By KEVIN ROBERTS
The No. 3 ranked Southington girls soccer entered the Class LL state tournament with high hopes. Those hopes and dreams were smashed on Nov. 7 when the Lady Knights were stunned at home by the No. 19 Simsbury Trojans.
One hundred minutes of play couldn’t break a scoreless tie in the second round matchup, and the game headed to penalty kicks. After the first round ended in a 2-2 tie, Simsbury outscored Southington 4-2 in the second round. When Sadie Leite connected on her penalty kick, the Trojans claimed a 6-4 PK victory.
“It’s hard for them, because they’ve worked so hard. They’re now going to think about what’s next,” coach Mike Linehan said. “I tried to help them understand that now it’s kind of moving forward and looking at what is next. The toughest thing is for the seniors.”
The second round loss was the final game for Southington seniors Olivia Sherwood, Logan Fischer, Alijah Vega, Gabrielle Fiora, Natalie Verderame and Gabriella Mondo. Vega, Verderame and Mondo were the captains on a team that went 15-1 in the regular season.
“To say that we got 15-1 is a great accomplishment,” Verderame said. “All the other years, like freshman year it was five wins. Sophomore year it was 10 wins, junior year was 11. This year was a great accomplishment.”
The great accomplishment was what Linehan wanted his team to focus on.
“I don’t want you to walk away thinking that you’ve lost. This is a season where you’ve actually won,” Linehan said. “If you look at it from beginning to end, what this program has done this year, they have got to be awfully proud.”
You could see the hurt in the eyes of the players and Linehan himself. Southington had major hopes and dreams going into the state tournament, but not all things have a happy ending.
“I told them that they’re going to learn a lot from today, and that’s the key. They’re going to learn a lot from today,” Linehan said. “It’s going to make them better, stronger, and more resilient about how they’re going to deal with adversity like this. That’s the life lesson today.”
Linehan and Simsbury coach Steve Jarvis know each other well. They work together at the Farmington Sports Arena, and Linehan knew what Jarvis’ plan would be.
“Steve had them all juiced up. His strategy was to apply a lot of pressure on us – we’re a little bit more technical than they are – and so he tried to take us out of our game,” Linehan said.
Southington did have some chances, including one in the final 35 seconds of regulation when a Shannon Litchfield shot was deflected off of the right post and out of bounds.
“We knew that this was going to be very competitive,” Linehan said. “We didn’t have as many chances as I would have liked today. I think that they did a nice job in just shutting us down a little bit.”
A little less than two minutes before Litchfield’s shot, Sherwood saved Southington’s season with an incredible diving knock-away of a Simsbury shot that was destined for the net.
“I said to her before the game, I said Liv, you’re going to have one of those moments, and she did,” Linehan said.
There weren’t many opportunities for either side in the two 10-minute overtime periods, and that meant the game would be decided on penalty kicks. Abby Sowa and Katherine Crouse scored for Southington in the opening round of five shots, but they were matched by Simsbury’s Kelley Clifford and Kathryn Rutledge. The Rutledge shot was the final one in the round for the Trojans. Simsbury freshman goalkeeper Madeline Brooks stopped the final Lady Knight attempt of the round.
“We knew going into the tournament that we needed to be penalty kick-ready,” Linehan said. “We practiced and practiced, and I was disappointed, I thought we could have won it in the first five. Those first five, during practice over the last few weeks, they hadn’t missed. It’s under pressure, they’re young kids, and they’re going to learn from it.”
In the second round, Verderame and Mondo scored for Southington. Simsbury’s goals came from Payton Arsenault, Devyn Latorre, Shannon Zeilman and Sadie Leite. The Lady Knights trailed 3-1 when Mondo scored, but Leite’s goal ended the game and the home team’s season.
The sting from the Simsbury loss will take time to go away, but the tremendous season, and the growth of the Southington girls soccer program, can’t be understated.
“I think it really shows the development of each of us seniors, also with our teammates over the past four years,” Verderame said. “I think it’s one of the perfect endings I could have asked for. Literally, starting from five [wins], to 10 [and 11], to 15, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”
Verderame thinks the players coming back next season will take the program to even higher places.
“They’re going to start where we left off, but go further than that,” Verderame said.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com