AVON >> For the third straight season, the Avon High field hockey team has captured the NCCC championship. The Falcons clinched the title with a dominating 3-0 win over Enfield on Monday.
The Falcons (11-2-2, 10-2 NCCC) was overwhelming in the game against Enfield, putting 26 shots on net. Caroline Schaefer, Rachel Moore and Kelsey Burton each scored goals for the Falcons while goalie Natalie Sawicki didn’t have to make a single stop to earn the shutout.
Granby had a chance to earn a piece of the championship but they dropped a 2-1 decision to Suffield on Monday. Granby (10-5, 9-3 NCCC) finishes in tie for second place with Canton (9-3-2-1, 8-2-1-1 NCCC), a team that won just two games a year ago. Suffield (11-3-0-1, 8-3-0-1 NCCC) was a close fourth with 17 points.
“Every win we got this year we had to work hard for,” Avon coach Terri Ziemnicki said. “Our conference this year has really jumped up. It was good to see the level of play go up this year.”
For Avon, another championship wasn’t a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the season with the loss of 10 seniors and an All-State midfielder. On opening day, Canton surprised the Falcons with a 1-0 victory.
Avon followed that with five straight wins but went through a three-game slump where the Falcons scored just one goal and went 0-1-2.
And then there was the death of Colleen Martin, the long-time Avon Middle School physical education teacher on October 11. A former junior varsity coach in the program, Martin had been coaching the middle school program for years. Many of the players on team played field hockey on the middle school team under Martin.
The team raised $600 in the past two weeks with bake sales in school and at games, including the Spirit Night game against Suffield last week.
On the field, the Falcons have been playing well. The win over Enfield was Avon’s sixth straight victory. Avon has outscored the opposition 17-0 in the last six games.
“We’re starting to put it together,” Ziemnicki said “It may be confidence. We’re beginning to trust each other. We’re focusing on being aggressive around the net.”
After dropping a 2-1 decision to Granby on Oct. 15, the Falcons began their resurgence with a 2-0 win over Somers. The next day, Avon faced Canton and it was a battle. The game was scoreless and went into overtime.
Avon defender Marissa Grillo, who will be attending Boston College next fall on a golf scholarship, came up the sideline and blasted a shot from about 50 yards away toward Canton goalie Natalie Nardello.
A Canton player touched the ball near the goal and Rachel Moore was there. Moore pounced on the ball and scored to give Avon the 1-0 overtime victory.
The next day, Avon traveled to Stonington and overwhelmed the Eastern Connecticut Conference champion Bears, 3-0. “We could have beaten any team that day,” Ziemnicki said. “We were that good.” It was just the second loss for Stonington (13-2).
Last week during Spirit Week in Avon, the Falcons hosted Suffield and earned a 1-0 victory. Both teams played quickly. As soon as the referee would blow their whistle signaling a change in possession, players on both teams would immediately begin moving the ball in the opposite direction.
“We want to play fast,” Suffield coach Dan Gatto said. “You want to keep the defense moving.”
That’s how Avon scored its goal. Off a restart near midfield, Shelly George took the ball down the left sideline in front of the Suffield bench. George passed the ball to her right to teammate Emily Stross, who drove to the goal line and then fired a ball across the crease.
The pass slipped past Suffield goalie Olivia Raum and right to Hagan, who was driving to the net. She got a stick on the ball to push it into the net for her third goal of the season.
“It was a great assist and setup by Emily,” Avon coach Terri Ziemnicki said.
“They are so skilled offensively,” Gatto said of Avon. “They are very good with the ball. They receive the ball well. And the big thing with them is that they don’t make mistakes (turn the ball over).”
Schaefer has scored three goals in this six-game winning streak while Stross and Grace have scored two goals each. Mia Weiler had three goals in a 7-0 win over Stafford.
Sawicki and her defense have posted six straight shutouts.
Suffield had a few offensive opportunities but the Falcons repelled them. About five minutes into the second half, the Cats hit the post on a shot. With about six minutes left in the game, Sawicki made a point blank save on a Suffield forward, kicking out the shot in a crowd of players.
The Class M tournament begins next Monday.
The last team to win three straight NCCC titles was Granby, which won four in a row from 1999 to 2002. The last NCCC team to win a championship with two losses was Avon in 1996.