WESTPORT — High seeds can sometimes come with added benefits in the postseason, as the Staples girls soccer team discovered this past week.
With 28 teams qualifying in Class LL, the top four seeds earned opening-round byes and an extra two days off.
That allowed the Wreckers, in the No. 2 position, additional time to both enjoy and come down from their FCIAC championship a week ago. Showing no dropoff in execution or intensity, they began their road to a third straight state final appearance with a 3-0 win over Brien McMahon.
Beattie gave the team a three-day weekend after its 1-0 win over St. Joseph for the conference title. Teams coming off league championships can find it difficult with the reboot. That did not happen today.
“I think that might have been the case if we played Tuesday,” said Staples coach Barry Beattie. “Luckily getting the bye in the first round helped us. By the time they came back Monday all the celebrations were gone. We had a good enough time to prepare for this one.”
Autumn Smith and Charlotte Brooks, both enjoying strong postseasons, accounted for the team’s first two scores. The third came on an own-goal by the Senators.
“I feel like we came out a little flat in the beginning but then we were able to raise our intensity and just play our game,” Smith said. “Take it game by game, win by win. So we don’t overthink it or get too cocky. It was really nice to have that week off.”
Staples (18-0-2), which remained unbeaten, almost struck early. Marlo Von der Ahe hit the crossbar and Lys Goldman put the rebound at goalkeeper Kayla Cocchia. The Wreckers scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 27th minute and it came on a patented high strike from distance by Smith, who delivered the ball beyond Cocchia’s reach.
“I pretty much just shoot it,” Smith said. “I just take my chances when I get them and they end up in the goal.”
Barnes, who had a four-goal performance the last time the Wreckers played at Wakeman Field, made it 2-0 in the 36th minute. Katie Ialeggio put a ball in the box that was cleared out to Barnes, who touched a shot just inside the right post.
Beattie scouted the Senators’ opening-round win against Trumbull and figured his team would be attacking a 5-4-1 alignment. He said the key would be attacking wide or from distance, which is how the Wreckers built their lead.
“Everything we worked on paid off. It was good,” Beattie said.
Staples closed out the scoring in the 50th minute. Katie Ialeggio hit a ball from the right corner in front of the goal. It struck a defender and trickled past Cocchia.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Beattie said. “We’re moving the ball well, we’re doing the right things. And the kids are enjoying themselves. They haven’t been put under any pressure from the sidelines. It’s nice to be able to stand back and watch them enjoy themselves in games. It’s fun.”
McMahon, which was seeded 15th, finished the year 11-8.
“We saw that draw and we knew we had a tough second matchup if we were lucky enough to get by the first round,” Senators coach Angelo Tsingerliotis. “I think they’re the best team in the state. I think they will go and win it. I think my girls played well. We came out with a plan and we executed it. They had the first nice shot but then I thought those other goals we could have stopped. When you have that many quality players it’s hard to compete with them but I thought my girls did a very good job.”
The loss marked the final game for McMahon star Peyton McNamara. She became the program’s leading scorer this season and the next step in her career is at Ohio State. McNamara nearly got a goal in her last appearance but she struck the crossbar when the score was 1-0.
“I love my career here,” McNamara said. “I’ve been part of four different and equally amazing teams. Every year was a different experience and I had such a great time.”