East Lyme girls face No. 1 RHAM in Wednesday's Class L soccer semis
East Lyme — Last time her team was in a similar situation — penalty kicks in the Class L girls' soccer state tournament — East Lyme coach Rachel Redding assigned the players which kicked in the penalty phase. It was a strategy which didn't work out so well in an East Lyme loss.
So, last week, determined not to repeat what she felt like was a mistake from 2012, Redding instead asked who felt confident enough to take a penalty kick with this year's Class L first-round game at Naugatuck on the line.
Senior Emma Locklear was confident.
Locklear hadn't played a minute of the 80-minute game or 20 minutes of overtime.
What happened next is the moment Redding and her players have repeatedly referred to since then as what brought the 20th-seeded Vikings (11-6-4) together, propelling them all the way into Wednesday's semifinal against No. 1 RHAM (6:30 p.m., Falcon Field in Meriden).
Locklear not only scored in the second of four rounds of penalty kicks, she scored the deciding kick in the final round, the one that sent East Lyme home in jubilation with a 16-14 edge in PKs after what was a 3-3 tie to that juncture.
“It will be a moment I will remember the rest of my life,” Redding said. “A fist pump. The whole place erupted. It was a huge moment for the whole team. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.”
That appears to be the snapshot in time that East Lyme went from being the team which was rebuilding following the loss of three Division I players last year — including Eastern Connecticut Conference single-season scoring leader Stephanie deLaforcade (42 goals) — to a team which forged its own identity.
It also created a perfect illustration of teamwork and the adage that every player on the team is just as important as the next.
“I think, definitely, we knew we still had a ton of talent,” East Lyme senior Georgia Parsons said of this season's journey. “It was just about working as a team. It's not about individual talent, it's about how it comes together. It's exciting. It's really exciting. In past years we haven't made it as far as we hoped for.
“Especially for us seniors, we had a great four years, we want to make (this one) the best. … I'm so proud of how far we came.”
East Lyme finished 8-6-2 in the regular season, then lost in the quarterfinals of the ECC tournament in penalty kicks to Norwich Free Academy.
There were definitely moments of frustration, Redding admits.
“I went to practice and I never lowered my standards,” the coach said. “I might have taught it a different way, but I kept on them. Make sure they're trapping the right way. Make sure they're passing the right way. Over time, they got it. They had to work a little bit harder. They had to work together.
“In the past there were people that carry the team. They all had to carry the team.”
Kayla Markovitz, Isabelle Riker, Karlie Rowe, Phoebe Provencher, Grace Wargo, Parsons and Alivia Catanzaro all combined with Locklear to connect on one or more penalty kicks against Naugatuck. The Vikings were 5-for-5 in the third round.
East Lyme then had a pair of home wins, 1-0 over Foran and 5-2 over E.O. Smith, to reach the semis. The Vikings scored four times in the second half against E.O. Smith, with Rowe and Catanzaro finishing with two goals each.
Said Redding: “It still is a good season. A lot of people looked at it as a down year. … It kept clicking a little bit more each day.”
RHAM (18-1) has allowed just one goal in the state tournament, backed by freshman keeper Sierra Blank. RHAM had its closest call in the second round, beating Guilford 2-1 in double overtime on a game-winning goal by senior Rachel Purcell. The Sachems went on to beat New Canaan 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
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