HIGGANUM >> After losing seven starters from a team that reached the Class M state championship game a year ago, there were a lot of question marks facing the Haddam-Killingworth girls soccer team this fall. There was also a coaching change as Karen Clark, H-K’s junior varsity coach the past three seasons, replaced Eric Grant.
Grant had a successful 10-year run on Little City Road, culminating with the school’s first state finals appearance, a 1-0 loss to Waterford last November.
“I thought we weren’t going to be as good,” said H-K senior co-captain Molly Madore.
Well, the Cougars’ 8-2 start has put a few of those preseason uncertainties to rest.
Madore powered the Cougars with a hat trick and freshman Abby Schultz added two goals as H-K ended a two-game skid with a 6-1 victory over Westbrook on Tuesday at Higganum.
The Cougars are battling Morgan (7-1, 6-1) and Coginchaug (5-3-1, 5-2) for the top spot in the Shoreline Conference’s Large Division and Clark believes her team is ready to make another tournament run.
“We’ll be right up there,” said Clark, the former middle school coach in Middletown. “And hopefully we’ll get a good seed in the state tournament and be able to plug along like we did last year.”
Besides Madore and Schultz, the Cougars lineup against the Knights featured senior co-captain Halie Serbent, Ana Bruder, Elise Irwin, Alex Coady, Megan Toman, Jackie Stephens, Mary Coletti, Emma Martone, and sophomore keeper Tevi Ferguson.
“We have a couple of decent freshman that have stepped up and have been able to fill in some spots,” added Clark. “And some of our girls that were returning were able to step into varsity positions and be able to control the ball and play solid for us, which is great. And our goalkeeper has been phenomenal.”
Madore netted two quick goals early in the first half and sophomore Megan Little broke through the Knights defense for another goal to make it 3-0.
Westbrook (0-9) generated some offense at the end of the first half behind the play of Angelina Raffone, Erin Metcalfe, Hayden Davis and Madeline Farrell.
But Ferguson kept the Knights off the board with two saves, including a diving stop right before the half ended.
Westbrook’s other highlights included a goal in the 71st minute by freshman Samantha Cates and a penalty kick save in the first half by freshman keeper Olivia Fabrizi (six saves).
“We’ve been struggling and today we looked like a team,” said Westbrook coach Rudy Raffone III. “I mean, the score was still lopsided but we moved the ball a little bit.”
This is Raffone’s first season with the Knights after assisting his father, Rudy Raffone, at Notre Dame-West Haven for almost 25 years. Raffone has a young team with 16 freshman and five sophomores on the roster.
“Our lack of skill and experience shows but these kids are a joy in practice,” said Raffone. “They practice very hard.”
H-K plays at East Hampton on Saturday (2 p.m) before a showdown with defending Shoreline Conference champion Old Lyme on Tuesday, Oct. 14 (3:45 p.m.) at Old Lyme.
“We’re hoping to be back in the state finals,” said Madore. “That is the goal. And to put two banners in the gym, a Shoreline banner too.”
Said Clark, “We have a good chance in the Shorelines and a great chance to go just as far in the state tournament. So we’ll keep working them hard and play our hearts out. It’s anybody’s game this year in the Shoreline. Whoever shows up to play hard is going to be the team that wins it.”