WETHERSFIELD — While offense has been a strength this season for the Hand field hockey team, its defense hasn’t been too shabby with the Tigers outscoring opponents 91-18 entering its matchup with New Canaan in the CIAC Class M championship game on Saturday.
The Tigers showcased both phases of the game against the Rams.
Jacqueline Sandor scored in the first half and Kathryn Donahey scored with 23 minutes, 18 seconds to go in the second half to give the Tigers a two-goal lead as No. 2 Hand held off a late rally by No. 8 New Canaan for a 2-1win to earn its second state title at Wethersfield High’s Cottone Field.
Hand outshot New Canaan 11-4 and the Tigers dominated penalty corners with a 15-8 advantage over the Rams. Kylie Gargiulo had three saves for Hand (20-1-2) and Emily Gaeta had nine saves for New Canaan (12-9).
“You know where New Canaan comes from, in the FCIAC, where they are tested by some very strong teams and as a result they will always battle you,” Hand coach Sue Leckey said. “They challenged us a few times but our strength is our offense and it showed today.
“We had so many opportunities and the score could have been much higher. But believe me, I am very happy with a 2-1 win. My daughter Hannah played for me when we won our first title (2014) and to have my daughter Taylor on the team its pretty cool to get her to experience the same thing her junior year. But this was a special year for all our girls who made this a special team and played with a lot of heart.”
New Canaan coach Kelly Marks said it took a while for her team to get on track.
“We were a bit frantic in the first half,” Marks said. “They had a lot of corners but that didn’t concern me because we practice our defensive corners all the time. But it wasn’t until we scored our goal in the second half that we finally found some momentum and finally got into a rhythm.
“We have some young players and this year was a learning experience for us. We learned a lot playing teams in the FCIAC and getting this far in the state tournament was another learning experience.”
Defense dominated the first half but Hand was able to get a goal thanks to its speed.
Sandor grabbed a loose ball near the 35-yard line and bolted toward Gaeta.
Gaeta came out of the net to get to the ball. But the speedy Sandor was able to get it past the goalie. Sandor wristed a shot into a wide open net and into the lower left corner for a 1-0 lead with 5:33 to go in the first half.
In the second half, Donahey scored off a penalty corner. Sophie Schreck took a shot that flew in the air. While it was in the air Donahey poked the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead with 23:18 to go.
“When it flew by up in the air, I was right there so I just hit it and it went in,” Donahey said. “That’s the biggest goal I ever scored. I knew even with a two-goal lead we still had to work hard to win. Winning this championship is so special for all of us.”
The Rams quickly responded and got on the board when Meghan Mitchell scored off a wrist shot with 22:02 to go in the second half to cut the lead to 2-1.
New Canaan had one last penalty corner with about four minutes to go but the ball was cleared away. Hand went on to control the ball the rest of the way to seal the win and title.
HAND 2, NEW CANAAN 1
NEW CANAAN0 1—1
Goals: NC: Meghan Mitchell; H: Jacqueline Sandor, Kathryn Donahey. Assists: H: Sophie Schreck. Saves: NC: Emily Gaeta, 9; Kylie Gargiulo 3.