Commentary: New Canaan Rides Highs And Lows To Class L Final Win Over Ridgefield

Teammates surround New Canaan goaltender Caroline O’Dea after defeating Ridgefield 19-7 for the Class L title. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

MILFORD — The emotional high and low of the season for the New Canaan girls lacrosse team came 11 days apart.

The low occurred in the FCIAC semifinals, a 10-8 loss to Wilton that proved crushing, and denied the Rams a chance at a second meeting with Darien.

It was a time for the players to regroup.

The high came on Tuesday, when the Rams played their way to that coveted rematch with the Blue Wave in the Class L semifinals, and came away with a 12-11 win, ending a drought that lasted six years and a day against their neighboring rival and becoming the first team in state to defeat Darien after 107 consecutive victories.

New Canaan’s Jane Charlton shoots and scores a goal. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

It was time to refocus.

“We were just talking, the captains talked and getting everyone together and although beating Darien was one of the best moments our high school careers, this game was it all,” said Braeden Dial about today’s final against Ridgefield. “Darien means nothing if we don’t win this game. We made everyone focus for the three days since Darien and work on Ridgefield and it showed in the score.”

It did indeed, a near-flawless 19-7 performance that delivered the program its sixth state title since 2010.

New Canaan’s Jane Charlton drives toward the goal. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

The Tigers can take solace in their stirring run to the final day of the spring season. They needed a goal with 4.9 seconds left in regulation and another by Caroline Curnal in overtime to defeat Cheshire in the semifinals.

They can also take comfort that the way the Rams played the last four games, perhaps no one was capable of beating them.

Asked if she ever had a team deliver a better two-week postseason run to end the year, coach Kristin Woods said, “No. The other tournaments were a little different but we had some huge wins throughout the way. We went through everyone in the state. I kept saying when we got the seedings you know what, we’ve got to win them all anyway so it doesn’t matter when we play them.”

New Canaan’s Karlie Bucci goes up against Ridgefield’s Caitlin Slaminko. (Photo Mark Conrad)

Dial was extraordinary. She finished with six goals and eight assists, setting up behind the Ridgefield goal and finding cutters in front.

“We were working on that because we saw they were pressing out hard,” Dial said. “We were just trying to emphasize the weaknesses in their defense and it was working out, and that was probably why I had that many assists, because we were working the passing offense. It was my last high school game and I wanted to play my heart out and do the best I could for my team and ultimately help win the game. I guess I was feeling it. Just wanted to continue this run to the state championship.”

Karlie Bucci finished with four goals and two assists for the fifth-seeded Rams (17-5), while Lauren Bisceglia and Campbell Connors added hat tricks. Leigh Charlton forced three turnovers.

Ridgefield’s Caroline Curnal moves the ball upfield. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“We had a little shaky start but after we got into our groove we really played well, from Caroline in goal to all of our defenders,” said Woods, referring to Caroline O’Dea. “This is an exceptional group and I’m so proud of them as a whole.”

Bucci won eight draw controls, but it was freshman McKenna Harden who was the catalyst to breaking the game open. With the score 5-3, Woods inserted her in to take draws. She won three straight and each ended in scores.

Curnal opened the second half with a goal for the Tigers but that was it as New Canaan scored the next three goals.

“McKenna is an extraordinary competitor,” Woods said. “It definitely helped to switch up who was going against Caroline because she’s an amazing athlete. It really helped to get that momentum.”

New Canaan goaltender Caroline O’Dea makes a save. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Dial said the heartbreak from the FCIAC Tournament became a rallying cry.

“It was that game. We wanted to focus back to where we were during the regular season,” Dial said. “That wasn’t us playing against Wilton and we turned it on for the state tournament and it ended up in our favor.”

The final drive started with a 17-5 win over Glastonbury in the state opener.

“We got back to business but I think this senior group showed a lot of grit and fight when they came out against Glastonbury,” Woods said. That was the momentum changer and it made all the difference in our season. The seniors were not going to give up. I’m so proud of them.”

Then came another chance against the Warriors, and in a sterling defensive effort the Rams won for the second time this spring on their field, 10-6.

The New Canaan captains hold up the championship plaque. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Then came Darien.

And then came the emotional maturity to compartmentalize what normally would have been the culminating moment of this season.

“I talked to the kids about playing their hardest and just walking off the field proud of the effort they gave,” Woods said. “I made it all about effort and you saw it today.”

Woods then listed each of the seven seniors who concluded their careers today: Dial, Bucci, Charlton, Gianna Bruno, Brooke Deane, Julia Ozimek, Cameron Blair.

“I’m really excited for these kids, especially after last season,” said Woods, remembering a 20-10 semifinal loss to Darien. “We got momentum at different parts of the season but never really put it all together. Great for this group of seniors to end with three championships under their belt.”

New Canaan displays its third state championship plaque in the last four years. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

When asked about some of the many positives from today’s game, Woods admitted to getting the chills. When she was given Dial’s numbers, she smiled again.

“Is that what she had?” Woods said. “Awesome. That’s amazing.”

The same can be said for the Rams’ execution this past fortnight.

“I think it was just playing the full 50 minutes and wanting to have as much time with this team as we can,” Dial said. “Everyone wanted it so bad and we worked so hard in practice these past couple weeks. We just wanted it.”

 

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