selection a year ago, is the only player back from last year’s first and second teams. There is no consensus for the preseason Player of the Year — and there are only a handful of choices — and little agreement on the four teams that will earn the top seeds in the FCIAC Tournament, though most feel Danbury is the favorite.
The league — which wasn’t exactly strong last year — was decimated by graduation losses. Every team’s prospects for success is going to depend more than ever on the development of unproven talent, because there is no team that can feel completely confident based on past performance.
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
The FCIAC football season started a week later than the rest of the state — St. Joseph’s two weeks — and schools had a hard time playing catch up.
Once they did, the league boasted in Darien and New Canaan the top two teams in the state, with the Blue Wave a unanimous No. 1 pick in the polls after a 12-0 finish. Save a 28-21 FCIAC final win over the Rams and the Blue Wave rolled over the rest of the state. There was never a letdown.
In an emphatic statement that left no doubt about who was the No. 1 team in the state, Christian Trifone returned an interception for a touchdown on the opening play and the Darien High School football team rolled to an easy 39-7 win over Shelton in the Class LL championship game.
If you want to get a real measure on the current state of the Ridgefield girls basketball team, don’t look back to what it accomplished last year but what it is doing to tap the same success this winter.
In particular, there is the Tigers’ schedule. After a practice on Tuesday against Capital Prep, the preseason No. 1 team in the state, with two additional non-league games due to the departure of Bassick and Harding, coach Tom DiMarzo has scheduled Norwich Free Academy and Avon, currently 5th and 14th, respectively, in the first poll, as well as a tournament in Paterson, N.J.