STRATFORD — A year ago, the East Lyme girls soccer team didn’t even qualify for the Class L state tournament.
This year, behind a sturdy defense, not only did the Vikings make the state tournament, they will be playing on the final day of the girls soccer season.
No. 13 seed East Lyme pitched its fourth straight shutout of the Class L tournament, defeating No. 8 Sheehan 1-0 Tuesday night in the semifinals at Bunnell High.
“I’ve always believed in these girls, even last year when we didn’t have the best season of our lives,” East Lyme coach Rachel Redding said.
The Vikings (13-5-3) have reached their first state final since 1998. They will try to win that elusive initial state championship on Saturday against No. 6 Guilford at a site and time to be determined.
“We work hard every day, tweaked the things that need to be tweaked. This doesn’t surprise me,” Redding said.
East Lyme managed that fourth straight shutout – and second straight against a team from the Southern Connecticut Conference (beat Mercy in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals) – despite the number of shots Sheehan (13-5-3) was able to get off.
The Titans were able to come up with 17, to East Lyme’s three. But many of those chances were right at East Lyme goalkeeper Avery Owen (11 saves).
“I always know my girls will back me up,” Owen said. “I do feel confident with them in front of me. We know how losing felt and didn’t want to feel that again.”
And even the ones Owen knocked away, the Titans couldn’t get any shots off on their six corner kicks in the half and 10 overall
“And they had what, 500 corner kicks? Guess what we will be working on? Not giving up corner kicks,” Redding said.
Said Sheehan coach Rob Huelsman: “You’ve got to put one away. They were hungrier, that’s all. … Don’t get me wrong, we battled all through the season and we did a great job in the tournament. I’m proud of the whole team. But when it comes down to scoring goals, they scored one and we didn’t, it becomes a sad moment.”
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East Lyme scored on its first shot of the second half. Alivia Catanzaro scored off a scrum in front of the Sheehan net in the 57th minute. Margaret Dunne had the assist.
“All season we have been working the back post and Alivia was there back post she did what she had to do,” co-captain Grace Wargo said.
Ella Mazzulli drew the defensive assignment on Sheehan senior forward Olivia Dubuc. And just like she did three days earlier against Mercy’s Lindsay Stevenson, Mazzulli was able to keep Dubuc off the scoreboard.
“That’s her job. She is so patient and so strong and she is just a great player, give her a job and he is taking it to the fullest,” Redding said about Mazzulli. “I always say, ‘You’ve got your next best friend (the player she is marking). Tonight, she another best friend.”
Said Hueslman: “The girl marking Dubuc did a good job with her. She kept on her and made it tough for Dubuc to score.”
Interestingly, the last time East Lyme reached the final in 1998, it defeated Sheehan in the semifinals.
“One of the things I give them credit for, they were 4-11-1 last year and they came back and had quite a season,” Huelsman said. “We did well too. We only had six wins last year.”
Star of the Game
East Lyme’s defense: Kept Olivia Dubuc and the rest of the Sheehan Titans off the scoreboard, the fourth shutout in as many games for the Vikings.
“A lot of it is they trust each other, they believe in each other, they rely on each other and they work hard for each other.”
East Lyme coach Rachel Redding said.