Vote: HAN-FCIAC Athletes of Week 8

It was a week for championships in the FCIAC — and records on the football field — as the fall season winds to an end in Fairfield County sports. The league crowned champions in boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls volleyball and swimming this past week. And you'll find many of the nominees for the HAN-FCIAC Male and Female Athletes of the Week come from those league champions.

As the official broadcasting partner of the FCIAC, the HAN Network each week recognizes the top male and a female athletes during each week of the season. 

The HAN Network sports staff nominates the male and female candidates. The winners are then chosen in an online poll (at the bottom of this post) and saluted on the FCIAC Tailgate program before the HAN Network football game of the week on Friday or Saturday. Last week's winners were both from New Canaan: Field hockey star Meredith Heaney and football star Peter Swindell.

This week’s winners will be announced Saturday as FCIAC Tailgate and FCIAC Gameday lead up to the HAN Network’s coverage of Staples vs. Darien in FCIAC football, available live on live.HAN.Network Saturday, Nov. 14, at 1 p.m. The game between the 7-0 Blue Wave and the 6-1 Wreckers will help decide who plays in the FCIAC Football Championship (likely against New Canaan). The FCIAC Championship, is available exclusivly on HAN's Championship website,

FCIAC Tailgate starts at Friday at 11 a.m., followed by FCIAC Gameday at 11:30. Then football kicks off at 1 p.m.

Voting closes at 9 a.m. Saturday. The poll follows the nominees at the end of this post.

HAN-FCIAC Male Athlete of the Week nominees

Michael McArdle, Fairfield Ludlowe Soccer

McArdle scored both goals as the Falcons won their second straight FCIAC title with a 2-1 victory over Danbury. McArdle headed home a cross late in the second half to give Ludlowe the win.

McArdle, who was injured for a good portion of the season, earned the FCIAC championship game MVP plaque.

Michael Collins, New Canaan Football

Collins had an historic night as he tied a state record by throwing nine touchdown passes — to eight different receivers — in New Canaan's 69-26 rout of Trumbull.

Collins completed 18-of-29 passes for 483 yards, the second most in program history. His nine touchdown passes also broke the previous record of seven, set by Kurt Horton back in 1970.

Collins has 41 touchdown passes in seven games this fall, and the Rams are 7-0.

Watch the game on-demand.

Eric van der Els, Brien McMahon Cross Country

Van der Els captured the State Open title with a run of 15:47 at the 5,000-meter course at Wickham Park in Manchester on Nov. 6. The UConn-bound standout is McMahon's first-ever State Open champ.

A senior, Van der Els placed sixth in the Open as a sophomore. His time this year was eight seconds better than Ridgefield’s Gabriel Altopp, who was second. Van der Els previously won the program’s first individual title at the FCIAC championships on Oct. 21.

Ethan Burger, Staples High Football

Burger ran for 167 yards and a touchdown to lead the Wreckers to a 28-20 road win over St. Joseph, in an FCIAC matchup featuring a pair of 5-1 teams on Saturday.

Burger’s 25-yard run in the second quarter broke a 7-7 tie and his 30 carries in the game allowed Staples to control the ball.

Staples plays Darien this Saturday, Nov. 14, at 1:30 p.m. in game carried live by the HAN Network.

Luke Bienstock, Greenwich Football

Bienstock rushed for 241 yards and three scores and had two huge kickoff returns to spark the Cardinals in their 33-28 win over Norwalk on Friday.

Greenwich was trailing 14-12 when Bienstock returned the second-half kickoff 66 yards to set up a go-ahead touchdown. After the Bears went back in front 21-19, Bienstock did it again, returning the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to set up another touchdown.

The senior scored his three touchdowns on runs of 8, 7, and 16 yards.

Tyren McCrea, Danbury Football

McCrea, a Danbury senior, scored three touchdowns as the Hatters scored their first victory of the season, 33-27, over Brien McMahon on Friday.

