For the final eight minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game against Darien, the Staples boys lacrosse team looked like it belonged on the same field with the defending FCIAC champion Blue Wave.
The two teams shared an equal amount of possession time, each team forced the other into its share of mistakes and each team managed to score a goal. It was as even as it gets.
There was just one major problem for the Wreckers: Darien was doing it with their second team on the field.
With its starters in the game, the Blue Wave was simply on a different level than Staples, proving just how powerful they’re going to be once again this season during a dominant 13-3 victory at the Darien High School stadium field.
Led by Duke-bound senior attackman Case Matheis, the Blue Wave scored early and often, taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter before making it 7-1 at halftime. Matheis scored three goals and assisted on two others while fellow starting attackmen Kevin Seiler (two goals, one assist) and Tim Murphy (three assists) made it tough for the Wreckers (1-1) to key on just one player.
Darien (2-0), coming off a 13-0 victory over Fairfield-Ludlowe in the season-opener, also received a solid performance from a re-tooled defense. Sophomore goalie Phil Huffard made five saves in his second game as the starter and a backline comprised of seniors Tony Britton, Corey Eppley and Tommy Lyons and sophomore Sam Meyjes made it almost impossible for Staples to complete a pass within 15 yards of the cage.
Darien finished with a 39-13 advantage in shots.
After failing to win a state title for the first time since 2004 last spring, the Blue Wave returned to preseason practice with a chip on its shoulder. That type of motivation could make Darien even more lethal than it has been in past seasons.
“It’s been a different way to go into a season,” Matheis said. “I haven’t gone into a season without a state title since my freshman year. It’s definitely extra motivation and I definitely value that title much more.”
Darien’s defense appears as if it might be able to equal the firepower on the other side of the field. Through two games, the Blue Wave have allowed just three goals. The Wreckers managed just two shots in the first quarter, allowing Matheis and the Darien offense to give the Blue Wave a comfortable 3-0 lead.
“Our defense has stepped up tremendously so far this year,” Matheis said. “I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen so far. We have a bunch of new faces in there with a number of sophomores and they’re all playing lights out right now. Defense was a question mark for us coming into preseason, but now the offense has to do its part and step up as well.”
When you play against a program like Darien, annually the highest nationally-ranked team in the state, you must accept small victories. Staples head coach Paul McNulty was able to do that, citing the play of faceoff man Jared Levi, who won 12 of 19 draws on the afternoon, and goalie Cole Gendels, who made 10 saves.
Joey Zelkowitz scored two of his team’s three goals.
“We played Darien in a scrimmage last week and we didn’t have a single shot in the first quarter,” said McNulty, whose team opened the season with a 17-0 win over Trinity Catholic. “Today I wanted the kids to play with more pride and be more competitive and I think we did that. So I was really happy with the improvement we made since the scrimmage.”
Zelkowitz scored to make it 7-2 early in the second half to give the Wreckers hope, but the Blue Wave countered with five unanswered goals to make it 12-2 and head coach Jeff Brameier emptied the bench after that.
Christian Miller added three goals and one assist for Darien while Henry West and Jon Magusson scored two goals each.
Greg Strauss scored the other goal for Staples off an assist by Kyle Murray.