NEW CANAAN — Speed in the front and a relentless attack have become trademarks of the New Canaan girls soccer team the past two seasons.
So when the level dropped for a period of time in the first half against rival Darien, the Rams realized they had to kick it back up a notch.
“There was a point in the first half for about 10 minutes where weren’t winning our 50-50s and we could see that drop in our play that let them have chances,” New Canaan senior co-captain Olivia Bognon said. “So in the second half, we really wanted to come out, be first to the ball and not let them have it.”
The Rams accomplished that mission as Emma Schuh scored an early goal and Bognon scored on a late penalty kick to give New Canaan a 2-0 victory over the Blue Wave at a rain-soaked Dunning Field on Wednesday.
The victory was a nice bounce-back for New Canaan (9-2-1), which had lost its last two games to St. Joseph and Brien McMahon.
While the conditions were less than ideal withheavy rain at times drenching the players, the Rams were able to call on some recent experience with bad weather.
“The conditions like this are always going to be a factor,” New Canaan coach Rich Hickson said. “But luckily enough we had a bit of experience with this because of our Ridgefield game (a 2-2 tie in a rainstorm).”
The loss was a difficult one for Darien (7-3-1), which did a good job defensively during the first half. A couple of lapses in the final 40 minutes led to the two goals.
“It was crucial moments — not closing down, getting beat to the ball first — that was our Achilles’ heel,” Darien coach Leigh Parsons said. “We had four or five decent chances that we just didn’t capitalize on, we gave away a silly penalty, and we didn’t mark a long throw and had a girl wide open in the box. Those were two goals that were avoidable and that’s down to focus in key moments.”
The Rams had several opportunities, as Bognon, Schuh, Dillyn Patten and Kaleigh Harden did a good job creating in the Darien third. Blue Wave goalkeeper Olivia Maniscalco (8 saves) was up to the task, with help from backs Maggie Ramsay, Katherine Chandler, Courtney Ball, and Eleanor Mellin.
“They were compact, they were tough, and they made it difficult for us to break them down,” Hickson said. “They made it tough for us to get behind them at times, but we did have our chances. It was just about us being a bit more clinical in front of the goal during that second half.”
New Canaan’s first goal started with a throw-in from McKenna Harden. Darien was unable to clear the ball from the box and it ended up with Kaleigh Harden, who sent it to a wide open Bognon on the far side.
Bognon’s shot from 15 yards was blocked by Maniscalo, but Schuh collected the rebound and scored in the 44th minute.
“The ball came out and I hit it low because in these conditions if you hit it low, you never know what’s going to happen,” Bognon said. “It ended up getting to Emma and she turned, had a good shot, and it went in. That gave us a little bit of momentum, but the thing about scoring early is you still have the rest of the half. We knew we needed another one.”
On the defensive side of the field, Rams’ goalie Emma Gibbens made five saves, including a couple against Darien’s Ceci Stein, who ripped off a couple of shots early in the second half.
The Rams scored their second goal with 12:26 remaining, after Kaleigh Harden was tripped from behind in the box.
Bognon took the PK and skipped it low to the left of Maniscalco. The keeper got her hand on the ball, but it caromed into the net to give New Canaan a 2-0 lead.
“(Bognon) keeps us taking over in the midfield along with Rhiana (Afshar), Sophie Potter and the girls who rotate in,” Hickson said.” Olivia is a tough kid, wins 50-50 battles, can assist goals and score goals, so she’s definitely a key piece of what we do well.”
For the Bluue Wave, it was a frustrating defeat.
“To lose 2-0 to goals that you really should be able to deal with is frustrating,” Parsons said. “Credit to New Canaan, they’ve had a tough run that they’ve bounced back from. We had real opportunities and we didn’t really do anything out of them, while they had opportunities that we should’ve been able to handle defensively, and they converted them.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Olivia Bognon, New Canaan. Bognon was one of the Rams’ prime offensive creators on Wednesday, as she assisted on the first goal and scored on a penalty kick for the second.
“They’re our rivals, so it’s always a big game that we’re excited for. Just the fact that we were at home, and you never want to lose at home, gave us that little bit of extra energy to go out there and win.” — New Canaan co-captain Olivia Bognon