FAIRFIELD >> Go ahead and call Fairfield Ludlowe the Cinderella team of the Class LL girls’ state soccer tournament this fall. The No. 22 seeded Falcons have turned more than a few heads after pulling off two huge victories this week.
The Falcons upended No. 11 Amity on Monday, 2-1 in the first round on the road, and then turned around on Wednesday to take No. 6 Hall to extra time, where they won 7-5 in penalty kicks.
Call the wins upsets if you will, but to the Falcons, they’ve just hit their stride at the right time.
“No, definitely not,” senior captain Alex Wykoff said of the victories being surprises. “We’re finally hitting our peak and this is what we’ve trained for all season. It’s just a matter of time before everything came together.”
Ludlowe (10-7-1) will look to extend its season Friday afternoon as they face No. 3 St. Joseph (19-0-1) in the quarterfinals at St. Joes at 2 p.m. The Cadets are on a 20-game unbeaten streak and won the FCIAC title.
“I think it’s going to take a lot of heart and who wants it more,” Ludlowe senior captain Krissy Bradley said. “Who can stay composed on the field because going in both of us know this is the quarterfinals. And whoever loses is out.”
It’s been an inconsistent season for Ludlowe as they’ve battled a multitude of injuries and started the year with a less than desirable 0-4 record. But the team battled back to pick up six straight wins and found a good rhythm. The Falcons ended the year missing out on the FCIAC playoffs but have focused on staying confident, composed and controlling only what they can.
“We’re a resilient team,” head coach Kate Dawson said. “I think the girls have a chip on their shoulder. You know of course we’re the underdog, we’re the 22 seed but I think we have to go in with the mentality that we can beat this team.”
The last time Ludlowe faced St. Joes was on Sept. 17, the third game into the season. The Cadets defeated Ludlowe 4-0. This time around it will have a different feel. Ludlowe knows what to expect and is a changed team. Wykoff said her squad has improved “leaps and bounds” from the beginning of the year.
St. Joes will also be contending with a new keeper. An injury to Ludlowe’s starting goaltender early in the season placed Caroline Serniak in the net. Dawson said Serniak has grown and proven herself as the season progressed, including an impressive showing Wednesday evening in a pressure-packed round of penalty kicks against Hall.
“I’m really excited and can’t wait to see what they are made of,” Serniak said of facing St. Joes.
The task for the Falcons on Friday will be to stop the high-power offense of St. Joes.
The Cadets have scored at least one goal in every game, including eight games in the regular season where they produced five or more goals.
They are paced by sophomore midfielder Jenna Bike and senior forward Samantha Grasso.
“I think the game plan is containing their attack,” Dawson said. “They’re dynamic, they’re quick, and have explosive speed. And you know 11 girls on our team have to know exactly where Sami (Grasso) and Jenna (Bike) are at all times; just because they are that good on the attack.”
Ludlowe will counter that with a strong defense and a balanced offense led by Bradley and senior Lindsay Zilling. The key will be keeping possession for Ludlowe.
Despite what the numbers and brackets show, the Falcons aren’t over analyzing or psyching themselves out in what looks like on paper a David vs Goliath matchup.
“I think Hall and Amity certainly prepared us for St. Joes, but I respect St. Joes. They are a tremendous program and I know it’s going to difficult challenge,” Dawson said. “You just have to prepare and I do feel like the girls are prepared for this match.”