DARIEN — There was no way for New Canaan girls soccer coach Rich Hickson to sugarcoat the situation following the Rams’ latest battle with Darien.
It was, he said, “beyond frustrating.”
For the third time this season, Darien and New Canaan waged an epic battle befitting two evenly-matched teams, and for the third time, Darien came away with a one-goal victory.
Chloe Humphrey’s kick to the far post in the 58th minute gave her a hat trick and was the difference in the Blue Wave’s 3-2 victory Tuesday in Darien.
The Wave had taken leads at 1-0 and 2-1 only to have the Rams equalize twice, and Darien coach Leigh Parsons said he was proud of the way his players responded to each challenge.
“To go up two times and then tied two times, it would’ve been very easy to let your heads go down or play panicky,” Parsons said. “But we kept up the level of play mixed with intensity. We had some good opportunities and it was a great moment.
“(New Canaan) has a lot of depth and a lot of good players, and this year, we have that too and we’re showing that.”
Darien (9-0) remained unbeaten and sealed up the top seed for the FCIAC’s West Regional tournament, while New Canaan (5-3-1) has suffered all three of its losses to the Wave, despite playing well in all three games.
“You always know it’s going to be a competitive game — one goal here, one goal there — but to lose three times by one goal is tough,” Hickson said. “You’ve got to hold your hands up, give Darien credit, and give Leigh and his coaching staff credit for a fantastic season. But from our perspective, it’s just very frustrating.”
Depth and experience has been key for the Wave, but on Tuesday, a sophomore stole the show as Humphrey scored all three Darien goals, each time in a different fashion.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete and she scores all types of goals,” Parsons said. “Today was her day. She could play a very high level if she chose to. She’s a phenomenal lacrosse player but as a soccer player, she’s got all the attributes: The speed, the technique, the vision, the brain. She’s the whole package for soccer.”
“My teammates put perfect balls right to my feet and my head, and I was just able to slip it past the goalie,” Humphrey said. “It was such a team win.”
On the other side, New Canaan lost one of its top scoring threats about midway through the first half, when junior Kaleigh Harden left with an ankle injury. The Rams filled in admirably, creating plenty of chances throughout, but Harden’s absence was a minus for New Canaan.
“She’s an absolute nightmare to play against because she does not stop,” Hickson said. “She’s quick, she’s strong and she gives defenders a tough time. The girls that stepped in did a good job as well, but when you lose a player that’s effective for you in that manner, it’s always tough.”
Humphrey gave the Wave the initial lead when she finished on a strong corner kick from senior Kate Bellissimo in the 17th minute.
In the 20th minute, New Canaan responded as junior Dillyn Patten brough the ball in from the midfield and sent a pass ahead to Harden for the equalizer.
Darien took the lead again with a goal just 24 seconds into the second half, when senior Francesca Highton sent a cross into the box and Humprehy headed it home.
New Canaan senior Courtney O’Connell then tied it at 2-2 with a booming kick far outside the box in the 49th minute. O’Connell took the pass from Patten, touched it once, and then unleashed a long shot which curled into the top left corner.
Darien and Humphrey, however, took the lead for good when Humphrey beat a defender to the box and touched a low rolling shot past New Canaan goalie Emma Gibbens and into the net.
“I had a step on my defender, and then it just turned into a foot race,” Humphrey said. “I was able to use my speed over my defender, got a step above her, and was able to slip it past the goalie.”
While the season is certainly different than any other year, the Wave is making the most of it, according to Humphrey.
“We came in knowing that we had such a great team and great chemistry because we didn’t lose too many starters,” Humphrey said. “So we just wanted to play with what we were given and make the best of it that we could. We’re just so fortunate to have something.”
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