Cromwell senior captain Liv Lusitani battles Montville’s Isabella Estelle for the ball during the Panthers 6-0 win in the opening round of the Class M tournament on Nov. 8.
Coming into the state tournament, the girls’ soccer team at Cromwell High School hadn’t posted multiple goals in a game since Oct. 20, a drought spanning five games.
All that changed last Tuesday when the Panthers exploded for five goals in the first half during a 6-0 victory over visiting Woodstock in the first round of the Class M tournament at Cromwell High School.
Senior captain Liv Lusitani and junior Cam Hickey each scored a pair of goals, while junior Katie Barber and sophomore Audrey Dana also netted goals.
It also marked the team’s seventh shutout this fall. Senior captain Lily Kenney kept the net clean in the first half and junior Lauren McCarroll duplicated that feat over the final 40 minutes.
Prior to the state tourney Cromwell had lost three straight games, including a heartbreaking loss on penalty kicks to Old Saybrook in the semifinals of Shoreline Conference (SLC) on Nov. 2.
“It was a wake-up call for all of us, coaches included,” head coach Marcelo Caetano said of the defeats. “We had to forget about what had happened and reset, and see the type of tone that we were going to set.”
Caetano’s team emphatically responded in the opening round of the state tourney, scoring early and often in the first half.
Less than five minutes into the game, Barber scored when she slipped a shot past Montville’s sophomore goalie Katherine Myjak.
“Everyone took a deep breath,” Kenney said of the early goal. “We always trust our offense and as soon as that goal went in the weight on our shoulders was off. We were able to relax more.”
Lusitani added that Barber’s goal helped “breed the rest” of the goals, saying, “We started playing for each other more.”
In the 17th minute, Lusitani tallied her first when she rebounded her own deflected shot on a breakaway before finishing what she started.
Less than a minute later, Hickey found the back of the net after working a perfect give-and-go with Lusitani. Hickey passed the ball to Lusitani before cutting towards the middle of the field as Lusitani sent the ball back to her in front of the net.
Prior to the state tourney, Caetano said the coaching staff modified some of the team’s formations, giving his weapons more room to operate on offense.
“We just want to put our kids in the best position possible and at the end of the day as long as they’re having fun the kids loosen up,” said Caetano, who sensed his team had the right mindset prior to the game. “The biggest component was the energy level was very different.”
Dana made it 4-0 when she rebounded a Hickey shot in front of the net before booting one home.
With 4:43 to play in the first half, Lusitani scored her second after getting an assist from Ellie Sbriglio.
With the comfort of a five-goal lead, Caetano was able to get several reserves playing time over the final 40 minutes.
Kenney made nine saves in the first half, including back-to-back stops on consecutive corner kicks in the 26th minute, before the senior captain become McCarroll’s biggest supporter in the second half.
“I love Lauren.” said Kenney. “I can’t wait to see how amazing she does next year.”
McCarroll made a handful of stops in the second half, most notably a diving stop with eight minutes to play and catching a midair shot in the waning seconds of regulation to preserve the shutout.
Caetano called McCarroll the “heartbeat of the team.”
“People feed off her infectious attitude and from a goalkeeper standpoint she is pretty good,” added Caetano. “To live in the shadow of Lily is difficult and she has been Lily’s #1 supporter and same thing with Lily for Lauren.”
Hickey put the finishing touches on a prolific day on the offensive end when she received a free kick pass in stride from April LeBlanc and scored less than ten minutes into the second half.
Lusitani said the days off between the SLC tourney and the state tourney allowed the team to refocus on the goal at hand.
“We reflected upon ourselves and how we could do better,” added Lusitani.
Prior to the tourney opener, the players went to breakfast together and Kenney said the meal allowed the team a chance to reconnect off the field.
“We realized this could be our last time, so we had to reflect and play hard this entire game,” added Kenney.
The Panthers followed up the decisive victory with a 2-0 shutout of Ansonia in the second round before falling to Northwest Catholic (6-0) in the quarterfinals.
The quarterfinal’s loss ended a 12-win season for the Panthers and the high school careers for 11 influential seniors at CHS.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin