WHS field hockey reached the state championship game for the first time since 1980
For the first time since 1980, Wethersfield High School’s field hockey played in a state championship game. The Eagles fell to perennial powerhouse Guilford 4-0 last Saturday (Nov. 20) in the Class M title game, but the departing seniors delivered a season the program hadn’t seen since people were asking, “Who Shot J.R.?”
The end result was different from the 1980’s team, who defeated Westhill 3-1 over three decades ago, yet the performance delivered by Wethersfield keeper Julia Peacock was championship-worthy.
Peacock stopped an astonishing 29 shots from the aggressive Grizzlies from Guilford, who relentlessly pelted shots at the senior goalie. Peacock and her defensive mates, captain Emily Messina, Gabriella Tomaino, Emma Anzidei, and Emma Hucks, held up for nearly three quarters.
“Throughout the entire tournament they came to play,” Budaj said of her defense, “They saved us when other teams were knocking on the door. Every game we played they came up huge for us with the good strong clears. Our defensive back was our strongest line throughout our whole tournament run.”
The dam finally broke late in the third when a fast break opportunity by Guilford captain Maddie Epke led to a goal from junior Grace Barlage, who snuck one past Peacock from the left corner with 7.8 second remaining in the quarter.
Barlage would add a second goal at the 12:03 mark of the fourth before Allie Pentonito and Isabel Matthews sealed the victory with a pair of scores late in regulation.
It was Guilford’s third straight Class M championship. The Grizzlies finished 19-1 overall, outscoring their four tourney opponents 23-0.
For Wethersfield, the loss ended a sensational run for a senior class that became the winningest class in the program's history. Despite a shortened 2020-season because of COVID, the seniors amassed the most wins during a four-year span, including an overall record of 34-4 during the last two full seasons (2019 and 2021).
Budaj, who just wrapped up her seventh season, said this year’s seniors helped the program take the next step towards a title, “The nice thing is that we got contributions from all the seniors on different levels. Whether they were starting or coming off the bench, these seniors have been the heart and soul of this team. They did an amazing job leading this program where we wanted it to go. We couldn't have done it without them.”
As they have done since 2005, WHS hosted all three field hockey championship games over the weekend, giving the Eagles the comfort of home for the title tilt. Budaj said that the experience was a little surreal for the girls, adding that they had worked hard all four years for the opportunity.
After finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record, the team defeated Brookfield 2-0 behind a pair of goals from Sadie Ruiz in the opening round of the tourney. They would then beat East Lyme 2-0 on goals from Ruiz and Molly Bowers in the quarterfinals, before coming from behind to beat Joel Barlow 2-1 on penalty shots in the semifinals.
The title game didn’t go as planned, but Budaj’s husband/assistant coach Steve Budaj summed it up perfectly as the two coaches addressed the team after the game, saying “You all did a great job and got all of the goals we laid out for you, but one. We love you.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin