Stonington field hockey, Lyman girls’ soccer play for state titles this weekend
On Sept. 17, Lyman Memorial girls’ soccer coach Mark Morello took his team for pizza, followed by a Hartford Athletic pro soccer game at Trinity Health Stadium.
As part of the team bonding exercise, Morello brought the girls to the site of the high school state soccer championships, a professional environment in which at that time they could only envision themselves.
“I told them, ‘The only way you’re going to get back here is if you win games in November,’” Morello said. “Lo and behold, they did.”
The Lyman girls’ soccer team and the Stonington field hockey team had many parallels in reaching their respective state championship games this weekend.
No. 3 Stonington needed two 7-on-7 overtimes and a shootout to beat No. 2 Canton in the semifinals Tuesday night in a heavy snowfall. Stonington senior goalie Madi Allard punctuated the dramatics with a dominant performance in the shootout, stopping Canton’s final four attempts, while sophomore Anna Lettiere converted the winning goal.
The Bears (17-2-1) will face top-seeded North Branford (20-1) for the Class S state championship at 10 a.m. Saturday at Wethersfield High School. It is a rematch of last year’s final, won by North Branford 2-0.
No. 1 Lyman, meanwhile, had a dramatic victory over No. 9 Bolton in the Class S quarterfinals last Saturday, prevailing in penalty kicks behind the steel nerves of sophomore goalie Phoebe Carpenter.
The Bulldogs (19-1-1), bolstered by their only two seniors, Magda Carpenter and Leah Comeroski, then went to double overtime in Wednesday’s semifinal round before beating No. 20 Portland 3-1. Lyman scored the final three goals in that game.
The Bulldogs will play for the state championship at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against No. 2 East Catholic (17-1-1), one of eight title games this weekend at Trinity Health Stadium.
Stonington reached the final for the second straight season but with an entirely new look, having graduated 10 seniors from the 2021 team.
Lyman, under Morello, in his 34th season, is making its first state championship appearance in program history, with a series of comebacks that have formed the narrative of the season.
“It’s the first for everybody,” Morello said of his team. “It’s not like I can tell ‘em stories. I’ve been to a couple with Marty Gomez when I coached baseball (at Lyman) with him. But this is different. We’re all in it for the first time.
“Me, personally, I’m always a nervous wreck. If I’m not nervous, I’m not invested. ... (East Catholic comes) from a very good conference, the CCC. We know what we’re up against.”
Morello said the Lyman team bus wove its way around several detours on the way to Waterbury for Wednesday’s game, taking longer than the 1 hour, 18 minutes that was projected. He said the trip home grew quiet, with the players worn out after the two 10-minute overtimes.
“Just part of the adventure,” he said. “They’ve created some great memories.
“We opened the season against Somers, which was a semifinalist last year and late in the game we scored two goals (in a 3-2 win). ... It takes a special group to know they can come back.”
East Catholic defeated No. 3 Thomaston 2-1 in the semifinals. East Catholic, which went 4-10-2 last season and did not qualify for the postseason, has not lost since opening day against Tolland. The Eagles will try to capture their first title since winning Class M in 2014.
Stonington, meanwhile, defeated North Branford in a regular-season game Oct. 22, getting a goal by Nora Walsh and eight saves from Allard, handing the Shoreline Conference champion Thunderbirds their only loss of the season.
Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio, whose postseason roster lists 14 freshmen and sophomores, knows North Branford will be looking to avenge that loss — “They’re going to be aggressive. They’ve got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” she said.
“But if anything, that win was an affirmation we are capable of beating this team,” Tucchio said. “In the back of their minds, they know, ‘We can compete with this team.’ We know we’ve done the preparation. As far as we’re concerned, it’s an even playing field.”
There won’t be a shootout this time. A tie after two 7-on-7 overtimes in the final will result in co-champions being declared. But the Bears will still have the steady Allard, who had 10 shutouts in the regular season, in goal.
And Tucchio likes her team’s focus.
“I thought they were zoned in as hard as they could in the conditions. They weren’t panicking. They didn’t freak out. Canton was controlling the game at that point and they stayed calm,” Tucchio said.
“I think there’s going to be nervousness, pregame jitters. But we’ve done a good job staying focused, blocking out any distractions or negativity. It’s part of our practice, our pregame. It’s part of what we work on.”
North Branford defeated No. 4 Immaculate 2-1 in the semifinals on goals by Keana Criscuolo and Sophia Toto.