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Girls' Soccer Looks To Build On Post-Season Surge!
When a coach enters from outside a program, there is an adjustment period when they get to know their new team. Cheshire High School head coach Andrew Ashworth learned a great deal from how his girls’ soccer team handled adversity last year.
For the first time in years, the Lady Rams dropped the final three games of the regular season. Instead of letting the season slip away, Cheshire (15-5-2; 5-2-1 in Housatonic Division) responded with a five-game win streak. The post-season run included the school’s sixth Southern Connecticut Conference Tournament title, upsetting Housatonic rival Shelton 1-0, and 2-1 marathon victory (13-11 in penalty kicks) at Amity. They finally came up short 3-1 in the Class LL quarterfinals at Newtown.
“It felt like a really big accomplishment because I will admit there was one time in the season where I’m like ’oh, our record is going down the drain right now.’ We usually have a really good record with straight wins, but it felt really good to come back and win that championship and make it far in states,” reflected Jenna Hart, the senior captain with Kelsie Carlette. “So, I think knowing that, it will push us to go further this year.”
Ashworth is similarly excited for this season.
“It (last year) was a first for me taking so long off between the seasons. There has been a lot of reflection on the program,” stated Ashworth. “It’s easier this year because I know everybody’s name now. The team is similar except for the (four) girls we graduated. We picked the varsity team pretty quickly.”
The girls and coaching staff still miss the contributions of graduated captains Sarah Domschine (University of Saint Joseph), Theresa Fitzpatrick, Nikki Iadarola, and Elena Manke.
“It’s pretty tough. It’s definitely hard to try and find someone to replace each of their positions because they all helped in a special way, but I think we’ll be able work through it,” said Hart.
“We definitely have a lot of underclassmen to step up and fill their positions, but it is going to be tough adjusting,” added Carlette. “We just have to practice, play a few more games, and get in the swing of things.”
The future is bright with a strong sophomore class. Kacey Conlon, Kathleen Castrilli, Alicia Gray, Alexandra Pelletier, and Victoria Schoenwald all return varsity experience. Classmate Hannah Perez is back after missing last season due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
“It really hit home for me how good our freshman class was last year,” reflected Ashworth. “Having Hannah back is like having a new player. She is a great addition to the squad. She has performed well, so far.”
“Definitely having the experience as a freshman is always good,” said Hart. “The fact that we’re a really close team this year, I think no one has a problem talking to one another or telling someone what to fix. So, even the sophomores speak up, which is really good.”
Ashworth chose his captains for the leadership they showed last year. Carlette, a starter since freshman year, faced adversity personally in 2011. She suffered her second ACL injury at the end the regular season, but unlike her freshman year, she chose to play through it and finish the season.
“It was tough,“ reflected Carlette. “I wore two braces, but I definitely wanted to play with my team in the final games of the season and put forth an effort just for the team. I pushed through. I’m glad I did.”
Carlette assisted on the lone goal from classmate Nicole Stauffer (SCC Most Outstanding Player) in the SCC Final at East Haven. She also netted the tying goal of Class LL second round at Amity. Carlette finished as the team leader in goals (10), assists (eight), and points (28). She received All-Class LL, All-Housatonic, and team MVP.
“She had a lot of frustration at the end of last year and handled it amazingly well. It was one of the big reasons I gave her captain,” stated Ashworth.
Carlette had surgery after the fall season, causing her to miss her ski and lacrosse seasons. She is moving without any problems this fall.
“It’s good to be back on the field with everyone. I think we’re going to click this year and do good things,” said Carlette.
She has moved from forward into the mid-field, joining Hart. After battling injuries as a sophomore, Hart (goal, two assists) had her best season as a full-time starter last year.
“She is definitely one of the most vocal players in the program. Jenna is calm with the team and makes them smile,” stated Ashworth. “Kelsie leads by example. There will be times when she plays more up the field this year.”
Player movement results from the departure of Iadarola and Manke, both four-year varsity players and three-year starters. Iadarola, an All-Housatonic Division forward who had a career-best 10 goals and five assists in 2011, had three game-winners against Guilford (2-0), host Amity (2-1), and Bristol Eastern (1-0; Class LL First Round). After not scoring as a junior, Manke posted 21 points (eight goals, five assists). Her first hat trick led Cheshire past Sheehan 5-2.
“Nikki really picked up her teammates. Despite her size, she didn’t back down from anybody on the field,” recalled Ashworth. “Elena played in the mid-field and at forward. Her versatility helped us a lot last year.”
Cheshire is filling those positions with upperclassmen and sophomores. Stauffer, the team’s tallest player, started last year at center mid-field with Hart, but was later moved up the field. Ashworth believes she can increase her point total (two goals and assists each) this year.
“Nicole finished off the season strong. We had more success with her playing wider,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth looks for strong contributions from junior Lily Dolyak (two goals) and senior Claudia Martinez (goal and assist), who both came off the bench last season. Dolyak was clutch in last year’s SCC semifinal at top-seeded Sacred Heart Academy, netting the decisive penalty kick (3-0) in a 2-1 win. Cheshire was seeded fifth in SCC.
