Commentary: Staples Has Right Mental Fitness For Title Runs

Reese Sutter (right) and Autumn Smith give the Wreckers strength at center midfield. (Dave Ruden)

WESTPORT — The Staples girls soccer team were going through some short-field drills during a practice last week. There were a lot of smiles in between the work, most notably when a mouse ran up coach Barry Beattie’s leg.

The players were loose despite the microscope they will soon be under.

“I think we are looking pretty good,” said Mia Gonzalez, one of the state’s premier center backs. “We have a bunch of newcomers who are working really, really hard. The chemistry on the team is really good so that is going to help a lot.”

Talent and looseness, the Wreckers are hoping to ride both this season to get the wins that proved elusive the last two seasons.

Theirs is an unusual resume. They tied for the most points in the regular season two years ago and were number one last year, going undefeated, with three draws. The Wreckers advanced to three of the four finals — league and state — and went 0-3.

“I think it’s harder being undefeated over 16 games in the regular season than three playoff games,” Beattie said. “What we saw last year (in the FCIAC quarterfinals) when Darien beat us, it was a one off game. We are disappointed at the finals we got to and didn’t win them, but it’s not something we focus on. It’s just turning the corner and can we get over the line.”

It is indeed much harder to go through such a difficult league without a blemish, and winning a regular-season title in any sport is tougher than a postseason tournament. Unfortunately, you get no trophies for the former, no chance to celebrate at the end of the game, no trophies as a keepsake.

FCIAC Girls Soccer Preview

Any disappointment at the endings of the last two years — losses to Ridgefield in the Class LL final — has been compartmentalized. It is the healthiest outlook to accomplish the Wreckers’ goals.

“I think that it just motivates us more that we want to win the whole thing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s my senior year and I want to go all the way, and so does every person on the team, so that’s what we’re working on. It’s not necessarily that it’s unfulfilling but we feel we have the capability to win the whole thing and that’s what we want to do.”

Staples coach Barry Beattie has a lot to like when he watches his players at practice. (Dave Ruden)

That is certainly the case. The Wreckers have veterans everywhere on the field. Gonzalez, a senior, is paired with her sister Gaby, a sophomore who made an immediate impact last year.

“Every time I talk about my back four, it’s hard to mention Mia without mentioning her sister,” Beattie said. “Gaby is only a sophomore and someone who played every minute of every game. I don’t think Mia would be Mia without Gaby, and Gaby wouldn’t be Gaby without Mia. It’s a nice thing to have these two sisters who have such a bond and so much respect for each other.”

Mia Gonzalez was one of four Wreckers named last year to the All-FCIAC team. Two others, Reese Sutter and Autumn Smith, will be paired to provide an exceptionally strong center midfield. Beattie said if there was a vote to select the league’s best player, in his opinion it would come down to Sutter, McMahon’s Peyton McNamara and St. Joseph’s Maddie Fried.

Marlo Von der Ahe and Katie Ialeggio are two other Staples captains and impact players.

“I think we are looking very solid,” Von der Ahe said. “Every player brings something different to the team and I’m really excited to see them showcase their skills in every game to come.”

One of the more interesting storylines will be another senior, goalkeeper Marisa Shorrock, who played as a freshman and took the last two seasons off before returning this summer. Beattie believes Shorrock will make a difference.

Actually there is little Beattie doesn’t like about this team. It has the chance to be his best at Staples.

“This is the first time I’ve had it as a head coach here, having potentially seven, eight, nine starting seniors,” Beattie said. “I think we have the experience for all our seniors getting to the title game, as far as you can go two years in a row, even though we didn’t come home with a trophy, getting all that way we learned a lot how to handle pressure, how to handle defeat. I think over the last two years this team has gained a lot of experience and is something they can take forward.”

There are 18 players back from last year. Beattie agreed that the two keys this year are staying healthy and playing up to the skill level.

“When this group of seniors came in as freshmen it was a four-year plan and I thought when we got to that first state final we might have been slightly ahead of schedule from what I projected,” Beattie said. “These players have just gotten better and better so I’m hoping it can continue.”

As good as the Wreckers are, Ridgefield will again be in their path and they have their three leading scorers back, along with and a lot of young talent. Also blocking their pathway is St. Joseph, which denied them of the FCIAC title two years ago.

There is no questioning the ability. And right now, given the events of the last two seasons, the Wreckers’ mental fitness seems to be in the right place.

“They are more motivated than unfulfilled,” Beattie said. “At practice they are all smiling, they are all buzzing, they are all enjoying themselves. They just want to get started.”

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