Zrenda was thrilled to be on the field this time as a leader of Old Lyme defense

West Haven — Teammate and fellow captain Caleigh O'Neil was shining a light on Maddie Zrenda earlier in the week.

O'Neil was explaining how Zrenda, a junior defender, got voted as one of four Old Lyme High School girls' soccer captains for this season, a state championship season as of early Saturday afternoon, when Zrenda was coming off a sophomore season during which she was mostly injured.

“Maddie Z. was out the entire year last year,” O'Neil said. “She was our motivation on the sidelines.”

With a glance at Zrenda's actions and statements following Saturday's 1-0 Class S state championship victory over Old Saybrook, all of them selfless, it was evident what made her captain material.

After the final buzzer, while the rest of the team was already in a celebratory mass at midfield, Zrenda waited for goalie Katherine Petterson to catch up with her before joining the festivities. Being interviewed, Zrenda constantly diverted the attention from herself to her fellow defenders.

And Zrenda, part of an Old Lyme defense which gave up only one goal in the postseason, did all that with tears streaming down her face. Tears of joy.

“I'm just proud of my team,” Zrenda said of her emotions. “I tore my ACL last season, so this one's really special. I'm just really honored to be captain. It's been a really incredible experience.”

Zrenda missed a good portion of last season with a bone bruise, but rejoined the team just prior to a postseason run that would end in a tie with Notre Dame of Fairfield for the Class S title. It was in the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference tournament at Old Lyme, however, that Zrenda leapt in the air to hug teammate Maddie Ouelette following a goal and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

“Our trainer didn't tell me, but she told my parents, '8 out of 10 times, that's probably an ACL,'” Zrenda said. “My dad said, 'Maddie, even if you tore your ACL, it's going to be OK.' I was like, 'No! Don't say that!' It was really hard. I was emotional.

“I came to all the games. I just tried to encourage them, show them they can do anything they want.”

How, exactly, did a sophomore find the courage to put aside the disappointment of a season-ending injury, which also caused her to miss basketball season, and help inspire a group of extraordinarily talented peers?

“I had really great role models from previous years,” Zrenda said. “Alston Rountree, Silja (Forstein), Hannah O'Brien, all of them really.”

Zrenda underwent knee surgery on Dec. 1, 2015, at the Connecticut Orthopaedic Specialists Surgical Center in Branford. She was home in bed when a series of texts started arriving, one of them from assistant coach Ally Gleason informing her she was voted co-captain by her teammates for the following year.

The team's three seniors were so honored, Jenna Peduzzi, Mary Bolles and O'Neil, along with Zrenda.

“I just started sobbing,” Zrenda said.

“That's a lot of prestige,” Old Lyme coach Paul Gleason said of Zrenda's captaincy. “She has tremendous spirit. She never stops working. She's the consummate leader. I thought she did a tremendous job (as captain).”

Gleason compares his defense to the forest of ancient Kauri trees in New Zealand. Zrenda is one of his Kauri trees.

The Wildcats registered two shutouts in the Shoreline tournament to win their unprecedented fourth straight league title. They did allow one goal in a second-round state tournament victory over Somers, winning 4-1, before capping the playoffs with shutouts in the quarters, semis and final.

“We had a defensive breakdown,” Zrenda said with a chuckle, asked what happened on the one goal. “But we got it together after that. … We finished with 15 shutouts this season. We have Caroline (Wallace), Julia (Smith), Caleigh and I; everyone communicates really well.”

Zrenda's goal Saturday was to work hard against Old Saybrook for everyone who helped her recover following her surgery.

“I wanted to show everyone who supported me that everything paid off,” she said. “Right now, I feel really good.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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