The stars were aligned last Tuesday night for the girls’ soccer team at Wethersfield, who defeated Newington at Cottone Field to finish the regular season undefeated and win the Central Connecticut Conference-North.
“You couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” said head coach Tony Leone after his team’s 3-0 win.
Protecting a perfect season and facing a fierce rival in front of a home crowd, the Eagles rose above the pressure as senior captain Kathleen Brush pulled a hat trick, scoring all three goals.
“The whole week leading up to it we knew this was our game,” said Brush. “It was at our home on our field, we had our fans, and we knew we needed to win this game. It was so important to us.”
Midway through the first half, Brush netted her first goal following a perfect lead pass by fellow senior Allie Leahy, who set the ball down the left sideline from midfield before Brush caught up to it and fired a cross to the right corner of the net.
The two connected again in the 65th minute when Leahy booted one from the right sideline, which Brush received and blasted by Newington goalie Ella DePase into the back of the net.
Leahy said that she and Brush are “on the same wavelength” from having played together since youth soccer, dating back over a decade
“We’ve always had that connection,” added Leahy. “She sees me winding up and about to play the through ball and she makes a perfect run and scores.”
Leone said Brush and Leahy are the perfect pairing up front, adding, “That’s what they do. There is no secret to it.”
“Allie’s vision is amazing; she is very good at those penetrating type passes. Everybody knows they are coming, but she is still clever enough to figure out when to release it,” continued Leone. “Kat has the athleticism and speed and she'll' run through a wall, almost to her own detriment sometimes.”
With under a minute left in regulation, Brush netted her third goal when she rebounded a free kick shot from Lauren Darrell and scored in the left corner of the net.
“I think after putting that first one in I was a little more relaxed,” Brush said about her prolific night. “We just kept working throughout the game. I think everyone wanted this.”
The win also marked the Eagles fifth shutout in the past six games. Senior captain Vanessa Venditti kept the net clean, making a handful of stops, including a miraculous sliding kick-save eight minutes into the second half.
Newington’s Avery Bonet got behind the Eagles’ defense and was one-on-one with Venditti, who ran out to challenge Bonet before making the highlight reel save to protect the shutout and the Eagles’ one-goal advantage.
“It could have easily been a 1-1 game and that changes the whole aspect of how the rest of the game goes,” Venditti said. “We were able to keep that momentum and knock in two more. It was beautiful; it was great,”
Helping Venditti on the defensive side is a young group featuring Darrell, Emma Mullarkey, Isabella Destefani, and Julia Daly.
Venditti credited the unit’s increased communication for the success, adding, “A lot of our backend is inexperienced, but we’ve grown to get that chemistry. Each game that has gone by we’ve gotten better and better.”
Leone praised Venditti for her ability to track the ball, which he credits to her being an all-conference basketball player.
“She has that innate ability to read the flight of the ball,” added Leone. “You can’t teach that stuff, it’s intuitive. She has matured from last year to this year in her confidence and as a leader.”
On the other side of the field, the loss was only Newington's third this fall. Head coach Adam Wilkinson said that Venditti’s save changed the complexion of the game and told his team after the game that the performance “wasn’t acceptable.”
“We struggled all year to create offense and the defense has kept us in [games] and tonight they broke us down. Wethersfield has some weapons up front and something broke down,” added Wilkinson. “I have been seeing something like this coming. You can defend and you can defend, but at some point it breaks. They took advantage of it.”
Wilkinson’s team had a couple more opportunities to tally points, but each time they were off the mark or Venditti came up with a save.
Bonet, Taylor Danielle, Nora Lewandowski, Gabby Stolfi, and Reese Sadler each had shots on the goal in the first half. Along with Bonet’s breakaway shot, Stolfi, Sadler, and Madeline Michaud also had scoring opportunities over the final 40 minutes.
“You would like to learn from this,” added Wilkinson. “It would be nice to come out of this with a win but sometimes you learn things from a defeat. If [we] would have won, it might paper over a few of the cracks.”
Wilkinson added that he thought he team might struggle on the defense end this fall, but that has actually been the strength to the team
“I pride myself on defending because that is what I did as a player. I’ve got very young defenders, but this team can defend,” added Wilkinson, who is leaning on a pair of freshmen in Lewandowski and Keegan Alderucci, along with sophomore Ava dos Santos on the back end.
For Wethersfield, the win not only secured an undefeated regular season, but it also earned them a bye in the first round of the Class L state tourney.
Leone said he watched the Redeem Team, the documentary of the 2008 U.S.A gold medal basketball team, the night before and borrowed inspiration from longtime NBA coach and commentator Doug Collins. Collins told Team USA prior to the gold medal march that they could either be bonded by a great story or bonded by sorrow.
“You’ll be remembered for being undefeated or you’re going to be remembered for losing it in the last game,” Leone told his team prior to the game. “Either way I was still proud, but we came to play.”
The Eagles finished the regular season with a record of 13-0-3.
“Nobody thought we would be here with this undefeated streak, but I couldn't be more proud of us,” said Leahy. “As a whole we all had to work our hardest and bring our best game tonight, and I think that we did that.”
Venditti added, “There was a lot of pressure, but I felt we handled that pressure really well. We just played our game and got the ‘dub’.”
Next up is the Class L state tourney. Wethersfield is one of only two teams in Class L to finish the regular season without a loss, earning the No. 3-seed overall and a first round bye. They will host the winner of match between Ledyard and Guilford at Cottone Field on Thursday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m.
For a complete list of tournament brackets and schedules, visit ciacsports.com
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin