Wethersfield’s #18 Avery Ford competes with Rocky Hill’s #9 Elena Valle and #22 Olivia DiBiases for the ball during the Eagles 1-0 win on Sept. 8.
Wethersfield High School girls’ soccer opened the 2022 season with a 1-0 road victory over Rocky Hill on Sept. 8 at McVicar Field.
Following a scoreless first half, the Eagles came out on the attack in the second half and finally found the back of the net when Allie Leahy delivered a perfect lead pass to Kathleen Brush, who finished off the feed by splitting a pair of defenders and sneaking a shot past goalie Emelia Pacheco-Hager into the right hand corner of the net.
Brush’s goal in the 55th minute would ultimately prove to be the game’s only points
WHS head coach Antonio Leone said he felt his team was hesitant early in the game –– possessing the ball instead of attacking –– before cranking it up in the second half.
Early in the second half the visiting Eagles peppered Pacheco-Hager with a barrage of shots, including three in the first two minutes of the half, all of which Pacheco-Hager rejected. Pacheco-Hager finished with 15 saves, keeping the Terriers in the game until the final whistle sounded.
“We’re only one game in. Maybe five or six games in we’ll have a little bit of rhythm and I’d like to think two or three of those go in,” added Leone, who praised Pacheco-Hager for her effort. “[Rocky Hill] hung in there and made the game difficult. It’s a good first game to have.” Brush, Leahy, Gabby Cicero, and goalie Vanessa Venditti are Leone’s four senior captains on the field.
Venditti, who split time in goal a season ago, made a handful of saves to register the shutout.
Leone said the team is a bit inexperienced on the defensive end after graduating some highly-skilled starters and that the team will rely on the players up front and at the midfield to carry the team in the early stages of the season.
He pointed to juniors Avery Ford and Kayla Ward as players who have stepped up this season and credited junior Emma Mullarkey with igniting the second half attack from the midfield.
Incoming freshman Isabella Destefani has also made an impact early.
Leone said he didn’t use a magic formula to change the team’s offensive approach at halftime. Instead it was a more aggressive mindset from the players after the break.
“I think it's the first game jitters. Nobody wants to make mistakes. When things aren't going your way the nerves start to build,” added Leone. “We will make mistakes, but hopefully they aren’t the mistakes that will punish you. In the end they will be fine, but they’ll just have to go through the growing pains.”
On the other end, Rocky Hill head coach Annmarie Catania is mentoring a young team that will lean heavily on Pacheco-Hager and a stout defense throughout what looks to be a rebuilding year.
Catania said she hopes that the team can find an offensive sparkplug as the season develops.
“We have a lot of freshmen that are tough and highly skilled. They have come in and contributed, but it's a building year,” said Catania. ”Some of the girls are still a little hesitant and don’t want to make that mistake, but we will work on that confidence.”
Seniors Gianna Nanci, Kate Oostendorp, Sofia Scalise, and Sarah Whelan will captain the Terriers.
Catania also pointed to sophomores Elena Valle and Kaitlyn Pereau as young players that will fill big roles this season.
But this season will ultimately come down to the team’s defense and the play of their standout goalkeeper, who made all-conference as a freshman a year ago.
“She worked all summer, she doesn’t take a day off and when you do that your skill level gets higher and higher,” Catania said of Pacheco-Hager. “We’re built from the back. If you have a solid defense, then you can stay in the game.”
The Terriers next welcome Manchester to McVicar Field this Friday, Sept. 16 for a 6:00 p.m. start.
Catania said she anticipates some ups-and-downs this season, but wants to see the team play more with more confidence and fire, adding, “I want to see them play stronger. I want to see them have that desire.”
Wethersfield is in the middle of a three-game road trip before they return to WHS for a three-game home stand, starting with Hartford Public on Tuesday, Sept 22 at 3:30 p.m.
Wethersfield’s Allie Schackner controls the ball as Rocky Hill’s Addyson Grant pursues the action at McVivar Field in Rocky Hill.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin