The SWC proved to be a top-heavy conference this fall as four teams eclipsed the 30-point mark with another right behind with 27.
Will that form hold true into the postseason? A lower seed always manages to spring an upset or two. One of those this year is the defending champion — Brookfield.
All of the heavy hitters — Barlow, Bethel, Masuk, Newtown and New Milford — have notched quality wins against one another, leaving the playing field quite even for the postseason. Brookfield, Pomperaug and Weston round out the field out of eight, and odds are at least one upset will take place along the way.
Let’s break down each of the top contenders ahead of Friday’s and Saturday’s quarterfinals.
BARLOW: Not just because the Falcons (12-2-1) are the No. 1 seed heading into the tournament, but because they possess an ability to possess the ball in the face of high pressure. Always in the discussion when the postseason rolls around, the Falcons are one of several SWC squads high in the state rankings. PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Warren. The pressure of the playoffs can affect just about every player, but with the ball at the talented midfielder’s feet, that should help the Falcons get on their way.
NEW MILFORD: The Green Wave have come on strong after a slow start, winning their last eight games. New Milford cemented its status as a title contender with a 1-0 win over Barlow in a non-league game Monday. A tough quarterfinal against Bethel awaits, a rematch of a 2-1 Wildcats win on opening day. PLAYER TO WATCH: Shane Fedigan. The forward is capable of turning a game on its head.
BETHEL: Ravaged by injuries to several of its top stars, the Wildcats have weathered that to claim the No. 4 seed and a 12-2-2 record. Bethel went 8-0-1 to close the season and hopes to have players back at some point this postseason. PLAYER TO WATCH: Gabe Carrijo. The defender is a leader from the back and dangerous on set pieces.
MASUK: A massive turnaround for the Panthers began with a run in the Class L tournament a year ago. Masuk has gone 14-1-1 this season, knocking off a number of the other top clubs along the way. Experience is the Panthers’ biggest strength with 15 seniors. PLAYER TO WATCH: Ryan Winkler. One of the few non-seniors to see the field for the Panthers, the forward scored twice in a 2-1 win over Newtown earlier this season.
NEWTOWN: Have jumped into the elite pack under first-year coach Nick Booth. A strong defense — led by goalie Cam Trivers — is the biggest reason for the leap. PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Oltran: The center forward’s movement off the ball has been spectacular for the Nighthawks this season, as has ability to finish from a variety of angles. Also opportunistic when necessary, Oltran can pounce on the slightest mis-touch from a defender.