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Waterford's free kicks spoil NFA's return in girls' soccer

Waterford — Nothing is given in this season of coronavirus. Not the next game or the next practice. Not one thing.

That's why on the evening of Columbus Day, a few members of the Waterford High School girls' soccer team stayed after practice in the rain to work on free kicks. They buried two of them Tuesday night, one by Aimee Girard and one by Kendra Gregg, in a 4-0 victory over Norwich Free Academy, Waterford's second straight shutout.

And that's also why NFA senior Kayla Park grew emotional afterward as she spoke of her team's plight. It was only the Wildcats' second game of the season due to COVID-19. NFA beat East Lyme 4-0 on opening day, Oct. 1, the Wildcats' hopes of a successful season soaring. It was then that NFA's athletic program was shut down in accordance with a virus outbreak in the city.

"It was really hard," said Park, a senior forward who scored twice in NFA's opener against East Lyme, asked how it felt to return to the field Tuesday.

"We got two practices, Saturday and (Monday). There was definitely a lot of energy the first day, plus it was Halloween. But it's been hard for us watching every other team have a season. I had high expectations after the first game we did so well. Other teams have been working, getting better. We've been doing the best we can. But we can't use it as an excuse. This is definitely a wakeup game for us."

Waterford, meanwhile, scored in the first minute for the second straight game. The Lancers (6-2-1), who also had to halt play this season due to COVID — although not nearly as long as NFA — beat East Lyme 2-0 Saturday and got their second straight shutout Tuesday by the goalie combo of Mya Rheaume and McKenzie Gregory.

Girard scored on a free kick 36 seconds into the game to give Waterford a 1-0 lead over NFA, with Girard helping to facilitate the Lancers' opening goal 38 seconds into Saturday's game, as well.

Gregg, Waterford's senior captain, scored on a long ball with 7:55 to play in the first half assisted by Amarys Jimenez to make it 2-0 at halftime. Then, in the second half, with NFA making minute-by-minute improvements, just missing on a couple of point-blank scoring opportunities, Gregg connected for her second goal of the game on a free kick from the left side with 13:16 to play.

Jordyn Metevier scored assisted by Jimenez with 4:26 remaining for the final margin.

"As soon as we had the 2-0 lead, we knew they're going to be on their game," Gregg said of NFA's charge. "They sent it through and Kayla had a really good shot. McKenzie Gregory saved it; I'm thankful for her. We're so lucky to have two amazing goalkeepers who work their butts off. They're consistent. It's not like 'One person's going in, oh, no.'"

Waterford coach Chris Ghiglia especially liked Gregg's second goal of the game to make it 3-0, with NFA's Hannah Daniewicz and Park both having gotten off shots which required quick reflexes from Gregory to stop them, threatening to narrow the margin to one.

Ghiglia said Gregg, who started her career as a freshman center back and has moved to center mid, usually scores a couple goals per season, not a couple per game.

"Every night on this field is special," Ghiglia said. "For someone like Kendra who has put her lifetime into Waterford soccer, for her to have a night like this is so special."

NFA's Park managed a smile talking about the events that led up to the game against Waterford.

The Wildcats were informed on Thursday night that they could start practicing Friday for the first time in over a month. Friday's practice promptly got rained out. Then, prior to Tuesday's game, the bus was late.

"Everything went wrong today," Park said. "... We played a lot better as a team (in the second half)."

Of the remainder of NFA's schedule, beginning Thursday against East Lyme?

Said Park: "We'll be ready."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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