(Wethersfield's Victoria Villagra and Newington's Maggie Callahan)
Alexis Szymecki has battled through a series of injuries and setbacks throughout her first three years at Wethersfield, but this fall the senior captain is healthy and thriving out on the soccer fields.
Her talent was on full display last Wednesday night when she scored four goals in a 4-0 victory at Newington, earning the Eagles their ninth win of the season.
“It feels better than anything,” Szymecki said about competing again, “I’ve been waiting three years to get out here and be 100% healthy. Just being out here feels great because it’s what I love to do.”
“This is the first year that she’s been healthy for us and we knew she was really talented, but we didn’t build around Alexis. She’s fitting in with our style.” stated Wethersfield head coach Emily Fanelli.
Szymecki tallied three goals in the first half and add another from long distance within the first minute of the second half, while the Eagles swarming defense and goalie Megan Keleher preserved the victory on a cold and windy night at Alumni Field.
“They outmuscled us everywhere. They used their physicality against us and it paid off for them. We just got dominated from top to bottom,” said Newington head coach Adam Wilkinson, who attempted to make adjustments at the break, “We spoke about the threat that Alexis Szymecki posed and I spoke about a few changes that I wanted to make at halftime but the girls didn’t execute it. It doesn’t help when Alexis bings one in from 30 yards to start the second half. We needed that goal, that goal really knocked the wind out of us. You could tell by how quite the crowd was tonight. We had a couple of fundamental errors which they capitalized on.”
This is nothing new for Szymecki, who has been a scoring machine for the Eagles all season, including posting a career-high five goals in an 8-0 win at Windsor on Sept 20.
She’s making up for lost time after a severe back injury derailed her freshman year and then torn ligaments in her right ankle required 18 months of rehab and recovery.
“It was physically and mentally straining. My confidence level was down because it was really hard to work back up to where I was at my peak performance,” recalled Szymecki, “It was definitely tough, but it actually helped me because I worked on my left a lot and strengthened that too.”
Her road to recover was long and she leaned on those closest to her for support and training, including her father, Maciek, and brother, Lukas, who starred at Wethersfield and is currently playing soccer at Southern Connecticut State University.
All of the months of hard work are paying off as she gets to share her senior season with lifelong friends and teammates.
“It’s amazing. I grew up playing with these girls and it’s such a fun group,” added Szymecki, “To be out here playing one last time with them and playing the way we are, it feels great.”
Keleher, Haley Whelchel, and Alyssa Prosperi have joined Szymecki as the team captains. The four field generals are helping Fanelli guide a deep and talented group.
“The best part of my team this year is I have a lot of depth. Everybody contributes in every single game and that’s the first time that I have ever had that. I can turn to the bench and see a player that will contribute just as much as my starters, so it’s absolutely the best thing this year,” added Fanelli.
Szymecki has shouldered the scoring load but Keleher and the defense have been equally brilliant. The shutout of Newington was the eighth time the Eagles have blanked an opponent this season.
“She was definitely an all-state keeper last year in my opinion, but she just missed the vote. So this year I’m pushing hard for her because I think she deserves it,” Fanelli said of her net protector, “When a shot goes off, I know that Megan’s got it. There is nothing that she can’t handle. I am so comfortable with her and I think that’s why we’re all comfortable, because we have a goal scorer and a really solid defensive line and goalie.”
In front of Keleher is an experience group that includes Whelchel.
“Three out of the four defenders are returning and one is a sophomore, Sierra Judson was a freshman last year,” added Fanelli, who referred to the defense as the heart of the team.
Keleher and the defenders posted another shutout last Friday night, registering win #10 and third straight overall, in a 1-0 victory over Northwest Catholic at WHS. Szymecki again carried the offensive load, scoring the match’s lone goal on a penalty kick.
The team is hitting their stride at just the right time, but there are a few areas of improvement that their coach wants to see before tourney time rolls around.
“We’re never going to be complacent. Winning any 50/50 ball is an area of weakness and has been all year,” said the veteran coach, “I think we’re more comfortable playing defense then winning the ball and attacking on offense, so we have to try and change that mindset on offense.”
For Newington, the loss to Wethersfield was not reflection on their season. They entered the contest with a record of 7-2-1 and hadn’t allowed more than two goals all season.
Goalie Jenna Scanlon has been a steady force between the pipes and fellow seniors Abby Molloy, Zoe Walk, Tatiana Bilbraut, Maggie Callahan, and Emily Petronio, along with sophomore Olivia Mullings, are providing leadership and production in the field.
“We’ve been good. The team comradery has been very, very good but we’ve had a lot of disruptions lately with the weather,” said Wilkinson, whose team finished last week with a 3-1 loss at Glastonbury on Friday, “We had a point where we didn’t play for 14 days and then got beat by Northwest Catholic, in a game that we probably should have won. I think the preparation or lack there of caught up with us today.”
Wethersfield and Newington will play one more time to close out the regular season, Monday, Oct 29, at Cottone Field. The rematch starts at 6:30 p.m.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Jessica Saucier- Rocky Hill (Swimming & Diving): Saucier has earned the most individual points on the team, qualifying for the state championships in two individual events (200 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly) and two relays. The sophomore was the team’s rookie of the year as a freshman and swims for MAC (Middlesex Aquatic Club) in the off-season, as well as, volunteers for the town's Sea Cubs program, a swim program for special needs students.
Emma Drzeweicki- Cromwell (Cross Country): Drzeweicki earned 2nd Team All-Shoreline Conference honors for the second straight season, after posting a team-best 22:26 at the Shoreline Conference Championships last week. Following a spectacular junior season last fall that saw her post her first sub-20:00 5K, the senior fought through offseason injuries but has come back to again lead the team, including to a 7th place overall finish at the conference finals.
Sienna Brodeur- Wethersfield (Diving): Brodeur had a fantastic meet against Bulkeley High School last Thursday, taking first place and also improving her top score by 34 points. The sophomore is a first-year diver and has already qualified for the Class L championships. She continues to learn high degree of difficulty dives and is a consistent top performer in every meet.
Amaia Jackson- Newington (Volleyball): Jackson served up a season-high seven aces and had three kills in a three set victory over Rocky Hill last Thursday. The junior also had three kills and a pair of aces the previous night, also a straight-set win over East Catholic. The victories were the Indians tenth and eleventh of the season.
Ariana Monarca- Middletown (Cross Country): Monarca finished atop the CCC-South leaderboard at the conference championship last Tuesday, setting a 6:30 pace. The junior is also a star on the track during indoor and outdoor track and field seasons, excelling in distance events and relays.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin