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It was during a preseason scrimmage that Stonington field hockey goalie Annie Knizeski, a junior assuming the role as the varsity starter for the first time, was confidently directing her teammates, talking, talking, talking.
And then she missed the ball as it rolled into the goal cage.
"It was like, 'Annie, you have to also play the goal,'" Bears coach Jenna Tucchio said with a laugh. "She had to balance the information coming out of her mouth with actually tending the goal."
Knizeski had seven saves Tuesday night as sixth-seeded Stonington steamrolled No. 2 Immaculate of Danbury 3-0 in the semifinals of the Class S state tournament, giving the Bears their first state championship berth since 1991.
That was two days after the first-year goalie made 11 saves in Stonington's 2-1 victory over three-time defending Class S champ Granby Memorial, a day the Bears' defense did not break despite being peppered with 24 Granby penalty corners.
Knizeski, who is 5-foot-11, follows directly in the footsteps of two other successful Stonington goalies.
Denise Domnarski (Class of 2009) was the Bears' goalie when they made the semifinals the last time in 2008, falling to Granby. She was a two-time member of The Day's All-Area team. Domnarski was replaced by Julie Royer (Class of 2012), an All-ECC and All-Area pick.
"I was a little nervous at first. I looked up to Julie and Denise," Knizeski said. "But ever since the North Branford game (1-0 Stonington loss in the season opener), I've been asking (Tucchio) what I need to correct."
There were a few times in the first half Tuesday where, with Stonington clinging to a 1-0 lead, an Immaculate goal seemed imminent, something that could have changed the tenor of the game.
Knizeski made one save while laying on the ground and another on a breakaway by Immaculate's best player.
"One of them was an inch from the goal line, but it rolled out of bounds," said Knizeski, Stonington's ECC Sportsmanship Award winner.
"She's built a lot of confidence," Tucchio said. "She's like the rest of the team, the more pressure she's under, the better she plays."
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