WESTPORT — There were graduation losses, a limited preseason and now an abbreviated regular season. Except for a hot goaltender — as witnessed today and with unsustainable success — nothing has yet to slow the Staples field hockey team.
Picking up about a month later than expected from a year ago, when they won the FCIAC title and then a fourth straight state championship, the Wreckers are 3-0 following this afternoon’s 7-0 win over Wilton.
“It was really exciting,” said Wreckers star Laine Ambrose, who scored the third goal and was a key part of the quick ball movement in the circle that challenged Wilton’s defense. “Like we said this is where our season starts, playing one of our rivals finally. We just wanted to bring everything today.”
After outscoring Danbury, 24-0, over two games, Staples today began a stretch of home-and-home series against playoff teams from a year ago.
And the Wreckers might have put up double figures for a third straight time if not for the spectacular effort of Wilton goaltender Michelle Prario, who made 19 saves, often in acrobatic fashion.
“We kept the pressure up the entire game,” Ambrose said. “In the beginning it was a little slow. We knew they had a really good goalie. We knew if we kept taking shots and putting the ball in the circle we’d eventually get goals.”
And Staples, which did not score until 11:30 had elapsed and led by just 2-0 at halftime, did indeed wear down the Warriors.
“Playing against a team like Wilton, you have to make sure you play different girls and work the ball between each other,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “In the first half we were just crowding the circle. I must admit I said I wanted to crash the ball into the circle to see if we got deflections but it wasn’t working out. They had two solid defenders. Plus the goalie, so it wasn’t working, so we changed things up in the second half with give-and-gos and we were more patient at the top of the circle, and that worked out.”
Most of Staples’ success was due to dogged persistence. Prario often made an initial save only to have the Wreckers convert off of rebounds.
Ambrose said the expectation was solving Prario would be difficult so it was important to overwhelm the defense.
“We pretty much expected that to happen but we knew that the goals would come,” Ambrose said. “We had some really good shots. We knew it would come eventually even if it was frustrating at the beginning.”
Julia DiConza scored the first two goals for Staples, which exploded in the second half and got goals from five different players: Ambrose, Lily Harrington, Francine Stevens, Jess Leon and Abby Ragland.
“You’ve got to get people to move laterally until you make a pass into a seam,” Tapsall said. “We’ve got a lot of speed up front and we have Laine at the top of the diamond who can do anything with the ball. I just want to get give-and-gos working more, I want to get running off the ball working more. But our control and speed were great. From one 25 to the other 25 we are really good. We just have to work it out at the top 25.”
After a rematch with Wilton comes the games the Wreckers are most excited about, against rising Ridgefield. The first is next Friday at Tiger Hollow.
For now, Tapsall has been using the one-sided games to develop his team.
“The great thing is you get into a position where you can bring in your underclassmen too,” he said. “We’ve got a nice bunch, with four freshmen on the team, some sophomores. What I’ve seen from the team I expected. They are playing really well. It’s a shame it’s an abridged season, but the next few games, the one against Wilton and especially the ones with Ridgefield, are going to be really important for us.”