WILTON — The seniors on the Staples girls soccer team made it their quest this fall after going 0 for 3 in championship games to make sure their careers did not end empty-handed.
So when the moment finally arrived tonight after a hard-fought and intelligently played 1-0 win over St. Joseph for the FCIAC title, the Wreckers showed they were prepared for the moment, but not how to celebrate it.
As the players posed for team pictures, they were beckoned by Dave Schulz, the league commissioner, who was holding an item of some import: their trophy.
“We were just all over the moon,” said Mia Gonzalez. “I have no words, I’m completely speechless.”
The Wreckers in general and Gonzalez in particular let their play speak volumes. Autumn Smith provided the lead with a goal in the 47th minute and they cleverly held it. The Wreckers did not sit back and let the Cadets repeat attacks and did not take needless risks that would leave them exposed.
“Our defense was really solid all around the field and we’ve been focusing on that, especially against a team like that where every single person on their team is very explosive and very fast,” Gonzalez said. “We made our goal to stay hard on tackles and we did.”
Gonazlez, the Wreckers’ brilliant center back who would be a candidate for conference player of the year if such an award existed, will gladly settle for the MVP plaque she earned and that also was nearly left behind with the championship trophy.
“She’s been prepared,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said. “She’s been watching videos all week. Watching the last performance and seeing what we could do to improve. A player like that, and the four captains that I have, they set the tone, but Mia was a well-deserved MVP.”
Gonzalez appeared to win every 50-50 ball that came her way. She also helped orchestrate the lone goal. She delivered a perfect set piece from about 40 yards into the middle of the box. The ball got headed to the right side and Smith played it in the air and was able to sneak it by St. Joseph goalkeeper Gracy Hickey.
“It was a nice little cool finish,” Beattie said. “The last time our kids came off the field a little shell-shocked at the intensity St. Joe’s gave. They knew they were going to give the same tonight so my message was we have to better their intensity. When that one chance arrives we have to take it and Autumn took it big-time.”
That primer came 17 days earlier, when the Wreckers lost a 1-0 lead and played to a draw with the Cadets, who won the battle of vigor.
“When we played them during the regular season we were up and we had some stupid plays and it ended up getting to a tie,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve really been working on that these last couple of games, game management, getting it to corners in the last couple of minutes. We did it this game.”
That tie also ended a round robin between the two teams and Ridgefield, who remarkably all made it to the semifinals without a loss. The Wreckers (17-0-2) are the ones that maintained that status after winning the regular-season title by virtue of one less tie.
The Wreckers won their first league championship since 2014, which was a share. Their last outright title was 24 years ago.
Staples is a senior-laden team and those players shined during the postseason. Marisa Shorrock, who returned to the program after two years away, had a big game in goal — aided once by the crossbar — matching Hickey, who was similarly brilliant. The Wreckers were a team without weakness and it showed.
They needed to summon that resolve because the Cadets (15-1-3), with just one senior, gave another strong effort.
“I thought it was a pretty evenly played game,” St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira said. “I thought it was unfortunate that they scored the way that they scored but give them credit, they played hard and competed. We played well. In these types of games, we knew it was going to be a close game and tonight we just fell a little bit short, that’s all. We’ve got to regroup and look to states and hopefully we can get another chance at them.”
There no doubt will be some more rematches between the league’s elite programs over the next two weeks in the Class LL Tournament. But tonight was about making good on a goal, which greatly pleased the Wreckers’ coach.
“I’m delighted for them because they’ve suffered,” Beattie said. “They’ve suffered over the past few couple of years in losing these big moments, they’ve suffered over journalists reminding them of it for the last few years, they’ve suffered but they kept the mentality and used it for motivation. To see these seniors get the first one and to work that hard against such a powerful team, I think I can be really proud of my team tonight and we should have a good run in states.”