It seemed as if nothing was going to stop the St. Joseph girls soccer team as it tore through the second half of the season like a hot knife through butter, winning the FCIAC co-championship before rolling into the Class M state championship game on a 15-game unbeaten streak.
“We really came together as a team,” said junior defender Sabrina Toole, the FCIAC Player of the Year. “That’s what’s important.”
Unfortunately, the Cadets ran into a team even hotter than themselves.
Top-seeded Northwest Catholic continued its two-year run of dominance, getting two goals and one assist from senior Jessica Fountaine during a 4-1 victory over the sixth-seeded Cadets, capturing its second straight Class M state title while completing its second consecutive undefeated season Friday evening at Memorial Stadium’s Ray Snyder Field in Waterbury.
Northwest Catholic, which has gone 19-0-1 in each of the last two seasons, scored two goals in the first 20 minutes of the first half to take a 2-0 lead. Freshman Marissa Grasso pulled the Cadets to within 2-1 after converting a pass from standout freshman Jenna Bike with 28:58 left in the second half.
But Northwest Catholic scored another two goals over a seven-minute span late in the second half to put the game well out of reach.
The Indians have won three state titles in four years, including a co-championship with Suffield in 2009.
“They were just the better team tonight,” said St. Joseph head coach Jack Nogueira, whose team finished with a 18-3-2 overall record. “I think they possessed the ball a little better than us. When they scored their first two goals off our mistakes, we had to go out and chase the game. That opened up some more holes. It was a combination of us making a few mistakes and them capitalizing on them.”
St. Joseph had moments when they appeared to be the better team, dominating the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Cadets actually finished with a 14-13 advantage in shots. But Northwest was just a little faster, much more physical, and when it came time to put the ball in the net, the Indians were deadly.
“They finished their chances,” Toole said. “That was the difference.”
St. Joseph controlled the ball for the first few minutes. Then the Indians started showing off their great speed and passing ability, working the ball wide up the side of the field behind junior Michelle Medina and senior Anne Higgins.
Fontaine set up the first NWC goal, carrying the ball down the right side then curling toward the goal once she got to the end line, a move she used over and over all night. Fontaine then sent a pass out to the front of the net and Higgins banged it past St. Joseph goalie Molly Meehan for a 1-0 lead at the 3:11 mark.
Northwest Catholic made it 2-0 with 20:35 left before halftime as Fontaine converted a pass from Medina off a short corner kick by senior Emily Kearney.
The early two-goal lead made a St. Joseph comeback very unlikely.
“We always like to get out like that in the first half because we find it makes us more comfortable,” NW-Catholic head coach Todd Sadler said. “But we knew we would need four or five goals to beat this team because they well not quit, and they didn’t.”
St. Joseph proved that early in the second half, putting constant pressure on freshman goalie Kelsey Dornfried (6 saves) over the first 20 minutes.
Senior Katie Danaher had a couple of great attempts on direct kicks from 30 yards out, one of which was headed wide by Toole and another just grazed the top of the crossbar.
The Cadets finally broke through as Grasso took a pass from Bike out of the right corner and quickly banged it past Dornfried for the goal.
Despite eliminating St. Joseph 4-1 in last year’s Class M semifinals, the Indians feared taking on a motivated and talented team like St. Joseph.
“No matter the score last year, we never went into this game saying it was going to be easy,” Sadler said. “We knew they were one of the best teams in the state, and they played like it.”
One play summed up St. Joseph’s night, possibly its season. It happened with 27 minutes left in the second half. Medina got past Toole inside the St. Joseph zone after winning a 50/50 ball. That left Medina open for a 1-on-1 run at the goal. But Danaher came flying up out of the midfield, caught Medina from behind and blocked a shot on the right side.
The Cadets might have gotten out-run, and at times, out-played. But never out-worked.
“Every single girls on this team works hard,” Toole said. “That’s what we do. If someone drops back, we just pick her up and keep going.”
“They definitely worked hard,” Sadler agreed. “They didn’t stop playing hard until the final whistle.”
Fontaine scored to make it 3-1 with 18:27 left off a feed out of the right corner by Higgins.
Forced to produce offense, St. Joseph moved Bike from midfield to the front line along with junior All-New England forward Sam Grasso with 20 minutes left. Just a few minutes later, Toole joined the group for added punch.
While the move produced the potential for scoring, it also lightened the defense and the Indians took advantage, sealing the game on a goal by Bailey Julian with 11:58 left.
Dornfried, Northwest’s goalie, put the finishing touches on the championship victory with a brilliant one-handed diving save on Marissa Grasso with 6:30 left.
St. Joseph still has much to be proud of, reaching its third state title game in six years, doing it despite losing Sam Grasso for nine games this season with a leg injury.
With both Grasso sisters, Toole and Bike all coming back next season, don’t be surprised if the Cadets are right back in the finals.
“We’re very pleased with what we accomplished,” Nogueira said. “We won the FCIAC championship and reached the Class M finals, losing to a very good team. We only lose two senior starters. All our good players are coming back. So I’m looking forward to next year.”