The treacherous road of the FCIAC tournaments
The news of Fairfield Ludlowe's loss to Stamford last Friday in the FCIAC boys soccer tournament quarterfinals was greeted with a slight sense of pity. No, this column won't be driven to tears every time a Mustangs, Falcons, Jesuits or Lancers' team loses.
After all, a good chunk of games each season are Warde-Ludlowe matchups, and impartiality must be a guiding force within this newspaper's coverage of our four high schools. If one team wins, the other does not.
Saddened because they got bitten by the eight-headed monster that is the FCIAC playoffs. The FCIACs are a perilous endeavor, and the Falcons' nice run this season might be a casulty. A playoff loss can take the steam out of a team, it can be a momentum buster. Coach Kevin O'Hara and his talented and deep team that went 12-3-1 in the regular season is capable of rebounding. Make no mistake.
They authored a seven-game winning streak from Sept. 16 through Oct. 1, then after back-to-back losses, the Falcons closed out the schedule with five wins and a tie in their last six games. They earned the No. 3 seed in the conference bracket. They loom unofficialy as the No. 5 seed in Class LL as the state tournament pairings are planned to be released on Friday.
The FCIAC is one of three super conferences in the state, along with the SCC and the CCC. The ECC has many teams, but isn't quite "super" because it doesn't collect the number of state championships among all sports in comparison to the FCIAC, SCC and CCC.
The FCIAC has been the dominant force on the statewide level since the 1960s, but it no longer compiles as many state titles as the CCC. Why? Has the FCIAC gotten weaker? Hardly. The level of competition within the FCIAC sport-by-sport and team-by-team is actually a tad higher overall than the CCC. The CCC simply accrues more titles because of simple math. A conference with 32 schools, the CCC, which is based mostly in Hartford County, is going to win more championships than the FCIAC with its 19 schools.
The SCC, primarly comprised of New Haven County schools, and CCC were created -- no matter what has been stated publicly over the years -- because athletes, fans, coaches and administrators from schools in Hartford and New Haven counties got tired of state title after state title by the FCIAC.
This space isn't going to go through the CIAC roster of sports and rate the FCIAC, CCC and SCC Nos. 1, 2 or 3 in each. In some sports, the level of play here isn't quite as good as what's found in the SCC and CCC; but in more sports as opposed to fewer, the FCIAC gets the nod. That multi-layered debate is not appropriate here, and it is highly subjective. If a conference team wins a championship or finishes as a runner-up, or as one of the four semifinalists, it is "better." That can be agreed.
Back to the Ludlowe boys. The FCIAC's perch as kings in boys soccer is continually being challenged. But overall, its eight conference tournament teams are stronger than the Top 8 in the CCC and SCC. State tournament results bare that out. In contact sports, the highly-competitive FCIAC tournament competition can take the edge off a team for the state playoffs that follow the FCIACs. Whether Ludlowe will suffer from the upset loss to Stamford remains to be seen.
In fairness, though, it can be argued that the FCIACs can help a team. Warde was 7-5-2-1 in field hockey before it wound up the regular season on Oct. 24 with a win over Ridgefield, which finished at 9-7-0-0. The next day was the opening of the FCIAC tournament, and No. 6 Warde faced No. 3 Greenwich (13-2-0-0). The Cardinals beat the Mustangs 3-1 in the regular season. But last Friday, Warde scored an upset with a 2-1 victory.
After the Mustangs lost in the conference semifinals on Tuesday to No. 2 Wilton, coach Jodie Shannon felt the FCIACs helped give her Mustangs momentum for the state playoffs that begin next week.
Unofficially, 21 teams appear as though they have qualified for the Class L tournament in field hockey. Of them, nine are from the FCIAC, including Ludlowe, six are from the CCC, three from the SCC, two from the SWC and one from the ECC.
Last year's Final Four, won by Darien, featured one team each from the FCIAC, SCC, CCC and SWC.