“I’ve spoken to Lily about her being a big part of what we are trying to do in this program. She is very coachable. Her attitude last year impressed me and her fitness has improved,” stated Ashworth. “We sat down with Claudia in the first week and she wanted to compete for her spot this year. She is technically very good and strikes the ball really well. She has an excellent long distance shot. She is becoming a mid-fielder for us in the center.”
Not only did Pelletier start last year at forward, but she was also selected All-Housatonic. Her speed and aggressiveness resulted in five goals and three assists.
“Ally isn’t afraid of failure and puts pressure on the defense with the dribble,” explained Ashworth. “She is always running and will be big for us again this year.”
Castrilli added four goals and an assist last year. She was credited with the game-winner of the 1-0 win over host Guilford in the SCC quarterfinals.
“Kathleen looks good and sharp. I think she will give us a boost off the bench,” said Ashworth.
Schoenwald, who brought up to varsity mid-way through last season, offers more speed in the mid-field. Juniors Erin Albrecht and Leah Chamberlin also return varsity experience coming back.
Senior Lauren Como, a stellar starting back for the last two years, has been pushed up into the mid-field, a position she knows well from playing premier soccer.
“Lauren wanted to be in the mid-field last year, but the main thing for her was to play in games and she was tremendous as our center back,” explained Ashworth. “The plan right now is to have her in the mid-field this year.”
Classmate Lizzie Jentzen remains a part of the varsity defense for the third straight year. Como and Jentzen both had assists in 2011.
“Lizzie will be our organizer of the back four,” said Ashworth.
Domschine is currently starting at Saint Joseph, but junior Ally Lamberti has started games in her first two years. She supplied a goal and two assists last fall. Conlon (two assists) and Gray also both broke into the lineup as freshmen. Perez has been inserted as the starter at right back.
“Ally impressed me at the end of last season,” reflected Ashworth. “When I look at Kacey, she has grown in stature. I see Alicia coming off the bench right now in the back.”
The back four will aid junior goalkeeper Natalie Reynolds. After classmate Darien Dunham transferred from CHS to Cheshire Academy last year, Reynolds became the starter and improved throughout the year. Her breakthrough culminated in the team’s five-game win streak during which she gave up just two goals. Reynolds posted shutouts against Guilford, Shelton, and Bristol Eastern.
“One of the biggest things we emphasize with goalies is confidence. (Retired Assistant) Pete (Case) and I talked to her about having faith and she responded in a big way,” explained Ashworth.
In the remaining two wins of the post-season, Reynolds came away victorious in penalty kicks at Sacred Heart Academy and Amity. The latter game took two hours and 55 minutes, with the 14-seeded Lady Rams finally topping the Spartans (third).
“It was indescribable. There are no words to explain it,” reflected Carlette.
Ashworth, who didn’t practice penalty kicks last year, tries not to get over excited about them. While not playing at Amity, senior back-up goalie Catherine Pearsall was used in penalty kicks. She made both of her shots, including the game-winner. Pearsall was chosen for the Smitty Award, but didn’t return this season.
“In penalties, you either win or lose. It comes down to having fortune and execution. We stayed alive in both tournaments (SCC, Class LL),” stated Ashworth. “I was delighted with how the girls came together in the SCC. The Guilford game was difficult for us in the snow and cold. The Sacred Heart game went to penalty kicks and the Shelton game was tight, too.”
Cheshire won the final meetings against Guilford, Shelton, and Amity after intense series in the regular season. They split 2-0 home wins with Guilford before winning the SCC quarterfinals. Amity was the first team to defeat the Lady Rams 1-0, but Cheshire came back to beat them twice in Woodbridge. CHS tied Shelton 1-1, also on a goal from Iadarola, but this time, they lost a heartbreaker 2-1 away from home. The victory was Shelton’s first division title since 2000 and stopped a four-year reign for the Lady Rams.
“We were disappointed to allow the last-minute goal at Shelton, but it was emotional to knock them off in the SCC title game,“ recalled Ashworth. “I wouldn’t swap our season with Amity, Shelton, or Guilford.”
Cheshire has still won seven Housatonic crowns in the last nine years. Amity (Sept. 21, Oct. 9), Shelton Oct. 1 and 17), Sheehan (Sept. 28, Oct. 15), and Lyman Hall (Oct. 3 and 19) stand in the way of regaining the championship.
For the second straight year, Cheshire opens with a visit to Guilford on Tuesday at 7 p.m. They host them to end the regular season Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. CHS also meets Daniel Hand (Sept. 14, Oct. 6), Hamden (Sept. 18, Oct. 22), and Wilbur Cross/Hillhouse/Career (Sept. 26, Oct. 12) outside their division.
In submitted photo above, Carlette (left) and Hart (right) were named captains at the end of last season. Bottom photo of Pelletier was taken by Al Valerio/Cheshire Herald.