Tourney trail tributes
Valiant. One definition is "marked by or showing bravery or valor." That's what comes to mind in covering Fairfield Warde and Fairfield Ludlowe teams thus far in the CIAC state playoffs.
Some teams exceeded expectations. Others fell short. But others acquitted themselves nicely in the tough competition. The games and matches were exciting and well-played for the most part. The athletes were proud and a little tearful when the end came.
This is not last winter when the 2012-13 championship season revealed Fairfield as "Hockey Town" Connecticut with Fairfield Prep defeating Notre Dame-West Haven for the Division I boys championship and the Warde/Ludlowe co-op, seeded 10th, winning Division II. This town does not enjoy that status statewide in boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls volleyball, cross country and swimming. Or in football, whose playoffs begin Dec. 3 with the quarterfinals and might include Fairfield Prep as a qualifier, though the Jesuits end the regular season against Xavier (7-2) and West Haven (8-1) and must move up from their No. 12 ranking into the Top 8.
I've been impressed the most by the Ludlowe volleyball team, finally attaining the championship level of play that had narrowly eluded them in recent years. The Falcons' girls soccer team caught attention with back-to-back upsets before running into possibly the best team in the state in third-seeded St. Joseph in the quarterfinals after edging No. 6 Hall on Nov. 6. Warde, seeded 15th, was steadfast in its win over Manchester on Nov. 4 and in its loss to No. 2 Glastonbury in a penalty-kick shootout in the second round two days later.
The Falcons' boys team was seeded fifth, so many anticipated Ludlowe would reach the quarterfinals and with a little luck and some friendly momentum maybe earn a berth in the semifinals. But that was not to be, as lack of finishing power failed to produce any goals in a second-round 1-0 loss to No. 21 Danbury at Taft Field on Nov. 7. Two days earlier, the Falcons beat No. 28 Manchester 2-0.
Some could say Ludlowe failed to meet expectations with the high seed, but coach Kevin O'Hara knew his team had a disadvantage in the tight spot because his well-rounded team might have had but two weaknesses. One of them was lack of big-game experience. The other, well, his talented team was not an offensive juggernaut. Those two shortcomings were exploited by Danbury. The positive is that the many players returning next fall will have gained "big-game experience" by participating in this fall's FCIAC quarterfinals and the two Class LL state matches.
The Falcons were impressive with their skills on the ball, quick passing, darting into open space and O'Hara's use of one of the deepest benches in the state. Their offense created many chances throughout the season. Two more years of Frederick Meagher in goal adds to their promise.
The Warde girls return most of their key players in 2014, though they certainly will miss senior goalkeeper Katie Brennan, one of the top goalies in the state. The Mustangs lose few points for being eliminated by Glastonbury. The Tomahawks were knocked out in the semifinals by St. Joseph on Monday. Glastonbury completed its sixth straight undefeated regular season, finished as Class LL runners-up in 2012 after winning it all in 2011. There's no shame losing to Glastonbury.
The Ludlowe girls will take more of a hit during graduation this June. But the 2014 girls soccer season should feature more top-flight play from both Ludlowe and Warde.
This column was written before the Falcons' volleyball team set out for a berth in the finals against the winner of Staples and Greenwich. Coach Meghan Skelton's team is talented enough to go the distance but the competition in undefeated Cheshire was going to be a challenge.
This year's team will go down as one of the top three in Ludlowe history. Capping it off with two more wins would be nice, and would end debate as to best ever.
The 2009 and 2010 Falcons lost state finals.