Kevin Macari (left) had an outstanding season for the New Canaan football team, while Ellie Riegel was a leader of the Darien field hockey team.
The fall started for me in mid-September at New Canaan High School with a boys soccer game between the Rams and Stamford. It ended Saturday afternoon in Hartford, when the New Canaan football team was routed by Masuk in the CIAC Class L championship.
In between there were highs and lows: the Darien football team somewhat surprisingly — at least based on preseason expectations, which are always shaky — winning the FCIAC championship, while the Darien volleyball team — very surprisingly — lost in a state final for the first time ever.
There were so many good stories, compelling games and great individual performances that they would be impossible to weave into one common tale.
So off the top of the head, and in no particular order, here are some closing thoughts on the fall season:
— This should have been done earlier in the week, but the CIAC deserves strong praise for the way it conducted the state football playoffs last weekend. The new format of four divisions, with eight teams each, was as expected a big improvement over the old six-division, four-team system. There seemed to be even stronger interest in the postseason. A state this size never needed six champions.
The CIAC did an absolutely outstanding job of hosting the four state finals last week. It was great for the teams and the fans, and selfishly it was one of the most media-friendly events I have been to.
The CIAC is playing with fire by playing four games in 24 hours at Rentschler Field, because if it gets a rainy or snowy day or days the surface is going to end up being a mess at least for the two late games Saturday. That will be a hot topic if and when that occurs.
— Because the top teams were not as dominant as in recent years, and the middle of the pack was stronger, there were more critical regular-season football games in the FCIAC than in past years. It used to be the two championship spots came down to just two or three contests. This fall there was at least one big game almost every week.
Still, and this has been perhaps the thorniest issue the league has had to deal with since football generates the most interest of any sport, the league has to come up with a better way of determining the two finalists for the championship game and make the final more important than it is now. The first is the easier issue to address and is the domino in front of the second.
Darien won the FCIAC title, but since the league holds the final before the regular season is completed, and the Blue Wave were routed in the final game of the season, by New Canaan on Thanksgiving, six days after they defeated Trumbull for the title, in the court of public opinion the Blue Wave’s championship has an asterisk attached. That is not fair to Darien or the league.
The problem right now is the Thanksgiving Day rivalry games are the most important on the FCIAC calendar, which I understand in theory but cannot stand in practicality. The championship game should always be the most important. For the 10-12 schools that go into every season knowing it has no chance of ever reaching the final, the annual holiday games are their championship. What other sport plays its final before the end of the regular season?
And the point system used to determine the finalists has to be abolished as soon as possible. You cannot measure teams that play completely different schedules.
There is no perfect remedy for this, especially with 19 teams, but here is a modest proposal: go to two divisions, one with 10 schools and one with nine, which will have to pick up one non-league game. The division winners play for the title. Teams will play at least six or seven intra-division games and two or three crossover games. Thanksgiving opponents would have to be put in different divisions if the final is going to be played the week before. That way you ensure that the Stamford and Bridgeport schools, which have three members each, get to still play each other every year.
This is hardly the most desirable solution, but at least you could measure potential finalists on about 60 to 70 percent commonality in opposition, which is much better than it is now.
— Kevin Macari, with 60 catches for 1,259 yards and 20 touchdown receptions — and 25 scores overall — had one of the best seasons I have seen by a high school football player. New Canaan is the team I covered most this fall. Macari is a better person than he is a player. I can say the same for all the Ram players, like Conor Hanratty, Joe Costigan and Matt Milano, that I have gotten to know well.
— What the Darien field hockey team did this fall ranks with the great seasons by an FCIAC team ever. A 22-0 record, league and state titles, and outscoring the opposition by a 141-9 margin. That is an average of over six goals a game, which is remarkable for the sport.
— It took a loss by the Darien volleyball team in the state final — its first in 16 appearances — to fully appreciate just how dominant a program it has been. This was dog-bite-man news. This was also one of the least experienced teams Laurie LaRusso has had in years, and the team members should not be discouraged by their final loss. And setter Mackenzie Begley ended her career as one of the best quarterbacks the Blue Wave have had.
— Factor in the success of the FCIAC champion football team and teams in other sports, and Darien had the best across-the-board performance of any league member this season.
— The Staples boys soccer team is one of the most venerable programs in the entire state, and did itself proud again with another league crown and a trip to the state championship game. Coach Dan Woog deserves credit for keeping the team playing at the same high level it did under Albie Loeffler and Jeff Lea. That was no easy feat.
— We will close with a tribute to the members of the Westhill girls soccer team. For years it was like a mountain climber that just could not make it to the summit. Then the Vikings won a state title last year, and followed up on that by reaching the league and state finals this fall, proving the 2009 season was no fluke. No one knows, with heavy graduation losses forthcoming, what the future holds, but this group will be remembered for putting a program on the map in what might be the most difficult league in any sport in Connecticut. And goalkeeper Jenn Osher gets my award for the best interview this fall. She offered insights you would not expect from adults, let alone a high school senior.
A final thank you to all the players and coaches this fall. You all made my job easier by being so accommodating, and more importantly gave me more good stories to write about then I could get to.