Stonington - There has always been the fear on the part of Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio that other high school field hockey teams around the state were gaining a competitive advantage by playing on artificial turf during the season, then going into the state tournament to play games mainly on that same surface.
Now the Bears, for the first time, have their own artificial turf to play and practice on, as the school's football field was recently resurfaced.
"I wouldn't compare us to Branford or Hand yet," said Tucchio, alluding to two of the premier turf teams.
"(But) there's a lot of prestige that goes with playing here. We feel really special. They finished it ahead of schedule. There's lines on the field; I don't have to worry about getting paint on my pants and shoes from painting my own lines. We don't have to move all the frogs or crabs or whatever they were that embedded themselves in the grass."
Stonington, which has won 21 of the last 22 Eastern Connecticut Conference titles and reached the Class S state championship game a year ago, defeated league opponent Waterford 8-0 Tuesday night on the Bears' new home field.
Elizabeth Morrison and Molly Crowley scored three goals each for Stonington (4-0, 4-0), which scored all eight goals in the first half before Tucchio sent the bulk of the starters - including goalie Annie Knizeski - to the bench for the entire second half.
Meg O'Lari also scored a goal for the Bears.
Waterford didn't get a shot off until the second half.
Morrison, meanwhile, who scored Stonington's first two goals less than six minutes into the game, added to her record-setting career total of goals to make it 60. She has seven goals this season and Crowley six.
"It's definitely faster, which makes it so much more exciting," Crowley, a junior, said of the turf. "It makes it easier to spread out and work on our passes. … (Morrison) and I have a good connection together. We've been playing together for three years now and she's helped me a lot. She teaches me everything."
The Bears played two straight close games against ECC opponents coming into Tuesday night's game, beating Fitch 2-0 and East Lyme 2-1 on a goal by Crowley off a corner with no time remaining.
"When we played East Lyme the other night, it was 0-0 at the half," Tucchio said.
"It took East Lyme scoring to wake us up. Our intent this game was to come out and be aggressive right off the bat."
The Bears kept their advantage at the top of the ECC, one game ahead of Killingly and Norwich Free Academy, both 3-1. Waterford is 2-3 overall, 2-2 in the league.
While Crowley said Stonington's ultimate goal is to make it back to the finals, and Tucchio agreed, the coach said her team still has work to do to be considered that caliber, having graduated center midfielder and The Day's 2012 All-Area Player of the Year in Chloe Slater.
"We have a long way to go for that," Tucchio said. "Turf is an advantage. And our front line has played for three years together. Without talking they can sense each other; it's hard to build something like that.
"Tia (LaFrance-Boyce) has done a good job at center mid, but we have some work to do on defense to get the unit cohesive.
"We're not state championship-caliber yet. We're not state anything yet. That's our goal, but we've got to keep focused."