If the South-West Conference girls soccer tournament has taught us anything in recent years, it’s to expect the unexpected.
A perfect example of this is last year’s tournament, when fifth-seeded Barlow took down three higher-seeded teams — fourth-seeded Newtown in the quarterfinals, top-seeded Pomperaug in the semifinals and second-seeded Masuk in the final — to win its first SWC title since 2010.
The tournament once again features a deep and talented pool. Division leaders Immaculate and Newtown may be the obvious favories on paper, but that doesn’t always translate to success on the field. If there’s one certainty pertaining to this tournament, it’s this: Once Friday’s quarterfinal matches begin, you can take this and any other predictions and throw them all in the recycling bin. Because it’s anybody’s ball game, and the championship is there for the taking for whichever team can cobble together three straight victories against the best competition the SWC has to offer. Enjoy.
IMMACULATE: The top-seeded Mustangs rolled undefeated through the SWC, going a perfect 13-0-0 and out-scoring the other seven playoff teams by a combined 16-3 margin. That includes a 2-0 triumph over second-seeded Newtown on Oct. 17 which dealt the Nighthawks their first and only conference loss. The Mustangs are hungry for an SWC crown — they last won the title in 2012, and have won two state titles in the years since. Do they have the horse-power necessary to make the drive to the title this year? We’ll find out. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior goalkeeper Kristen Roessler. With the possibility of overtime and penalty-kick shootouts added to the equation in the playoffs, the goalkeepers become even more important. And Immaculate has a good one in Roessler, an NSCAA All-New England selection last year. Immaculate has allowed only seven goals all season, and Norwich Free Academy was the only team to score more than once when it won a 2-0 decision on Sept. 16.
NEWTOWN: As was already mentioned, the second-seeded Nighthawks’ only conference loss was to Immaculate. They played to a 2-2 tie with sixth-seeded Weston on Sept. 28, and beat everyone else in the conference. Amazingly, Newtown has not won a conference title since the SWC’s inception in 1995, a fact made even more amazing considering the Nighthawks have won two Class LL state titles — in the state’s largest class — in that same time. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior midfielder Sarah Houle. An All-State selection last year, Houle is a catalyst on a potent offense.
MASUK: The Panthers dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to Barlow in last year’s SWC final, and they haven’t won a title since their run of four straight from 2006-09. They earned the fifth seed this year, going 7-3-3 in-conference, which includes losses to Weston, Immaculate and Newtown and ties with Brookfield, Barlow and Notre Dame-Fairfield. PLAYER TO WATCH: Sophomore forward Kacey Lawrence. An All-State player last year as a freshman who has reportedly committed to the University of Michigan, Lawrence scores goals in bunches.
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD: The fourth-seeded Lancers suffered two conference losses, to Newtown and Immaculate, and tied Masuk, Bethel and Pomperaug. They’ve never even played in an SWC championship match despite winning back-to-back state titles. And their quarterfinal match against fifth-seeded Masuk, set for Saturday morning at 11 on the turf at the Park Avenue Field, has the potential to be a heck of a battle. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior Katie Ciufo is one of the Lancers’ top scoring threats and, as a four-year varsity performer, is a link to the Lancers’ state championship teams of 2015 and 2016.