CHESHIRE —The St. Joseph and East Lyme girls lacrosse teams will each find themselves in an unfamiliar situation on Saturday and they just couldn’t be happier.
Posting victories they will long remember, the Cadets and Vikings earned themselves berths in an event they’ve had their sights set on for quite some time — the state lacrosse final.
No. 13 St. Joseph advanced to its first state lacrosse finals, while third-seeded East Lyme moved on to its first state title game since 2006 and they did so with impressive victories at Cheshire High School on Monday evening.
Receiving four goals and four assists from junior Lily Ivanovich and 14 saves from senior Erin Owens, 13th-seeded St. Joseph eliminated top-seeded Guilford, 14-10, in the semifinal-round of the CIAC Class M Tournament. The Cadets, will face the Vikings in Saturday’s Class M championship game at Jonathan Law High School.
East Lyme moved on to the finals by registering a 9-4 win over No. 10 Masuk.
“St. Joseph never even made it to states until four years ago,” Cadets coach Leeland Gray said. “We made the semifinals in S Class two years ago and last year we got bumped up to M and we made it to the first round. It feels awesome to make it to the finals, after being in Class M for only two seasons.”
In Monday’s opening game, junior Kylie Lucifora and senior Annie McNeil each recorded hat tricks, while freshman Isabelle Casucci tallied twice to power the Cadets’ offense.
“Making it to the championship game feels better than we imagined, because we lost in the playoffs in the past, so that was our motivation – to make it to the finals,” Ivanovich said. “To know that we broke a school record by getting to the championship game is awesome.”
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Guilford, which trailed early, but rallied to tie St. Joseph at halftime, 6-6, was sparked by five goals from junior Catherine Larrow and three tallies from senior Maddie Constantino-Lyons.
“We played hard the whole season, I think the girls have worked really hard each game,” said Guilford coach Wendy Epke, whose squad finished its season at 16-3. “I know today is a bit of a disappointment. We’ll move and we’ll continue to work to get to the next level.”
In the evening’s opener, Ivanovich gave St. Joe the lead for good, weaving her way past a pair of defenders, before putting a shot past Indians freshman goalie Sydney Widlitz at the 23:43 mark of the second half. With St. Joseph running its settled offense, senior Jettke Gray converted a low shot, giving the Cadets an 8-6 lead with with 21:38 remaining in the second half.
Later in the half, McNeil made a free position shot and Ryan Camiglio tallied off a feed from Ivanovich, making it 11-6 with 14:34 to go in the second half.
Meanwhile, Owens was rock-solid in goal for the Cadets. She helped the victors keep the momentum by making key saves throughout.
“Defensively, we just talked well together and our great defensive players were listening to me,” Owens said. “We pushed for the whole game. We’re so excited and I’m just so happy to be there on Saturday and have a chance to play.”
Trailing 5-2, after Lucifora converted an 8-meter shot, Guilford rallied to even the score at 6-6 at halftime. Maddie Constantino-Lyons scored off a dodge, Nicole Tepley made a free position shot and Larrow tallied in transition to tie the score.
“Definitely our energy was off in the first half a little bit,” Larrow said. “We always say we are a second-half team, but it didn’t come together today. I’m really excited about next season. Moving forward, we’ll fix our first half a little bit and bring a lot of energy from this year.”
Widlitz made 12 saves in goal for the Indians. The Cadets had the possession edge in the second half and were sound defensively throughout.
“We went into the game knowing that the draw girl from Guilford was really good, so we had to work as a unit to get the ball to our side of the field,” Jettke Gray said. “Erin, our goalie, had an amazing game, which was also in our favor.”
In the second game, each East Lyme was propelled by four goals and overall outstanding play from senior midfielder Julia Bates. Goalie Maya Rose, a senior goalie, made five saves for the Vikings, who seized a 3-0 lead, before heading into halftime embroiled in a 3-3 tie. East Lyme’s defense was stellar from the start, holding the Panthers off the scoreboard until freshman Juliana Pagano tallied with 4:31 to go in the opening half.
“Four of our five defenders, including our goalie are seniors,” East Lyme coach Phil Schneider said. “They work hard together and that’s how we want to play. We want to make things difficult for our opponents and we don’t want them to get comfortable offensively.”
Masuk (12-8) got two goals from Pagano and one goal each from senior Jessica Pyrek-Bennett and junior Paige Jeliffe.
“It’s been a good season, we have a young team, we start three freshmen and we are looking to come back and make it to the finals next season,” Masuk coach Rob Troesser said. “Tonight, our age and inexperience showed a little bit. But it was a great season, one that we can definitely build off of.”
Scoring directly off the opening draw of the second half, Bates gave the Vikings the edge for good at 4-3 13 seconds into the second half. A man-up goal by junior Anna Johnson made it 5-3 at the 21-minute mark. A free position goal by Nancy Alden, a sophomore, put East Lyme up, 6-3 with 19:59 left to play.
“Right from the start, our communication was great and everyone stepped it up,” Bates said. “We had to come out with everything we had and we did. Our sliding was great and Maya was amazing in goal. It was really important for us to get the momentum from the start of the game.”
Masuk defeated Sacred Heart, then eliminated second-seeded Tolland to reach the semifinals. Junior goalie Juliana Henry stopped 10 shots for the Panthers.
“Our goalkeeper Henry is a key part of our success, she makes a save and we go the other way really quick,” Troesser said. “Our three captains were great leaders on and off the field.”
The game marked the end of the high school lacrosse careers of Masuk senior captains Molly Carriero, Pyrek-Bennett, Henry and Christina Moniz.
“We had an amazing season, I think we really came together as a team and improved toward the end of the season,” Carriero said. “We were working toward this game.”
Added Pyrek-Bennett: “The bond our team had was inseparable. This was the furthest our team has been in a while and I think next season they are going to do great as well. I’m glad I ended my senior year with this team.”
St. Joseph’s coach said playing in the FCIAC all season, prepared his team for the postseason.
“It’s like they used to say in the show ‘The Wide World of Sports,’ the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. One game you win and the next you could lose by a lot of goals. Playing in the FCIAC humbles you and teaches you how to win and lose, which is good.”
Said Masuk coach Troesser: “Hopefully, this tournament will spark us for next season. I think you are going to see the Masuk Panthers here again next year.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Bates was a huge difference-maker in the East Lyme-Masuk game. She provided an offensive boost in each half.
“Julia is our best player, she turned the tide in the second half, getting those goals and just being aggressive,” Schneider said.
Ivanovich was difficult to defend throughout during the Cadets’ triumph.
“Sometimes we tend to score off the drive and today, we scored off assists and we played honestly one of our most perfect games of the season,” Ivanovich said.