McCrea scored on two long plays: An 80-yard run and a 60-yard punt return, before adding a third TD on a five-yard rush.

HAN-FCIAC Female Athlete of the Week nominees

Rachel Burston, Westhill Diving

Burston made history as she captured her fourth consecutive FCIAC diving championship last Wednesday at Westhill High School.

The senior scored a league-record 505 points on 11 dives, breaking the old mark of 482, which she set last season. She was a runaway winner by more than 100 points, as Greenwich’s Kate Russack was second with a score of 396.90.

Meghan Egan, New Canaan Swimming

Egan had a big night as the New Canaan Rams won their first FCIAC championship since 2011 on Thursday at the Greenwich High pool.

A senior, Egan played a part of all three of the Rams’ race victories, including a first-place finish of 51.62 in the 100 freestyle. She also helped lead the New Canaan to wins in the 200 freestyle (1:36.94) and the 400 freestyle (3:30.98) relays, both in meet record times.

Marcie Maguire, Ridgefield Swimming

Maguire, a junior, earned the Most Outstanding Swimmer award and set two meet records at the FCIAC championships.

Maguire won the 100 backstroke in 54.48, and the 200 freestyle in 1:50.07 to set the new records, and was also part of the Tigers’ winning 200 medley relay, which set a meet record of 1:46.55.

Ridgefield scored 285 points as a team and finished as the league runner-up behind New Canaan, which scored 314.

Sarah Grinalds, Fairfield Ludlowe Swimming

Grinalds picked up two gold medals and set a new FCIAC finals meet record in the 50 freestyle during the conference championships.

Grinalds, a sophomore with the Falcons, finished the 50 free in 22.97, breaking the old mark of 23.55 set last year by New Canaan’s Katie Colwell.

After winning that sprint race, Grinalds won the 500 freestyle by more than eight seconds, finishing in 4:58.15.

Julia Middlebrook, Ridgefield Soccer

Middlebrook, a junior goalie, earned MVP honors for her performance in Ridgefield's 2-0 upset victory over previously-unbeaten St. Joseph in the FCIAC finals. It was the first time the Cadets were shutout this season.

Middlebrook's best stop came in the first half, when she dove to her left to deny a shot from St. Joseph's All-American Jenna Bike.

Georgia Cassidy, Darien Field Hockey

Cassidy scored the only goal as the unbeaten Blue Wave edged Wilton, 1-0, in the FCIAC championship game.

Two days earlier, Cassidy provided the game-winning goal in Darien's 2-1 semifinal triumph over New Canaan, scoring with two minutes to play.

Alice Nelson, Ludlowe Volleyball

Nelson was named the MVP of the FCIAC final after the Falcons defeated the Darien Blue Wave, 3-1, for the championship on Saturday.

Nelson had 25 digs to lead a strong defensive effort, also adding nine service points and two aces to the offensive attack.

Kylie McCaffrey, Ludlowe Volleyball

McCaffrey had 17 kills, 15 digs to go with nine services points and two aces when Ludlowe won the FCIAC title with a 3-1 victory over Darien on Saturday.

Coach Meghan Skelton’s Ludlowe team shared the title with Darien in 2012. The Mustangs improved to 17-4 with the 27-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-20 victory. Darien dropped to 19-1.

Hannah DeBalsi, Staples Cross Country

Staples’ senior Hannah DeBalsi won the State Open girls cross country championship on Nov.  6 at Wickham Park — capping off one of the most dominating careers in state history. It was the third State Open win for DeBalsi, who holds the top five times at Wickham Park since the course was changed in 2008.

She completed the 5,000-meter course in 18:03. Tolland’s Katherine Deloreto was second in 19:01.

DeBalsi, who is committed to run for Stanford, is also a three-time Class LL and FCIAC champ. She’ll compete in the New England meet on Nov. 14 in Vermont.

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