NORWALK — “No Co” has been the motto for Staples’ field hockey team this fall.
As in no co-championship, the position the Wreckers found themselves in following last year’s scoreless tie with Darien in the state final.
To adopt those four letters, the Wreckers had to possess the utmost confidence in their ability to position themselves to return to the title game. The prospects seemed daunting when they suffered a heartbreaking one-goal loss to Wilton in the opening round of the FCIAC Tournament, a difficult draw that was the result of a late-season two-game losing streak.
When the field for the Class L playoffs was revealed, there were the Warriors again waiting in the opener. Staples this time came away with a one-goal victory, followed by another in the quarterfinals against Cheshire.
That led to tonight’s Final Four meeting against Greenwich, which handed the Wreckers their worst loss of the regular season. Led by an outstanding effort from Christine Taylor, which included a pair of first-half goals off penalty corners, Staples advanced with a 2-0 win over the Cardinals.
And a rematch with Darien in Saturday’s championship is all that is left between the Wreckers and making good on their preseason motivating phrase.
“The beginning of the season was tough losing two key players, but we have a big senior class and this team has a lot of heart,” Taylor said. “We know we can win this with the talent that we have.”
Taylor was fantastic, and her offensive contributions may have been secondary to a tireless effort all over the field.
“She’s outrageous,” said Staples coach Ian Tapsall, offering a pretty apt description. “It was tremendous. I think she was pretty keyed up for this game to tell you the truth. She’s up and down all over the field and she leads by example, which is all you want in a captain like that. She could come out of the defense with the ball. She doesn’t get knocked off the ball, she clears it, she gets it to our players, she leads from the back. Superb performance for her.”
Taylor proved pretty adept at finishing as well, making good on a pair of plays started by Elle Fair. On the first, the seventh-seeded Wreckers (14-3-0-1) worked the ball in the circle. It ended up on the stick of Taylor, whose first shot was stopped by Greenwich goaltender Emily Gunzberg. Taylor pounced on the rebound and scored.
“Going over film yesterday I knew that lifting the ball, especially on this turf, is essential so both my goals were lifted,” Taylor said. “Getting it off early and up in the air was key. And keeping composure and getting it past the goalie when she was on the ground. I knew I had to get it by her. She’s really good.”
On the second, with 2:45 left in the half, Taylor bounced a long shot into the far left corner of the goal.
“I came in very nervous and so did half the team,” Taylor said. “We were definitely amped but coming out of a loss to them in the regular season, I didn’t know what to expect. But we are a different team since we played them early on.”
Taylor’s goals were scored on different plays called by Tapsall.
“We always try to hit first,” he explained. “You can actually see the way their defense runs out. If they favor one side then you have to try and get the ball counter to that side and open up a gap. I told her for that second one that they were running out to our left side and to try and walk it in if she could.”
Greenwich (17-4), the No. 3 seed, won the FCIAC regular-season title, no small feat considering the quality and depth at the top of the league. The Cardinals did not play poorly tonight, but they were unable to take advantage of their chances early in the game, when they had an advantage in possession time.
“We played a really good game, we forced some corners and the ball just didn’t bounce our way on those corners,” Greenwich coach Ally Orrico said. “We had a lot of opportunities there and I think the game was a lot closer.”
Orrico said she was pleased with the Cardinals’ accomplishments.
“It’s always disappointing to lose but I’m really proud of these girls,” Orrico said. “They grew so much this season from day one. The only thing we asked of them is they get better every week and they went above and beyond that.”
Tapsall said part of the Wreckers’ strategy was to contain Zoe Metalios, one of the Cardinals’ primary scoring threats.
“Alex Moro and Christine had to switch off on her and they were pretty disciplined,” Tapsall said. “You’ve seen us play the 50-yard trap. If you keep it tight it doesn’t give the opposition much chance to get the ball through and it worked pretty well.”
Now the Wreckers get to meet Darien with the goal of an outright title.
“Love it. I can’t wait,” Tapsall said. “It will be great. It’s a classic encounter between the two teams that were in it last year so we can’t wait to play them.”