NEW BRITAIN — When the final horn sounded at Willow Brook Park early Saturday afternoon, at a time when torrents of tears might have been expected, only a few were shed by the members of the Ridgefield girls soccer team.
The Tigers had just lost in the Class LL final for the second straight year to Glastonbury, 4-1, a score completely misleading to the course of play. A glorious two-year run highlighted by a pair of league championships had come to an end, and for most of the senior class, an important chapter in their lives had just closed.
This group of players achieved not just because of how good they are, but just as importantly who they are, a main reason for their surprising immediate reaction to the outcome.
The Tigers were quickly able to put in perspective what had been accomplished over the long haul rather than the hurt from the loss to the Tomahawks, who maximized their chances and showed the grit that has carried them to three straight state titles and 60 successive wins.
“I think this is such a special group of girls, especially for the seniors,” said midfielder Alyssa Bonanno, one of the seven senior starters. “We’ve been here four years. Last year we set the bar really high for ourselves and to get back to the same place with all the work we’ve put in and all the pressure that we’ve had. They’re a great team. To be able to hang with them until the last 20 minutes is a really good feeling.”
Ridgefield (21-3), the No. 3 seed, had lost just twice in a 24-hour span during the regular season and last year pushed the Tomahawks before succumbing, 5-3.
The Tigers controlled possession in the first half on Saturday and had the best scoring chance when Alex Damron set up Katie Jasminski for a shot that Glastonbury’s Abigail Renaud was able to turn away.
And until the 39th minute, if play had been scored like the round of a boxing match, the judges would have scored it 10-9 in the Tigers’ favor.
But that’s not the way it works, and when the Tomahawks’ Emily Beard found space and scored on a high shot, Ridgefield was forced to play from behind for the second straight year.
The Tigers had chances to equalize early in the second half, but Renaud first stopped a high shot by Anna Landler, then another good attempt by Jasminski. At the other end, a transition run freed Glastonbury’s Danielle Brinckman, but Ridgefield goalkeeper Julia Middlebrook made a diving save.
The play led to a corner kick, and Glastonbury’s star forward, Caroline Bogue, finished for a 2-0 lead.
“A couple of disheartening goals, but we were going to fight back our hardest,” Bonanno said.
The Tigers quickly halved the deficit on goal by Damron off a scramble in front where it looked at first like they might not be able to get a shot off.
“Katie came down on a run and put a great shot in, and I was just able to be there just to poke it through,” Damron said. “I think it definitely gave us some momentum.”
Ridgefield nearly tied it. Damron was just high on a set piece from 30 yards, and Renaud again stopped Jasminski, then Clara Lerchi on the rebound.
“At 2-1 we had a chance to get another goal,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said. “If it goes in it’s 2-2 and the game complexion changes. As the game went on we had to push numbers forward and that left us exposed and Glastonbury capitalized.”
Bogue made a turn to beat two defenders and scored in the 76th minute to make the score 3-1 and Eden Baker then finished a corner kick by Beard to close the scoring.
“I think we kind of let up on the gas a little bit after we scored and they were able to get back into it,” Damron said. “All in all we played our hearts out and put in the best efforts that we could.”
Added Golding, “A 4-1 score is an unfair reflection. I know how hard the players have worked all year to get to this stage. To lose a game in the manner we did is just disappointing for them.”
Many of the players have shared a sideline more than half their lives. They will go their separate ways — five are headed to play in college — but the bond will never be broken.
“We’ve been together so long, a lot of these girls since we were five years old, so we grew up together and we know we will be seeing each other, so it won’t be the end,” Bonanno said.
That sentiment was shared by Damron.
“It has been great playing with all of them,” she said. “It has really been a privilege. I’m really going to miss them after this season, I’m going to miss them at school next year. I couldn’t ask for anyone else to play with.”
While in many ways this was an ending, this is also a beginning for Golding, who finished his first season after being an assistant a year ago.
He offered a perspective that really captured the legacy of this unique and talented group.
“Obviously right now I’m disappointed to have lost the game,” Golding said. “This year with so many seniors it’s probably more disappointing than last year. They’re a fantastic group of girls. It has been an honor for me to coach them. What they’ve done is put the program in a really good place. There’s a lot of expectations to build the program after winning two FCIAC championships, so they have done tremendously well.”