Balanced Wilton turns back New Canaan
Most pundits of FCIAC lacrosse were anticipating a one-sided affair for Thursday night’s highly-anticipated season-opener between perennial state powerhouses Wilton and New Canaan.
After all, the Rams were bringing 19 returning seniors to the field while the defending Class M state champion Warriors had the unenviable task of replacing 12 seniors and three All-Americans, including all-time leading scorer Mike Francia (Villanova) and goalie Sam Somers (Army).
As expected, the field was indeed tilting to one side all night. But to everyone’s surprise, perhaps even to the people wearing Blue and White, it was a re-tooled Wilton team that ended up dominating.
The Warriors looked sharp in every facet of the game, turning the momentum of its victory in last season’s state championship game into a well-earned 9-5 victory under the lights at Memorial Stadium.
Nine different players scored goals to lead a balanced attack for Wilton, which out-scored New Canaan 4-0 in the second quarter to take a 6-2 halftime lead and never looked back.
Junior goalie Connor Johnson made seven saves to post the victory in his first game as a starter and Wilton’s defense, led by Graham Parsons, Matt Basile and senior Rob Keers, held the Rams to just 13 shots over the first three quarters while forcing New Canaan into a litany of mental mistakes.
All of that made for a very surprising lopsided victory. Wilton led 8-2 in the third quarter before the Rams started a futile push over the final 13 minutes.
“I didn’t know what to expect from this team, but I definitely liked what I saw,” Wilton head coach Jon Wiseman said. “It’s a great way to start. It’s good to get that one out of the way because everyone was anxious. We have a tough schedule, and taking New Canaan in your opener is tough. But I was pleased with the way the kids played.”
Wilton has a solid group of veterans led by Matt Kobyra (one goal, one assist), Chris Nugent (one goal, one assist), Sean Carroll (one goal, two assists), Connor Devane and Ted Ottens, who won 10 of 15 faceoffs on the night. However, if the rest of the team plays as well as it did against the Rams, the new-look Warriors might be much better than everyone expected.
“We definitely had some question marks coming into the season,” said Keers, who used his speed to score one of two goals by one of Wilton’s long-pole defenders. “Today, everyone stepped up when they needed to.”
New Canaan received a nice effort from goalie Tom Carey (13 saves) and showed some serious jump in the fourth quarter, out-shooting Wilton 10-5 in the final frame while scoring two goals over a span of 48 seconds. Mike Bossidy led the way with two goals while Matt Blasco collected three assists.
The Rams just couldn’t seem to get out of their own way in the first half, turning the ball over a number of times after failing to connect on simple passes. New Canaan also made mistakes not befitting a veteran team, including one offside call as well as one failure to advance and an infraction for stepping in and out of the box.
Wilton finished with a 33-23 advantage in shots and a decided edge in ground balls.
“In terms of our expectations for coming out of the gate this is a little disappointing,” said New Canaan head coach Alex Whitten, a former standout at Wilton. “I think my team is better than what we showed tonight, but the proof is in the pudding. It doesn’t mean the season rests on this one game. It’s obviously not the start we wanted to have. But we have a talented team, and we just have to execute more.”
Wilton’s defense might have set the tone for the season with its aggressive performance, getting goals from Keers and Parsons, denying shots and blocking at least six others while collecting at least two punishing hits.
The Warriors also killed off a two-minute penalty spanning the second and third quarters without allowing a goal. In fact, the Rams managed just one shot on the man advantage.
“As far as our defense goes, I’d say we definitely played it right,” said Keers, who switched from defensive midfield to close defense this season. “But this is the type of game we have to play. We’re not going to beat teams in shootouts. This is a great score because we have to beat teams like this, but out-working them.”
Whitten left Fujitani Field with a healthy respect for Wilton’s new defensive unit, which was bolstered by the hustle of its midfielders and attackmen.
“Give all the credit to Wilton,” Whitten said. “When you play good teams they expose your weaknesses and exploit them. Wilton did that. Their defense looked pretty good and the goaltender made some nice saves. They just handled the ball better than we did.”
Cole Rance had a goal and one assist for Wilton while Mike Burns and Michael Slaughter also scored goals.
Ted Bossidy, Jake Miller (one assist) and Peter Kraus scored goals for the Rams.