NORWALK — Wilton co-coach Toniann Cortina sensed her field hockey team might be in for some trouble right from the opening whistle in tonight’s FCIAC championship against Darien.
“I don’t know what it was,” Cortina said after the game at Brien McMahon High School, “but there was definitely something in the air on their half of the field tonight.”
It was the same “something” that was present in Darien’s four-goal rout of Norwalk in Tuesday’s semifinal. And that something was perfectly described by Darien forward Kiki Tropsa.
“Never,” Tropsa claimed proudly, “have I seen us more confident.”
Tropsa scored two goals to lead the No. 3 Blue Wave to a surprisingly easy 3-0 victory. Darien also had two goals waved off and outshot the No. 2 seed and defending champion Warriors by a 9-3 margin to earn its third FCIAC championship in five years and the program’s eighth in the last 15 years.
“It was all about bringing the plaque back,” Darien coach Mo Minicus said about the Blue Wave, who won the title in 2015 before Wilton ended a streak of six runner-up finishes last season with a championship run.
Tropsa, Katie Elders, who assisted on Darien’s second and third goals, goalie Erica Blaze and game MVP Bridget Mahoney made sure the plaque returned to Darien. The Blue Wave’s determination was apparent in Tuesday’s semifinal victory over second seed Norwalk. The Bears were one of two teams to beat Darien (14-2-0-1) this season but the Blue Wave routed them, 4-0, in the semifinals. It was a sign of things to come.
“The (regular-season) loss to Norwalk fueled our fire,” said Elders, a 2016 first-team All-FCIAC performer. “We were so motivated, so determined to bring the plaque back that we really came out on fire tonight.”
The Blue Wave had the better of play right from the start but took 12 minutes to get a shot past Wilton goalie Megan Kaeyer (six saves). Tropsa emerged from a scramble in front of the Wilton goal to knock the ball in for a 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later another loose ball was tapped into the Wilton goal but the official waved it off. Darien outshot Wilton, 5-1, in the first half. But that was nothing compared to the way the second half began.
“At halftime we told them to treat it like it was 0-0,” Minicus said. “They worked so hard and have been growing their game and were rewarded, especially at the start of the second half.”
Just 68 seconds into the second half Elders slid a nice pass across the goal mouth and onto Tropsa’s stick. Tropsa took care of the rest for a 2-0 lead.
And just 1:18 after that, it was Elders making another perfect feed, this time to Sydney Schrenker, who knocked it past Kaeyer for a more-than-comfortable three-goal advantage.
“The way Darien came out really got us frazzled,” Wilton co-coach Elizabeth Pisko said. “And then when they got those two quick ones to start the second half, well, that was a killer.”
“Those two goals put them on their heels but we never stopped attacking,” Tropsa said. “There was almost an insane atmosphere here when we got here and we never let up. I knew we’d win.”
Darien, making its 10th trip to the FCIAC finals in 15 years, kept the pressure on the rest of the second half and had another goal disallowed with 11 minutes remaining in the contest. The Blue Wave were that close to scoring five goals against a Wilton team that allowed just one or fewer 11 times during the regular season.
“Our speed was just too much,” Minicus said. “Kiki played her heart out, Elders was great on takeaways and playmaking, Mahoney was a workhorse on defense and Blaze was amazing in goal. Just a great effort.”
Wilton, meanwhile, was unable to defend its FCIAC title but the two Wilton co-coaches did an admirable job getting the Warriors (11-5-0-1) back to the FCIAC final in their first year on the job.
“There was certainly a learning curve,” Pisko said. “But we’re proud of the girls and proud to have made it back here.”