2022 CIAC Girls Lacrosse Tournament: Storylines, top players, predictions

CLASS L

STORYLINES

TILL WE MEET AGAIN

It’s been a decade of dominance for Darien and New Canaan. Since 2013, in the eight seasons that were played, the rivals have combined for 11 state championships, which includes three titles while the Rams were still in Class M. They’ve split two meetings this spring, with Darien winning 15-11 in April, and New Canaan winning 10-8 for their second straight FCIAC crown last Wednesday. The Blue Wave are defending champs, and are tough to beat in the state playoffs, going a mind-boggling 30-1 since 2013. The Rams last won the state title in 2018 after beating Darien in the semifinals. One blessing this year is that the state’s two top-ranked teams are on opposite sides of the bracket and wouldn’t meet until the final. Of note, Darien has won 11 straight in the state finals, a run which dates back to 2007.

BRACKET OF MADNESS

Once again, the seeding for the CIAC tournaments make little sense and nowhere is that more apparent than in Class L. Ridgefield, which is ranked No. 5 in the state, is seeded 10th and had to win a qualifying game to reach the “first round.” The Tigers won that 18-3 over Hall. Staples, which is ranked No. 10 in the state poll, is seeded 19th and had to play a road game in the qualifying round. The Wreckers won that 18-3 over the Stratford/Bunnell co-op. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Darien, the state’s only unbeaten team during the regular season, did get the No. 1 seed, but the road to the final could include the state’s seventh-ranked team, Greenwich, in the quarterfinals.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chloe Humphrey, Darien, A: The junior is the top threat in the Wave’s offensive attack. As a sophomore, she was out for most of the year with an injury, but returned to help Darien go on a run to the state title.

Kaleigh Harden, New Canaan, MF: Harden is wrapping up a remarkable high school career which has seen her win five FCIAC and two state titles between ice hockey and lacrosse. Draws, assists, goals and even defensive stands - Harden is a key for New Canaan everywhere.

Amelia Hughes, Wilton, G: The Warriors have been ranked third in the state poll the entire season and if they are to break through against Darien or New Canaan, the Princeton-bound goalie will likely be a key factor.

FINAL FOUR: No. 1 Darien, No. 3 New Canaan, No. 4 Wilton, No. 10 Ridgefield.

PREDICTION: A coin flip. Darien has history with 11 straight state finals wins and eight state titles in nine years, but New Canaan has momentum with the FCIAC final victory.

CLASS M

STORYLINES

17 AND COUNTING

Top-seeded Guilford opened the campaign with a 20-11 loss in Wilton, and hasn’t been touched since. The Grizzlies have won 17 straight, capped by a 12-6 victory over Cheshire in the SCC championship game last Thursday in West Haven. It was Guilford’s third consecutive league crown and they are also the defending Class M champs. With senior veterans such as Maddie Epke at midfield, Kat Bassegio on defense, and Sydney Widlitz in goal, the Grizzlies are heavy favorites to repeat. A possible early stumbling block could be ECC champion East Lyme in the second round.

CADETS MARCH

St. Joseph’s 10-8 may look pedestrian but appearances are deceiving. Of the Cadets’ eight losses, seven have come against teams ranked in the Connecticut Coaches’ Top 10 poll, and 14 of their 18 games have been against Class L opponents. When St. Joseph beat Bristol Easten 20-7 in a qualifying game on Friday, it boosted its record against non-Class L teams to 4-0 with a goal differential of 69-20. The Cadets are seeded 15th, but a realistic look at the numbers screams for a higher ranking. If it wins its first round game at Foran, St. Joe’s would face a tough quarterfinal game against either Simsbury or Daniel Hand, but t would not be surprising to see the Cadets squaring off against Guilford for all the marbles on June 11.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Maddie Epke, Guilford, MF: Epke has done it all in her career as field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse player with the Grizzlies. Now it’s time for one last charge. Big players step up in big moments.

Sydney Widlitz, Guilford, G: Speaking of big game players, Widlitz has remarkably won three SCC finals MVP in as many seasons. She made 12 saves against Cheshire in the conference title tilt last Thursday and is a steady presence in the net for a state title drive.

Isabelle Casucci, St. Joseph: If the Cadets do make a run at the crown, Casucci will likely be in the middle of things. The multi-sport star is key on draws and defense and is also a prime source of offense.

Kacie Wines, Daniel Hand, A: The senior attack is the top Tiger in Hand’s offense and will be a big part of any success the team has in Class M.

FINAL FOUR: No. 1 Guilford, No. 5 Masuk, No. 11 Joel Barlow, No. 15 St. Joseph.

PREDICTION: St. Joseph makes it’s run from the 15th spot and reaches the final, but Guilford has too much and gets its repeat state crown.

CLASS S

STORYLINES

ALIVE FOR FIVE

As a four-time champion and coming off yet another SWC title, New Fairfield would have to be considered as the favorite to again wear the Class S crown in 2022. Standing in the fourth-seeded Rebels’ way, however, is a familiar foe in Weston. The Trojans are the tournament’s No. 1 seed and the only SWC team to have beaten New Fairfield during the regular season, winning 11-9. The Rebels’ other two losses were to New Canaan and Ridgefield from the FCIAC. New Fairfield defeated 9-6 in last week’s SWC final and also beat the Trojans 11-8 in last year’s Class S final. We won’t see another rematch in the final, however, as both teams are on the same side of the bracket and could clash in the semifinals on June 7

SHORELINE WATCH

The Shoreline Conference has never had a state champion in girls lacrosse and just one team has even reached the finals, that coming when Haddam-Killingworth lost to Weston 13-8 in the 2013 Class S title game. This could be the year for a breakthrough, however, with three strong candidates in No. 2 Old Saybrook, No. 3 Valley Regional and No. 7 North Branford, which defeated Old Saybrook 14-12 for the SLC title last Thursday. With first-round wins, North Branford and Old Saybrook would have a rematch in the quarterfinals on Friday, and Valley Regional could be waiting in the semis if they advance that far.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Margaret Morgan, New Fairfield, G: The senior goalie was named the MVP of the SWC final after making 10 saves to help lead the Rebels to the conference championship. Performances like that not only earn awards, they win state championships.

Taylor Werner, Weston, MF: The middie has been a key cog in the Trojans’ machine the past two seasons. This year, they’ve gone 17-2 overall and are looking to return to the state final after a runner-up finish last year.

Lily Cody, Old Saybrook, A: The leader of Old Saytbrook’s attack, Cody recently surpassed 200 career goals. The 2021 Shoreline Player of the Year, the senior will be key for the Rams if they are to reach their first state final.

FINAL FOUR: No. 1 Weston, No. 3 Valley Regional, No. 4 New Fairfield, No. 7 North Branford

PREDICTION: Conference rivals from the SWC and Shoreline square off in the semifinals, and New Fairfield eventually gets its fifth consecutive state championship over North Branford.

-Dave Stewart