Field Hockey

Staples Overcomes Slow Start To Defeat Wilton And Remain Unbeaten

Staples’ Kyle Kirby scores in the first half against Wilton. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

WESTPORT — Thirteen times today in the first half the Staples field hockey team set up for penalty corners. There were five different variations as players geometrically rotated.

And each time shots were either blocked, saved, rolled wide of their mark or never were attempted because of a penetrating defender.

“It was kind of frustrating,” said the Wreckers’ Laine Ambrose. “A lot of times the ball would rebound out and there was nobody there to hit it back in. In the second half we tried to get all the rebounds and that worked a lot better.”

Staples, the last remaining unbeaten team in the league, despite constant pressure fell behind for just the second time this year as Wilton capitalized on one of its rare attacks. But the Wreckers were able to equalize before halftime and then finally made their connections work, scoring three more times for a 4-1 win.

Kyle Kirby is congratulated by her Staples teammates after scoring. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Though Staples’ effort went unrewarded early, the way it controlled possession made the eventual outcome feel inevitable.

“There’s a very specific way of taking those corners and one of the things we teach the girls is the rebounds, and for some reason we weren’t getting the rebounds and the shots were going straight to the goalie,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “It was a little tough. I knew if we kept the pressure going in the circle things would break and it worked out.”

Ambrose, enjoying a sensational sophomore season, scored twice for Staples (11-0). Kyle Kirby added one goal and one assist, while Julia DiConza also scored.

“The hardest part with the girls is keeping their shoulders up, keeping their heads up, keeping them going and playing the way they’re playing,” Tapsall said. “If they start thinking that the way they are playing isn’t working then we’re not as effective. I thought after that we played very well.”

Staples’ Julia DiConza looks for an open teammate. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

The Wreckers have been a juggernaut this season despite starting just two seniors. There were 2-1 wins over both Darien, in the opener, and Greenwich. In their remaining games they have outscored opponents 72-2.

Wilton scored 61 times in jumping out to a 10-0 start, but have now lost twice in three days, following a 4-1 defeat to Greenwich.

Still, it was the Warriors who struck first on one of their initial attacks. Nina Sylvester finished a beautiful setup from Maddie Schattenfield.

“The goal they scored was really tough on us and we needed to come back and settle and I think we did quite well,” Tapsall said.

Kirby finally came through on one of the many second-chance opportunities with 5:21 remaining in the half.

Wilton’s Kim Castano prepares to set up a play. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

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Kirby is the catalyst to the Wreckers’ attack, and their deft ball movement and stick skills make them extremely difficult to defend.

“If we stay with our system we have extremely quick forwards,” Tapsall said. “If we can get it to the forwards something is always going to happen, and we have Kyle Kirby working in the middle. She’s the engine. Laine has superb skill and Elle Fair does a great job.

Tapsall set his defense to stop Emma Rothkopf, who recently became Wilton’s career scoring leader, and Olivia Hahn.

“We sorted out our marking in the middle because they have two very effective players,” Tapsall said.

Staples did a much better job with their chances after the break. Cooper had a beautiful one-touch off a feed from Kirby less than 90 seconds into the half for the go-ahead goal. Ambrose completed the scoring, once on a well-placed shot from far out.

Wilton’s Cassidy Costello tries to block a shot by Staples’ Lainey Ambrose. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“We changed up some of our corners. We did something different and it ended up working out,” Ambrose said.”We executed it well. We just all thought we really want to win, it’s our home field and we haven’t lost a game yet this year.”

Wilton coach Liz Pisko said she saw more positives than negatives.

“It was a tough game,” Pisko said. “It stings but playing tough teams makes us stronger. Competition is good. I feel like we came out strong in the first half and our girls were connecting and we were moving the ball down the field well and getting shots off. The second half they outplayed us a little bit.”

The Wreckers have four games left before the postseason, including Norwalk and Ridgefield, which will almost certainly join them in the eight-team field.

Wilton’s Cassidy Costello prepares to make a pass. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“I never imagined going into a season this far undefeated,” Ambrose said. “It’s really crazy.”

The Wreckers won the state title last year but have not won the conference championship since 2011.

“I think we’ve got the momentum and then we have to reestablish because with the FCIAC playoffs and then the state playoffs it’s a really lucky bounce here or there, and we’ve done that before,” Tapsall said. “We’ve been pretty consistent but what I’d like to do is win the remaining games and we will take the FCIACs as it comes.”

Staples’ Kyle Kirby takes a shot off against a Wilton defender. (Photo: Mark Conrad)