DANBURY — High school teams throughout Connecticut have had to deal with multiple challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Immaculate field hockey team was no exception.
The Mustangs were in quarantine the first two weeks of the season due to the virus. The first week back there were limited one-hour practices followed by another two-week shutdown due to another COVID-19 quarantine. On Friday, the Mustangs played Barlow in the South-West Conference South Division without their top two goalies — Maddie Moreau and Alivia Garcia — who didn’t test positive with the virus but were exposed and in quarantine.
“The early season disruptions certainly contributed to our 1-2 start, the first time we have ever started with a losing record,” Immaculate coach Shannon Horosky said. “There was always a question if we would get to this point, if field hockey would be able to compete in the postseason.”
— Dan Nowak (@NHRDanNowak) November 13, 2020
Despite season-long challenges, the Mustangs stepped up on Friday. Freshman Lyla Mellen made seven saves, Abby Giansiracusa led a strong effort on defense and Allie Demko, Morgan Begler and Celia Preveza scored to lead No. 1 seed Immaculate to a 3-0 win over No. 3 seed Barlow at Mustang Valley Field for the SWC South championship.
“This is our third SWC title. They are all special, but to see where we are after all the challenges, this one is unique,” Horosky said. “We came into the season losing eight seniors to graduation. Our team was young but these girls had a lot of enthusiasm, they were determined and worked hard.
“To have them build chemistry and come together to be at this point (championship game) is amazing. Today we had a team effort, our girls played well on offense and defense. But Lyla Mellen, normally a forward who will go back to playing forward next season, came up big for us in goal. In her first ever game as a goalie we beat Bethel (1-0) in the SWC South semifinals and she made some big saves against Barlow today. Two career games and two shutouts, both in the postseason.”
Barlow was also impacted by COVID in the postseason, but in a different way. Masuk beat Barlow 3-2 in the quarterfinals, but Masuk was impacted by COVID after the game and dropped out of the tournament, allowing Barlow to advance to the final.
“I am so happy right now,” Mellen said. “I’m happy we won and happy I didn’t let in any goals. I was a little nervous going into this game. I knew I had some outstanding defenders on my team who would make my job easier. But I was determined to do my best to help our team win.
“I’m going back to playing forward next season. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity, to be in position to help my team win a championship.”
Immaculate put pressure on Barlow goalie Julia Champagne early and often. Demko gave the Mustangs a 1-0 lead with 4:10 to go in the first quarter. In the third quarter, Preveza sent a cross-pass to Begler who one-timed a shot inside the left post for a 2-0 lead with 6:15 to go. Preveza capped the scoring in the fourth quarter, grabbing a loose ball in front of the Barlow goal and going the distance on a left-wing breakaway to give Immaculate the 3-0 final.
Barlow’s best chance to score came in the third quarter with back-to-back shots. Emily Palmer took a shot in front of the net. Mellen made the save, but the rebound went to Olivia Rodriguez whose shot went wide left.
“This season was so crazy, we all feel so lucky to be where we are today, to have the chance to play in a championship game,” said Preveza, a senior who has committed to play at Providence. “I have mixed feeling right now, knowing this is my last game with these girls. At times I doubted we would get here with the pandemic impacting us.
“There was one point in the season we said we were going to have fun and enjoy just being on the field playing. Getting this title against a good team like Barlow is special, it feels great. I am going to miss playing with these girls so much.”