All of the Westhill girls soccer team’s high hopes of reaching the FCIAC championship game for the first time ever and perhaps even winning a title took a glancing blow during the first three days of the season.
Despite a strong preseason that buoyed their belief, the Vikings opened with consecutive shutout losses to Fairfield Warde and New Canaan.
“I think we were a little overconfident in ourselves,” said Heidi Druehl, the team’s outstanding center back. “We didn’t realize how tough the other teams were going to be. I was a little concerned but I believed in our team.”
So did the Vikings’ coach, Dave Flower, who amid the disappointment saw reasons for optimism.
“They were all kind of down and a little shell-shocked,” Flower said. “But we didn’t play that poorly. Warde they played really well and we had chances to score. The goal was an own-goal. New Canaan we didn’t take a lot of chances.”
Westhill regrouped, made some tactical changes and hasn’t lost since. Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Stamford was the team’s 10th in a row. It has outscored opponents, 32-5, during that streak.
“Ever since those first two games we have really picked things up,” Druehl said. “We started talking more to each other and picked things up. We focused more on playing with intensity.”
The attention on the Vikings has been directed at Druehl and Jess Laszlo, four-year starters who are both headed next year to the University of Connecticut. Druehl is considered one of the state’s best defenders and Laszlo, who had a hat trick against Stamford, one of the most dangerous scorers.
But you don’t win championships in the FCIAC with just two players. Rachel Benz, Ellie Grafstein and Claire Miolene have been mainstays. Zhenna Stewart is a veteran goalkeeper. And Druehl’s sister, Natalie, a sophomore, has stepped into the role at center midfield after moving from the back row.
“It is helpful that we have kids who played on the varsity for four years,” Flower said. “They understand what needs to be done.”
Two other major reasons for success has been a move with Heidi Druehl and the continued emergence of sophomore Chelsea Domond.
Flower switched Druehl from the right side to the middle, he said, at her suggestion.
“I thought I would have a more central view of the field,” Druehl explained. “I think I can see everything and control everything back there, and help from a vocal point.”
Meanwhile, Domond has taken a lot of the pressure off of Laszlo, who has drawn the steady attention of one or two defenders trying to deny her the ball. Laszlo and Domond have accounted for a majority of the Vikings’ goals, and Laszlo now gets many more touches than in the past.
“I don’t really remember the last time Jess was man-marked,” Flower said. “Chelsea has been phenomenal. If you mark Jess then Chelsea is wide open.”
Westhill has climbed into the fourth spot in the FCIAC standings, but still has something to prove. There are four games left in the regular season, and the final three are against St. Joseph, Ridgefield and Staples, which are currently, respectively, in the first, third and fifth seeding positions.
“The schedule is the schedule and you have to play who is in front of you,” Flower said when asked if he would have preferred not to play so many top teams in succession heading into the playoffs.
Druehl said she and the rest of the Vikings were confident their recent play would continue.
“We have to keep a positive attitude and make sure we have a competitive attitude,” Druehl said. “We really want this.”