WOODBURY — Last year, Tolland, the second-smallest school in Class L, won the division’s state girls soccer championship. This year, the Eagles are making loud noises in the first two rounds of Class M.
Tuesday, they shut out No. 15 Northwestern. Thursday, it was No. 2 Nonnewaug, 2-0.
Ranked No. 18 with a 9-7 record in the Central Connecticut Conference after regular-season losses to opponents like Southington and Glastonbury (ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in Class LL) and RHAM (No. 1 in Class L), Tolland, now one of the larger schools in Class M, plays with just two starters from last year’s championship team.
Thursday, at Nonnewaug High School, both girls came up huge as sophomore Alyssa Giroux nailed both goals and junior Talie Lyon laid a heavy anchor on the defense.
“No one expected us to win (after last year’s graduations), but it motivated us,” said Lyon. “I’m glad to have (Giroux) in front of me.”
Giroux’s goals, both in the second half, were her 14th and 15th as the Eagles’ leading scorer.
But the keys to Tolland’s win were a fast, physical defense and overall team speed.
“I always feel that what you start with is defense,” said Coach Erin Reed. “I believe in the maxim, ‘Offense wins the game, but defense wins the championship.’ (Lyon) could play many positions, but we like having her right back there where she is.”
“I’m glad to have her behind me,” grinned Giroux.
Despite a scoreless first half, the bell tolled early for the Chiefs (13-3-1), playing alongside Northwestern in a Berkshire League now bereft of defending Class M champion Lewis Mills, which moved to the CCC this year.
Coach Nick Sheikh said “we overachieved this year,” but foot skills were comparable to the Eagles’ and the Chiefs often got to the ball first. Then, more often than not, Tolland’s defense stopped their ball movement or Lyon out-raced the Nonnewaug forwards to downfield passes.
“We’re going out for track this year,” grinned Lyon and Giroux.
While the Chiefs often got just one or two forwards upfield, the Eagles brought quick strikes with numbers.
In the first half, Nonnewaug’s best weapon was sophomore goalkeeper Sophia Pagnamenta, batting a hard shot by Coral Aponte over the net in the eighth minute; diving for a great save on a Giroux slam in the 16th; and blocking another in the 26th.
Pagnamenta (13 saves) owned Tolland’s half-time zero.
“Sofia came up big,” said Sheikh.
But Tolland’s pressure mounted in the second half. Two Eagle open shots came in the first three minutes from Aponte and Lyon, carrying the ball forward. A Nonnewaug defender stepped in to clear a tangle in front of the net in the 6th.
Twelve minutes in, freshman Maria Cayward found Giroux off Nonnewaug’s right post for a quick blast into the net.
Pagnamenta blocked a point-blank shot by Eagle Sierra Lambert three minutes later.
In the 19th minute, Mia DeMartino passed upfield to Giroux, 30 yards from the goal. Giroux one-touched it, sending a rope to the upper left corner of the net, out of Pagnamenta’s reach.
At 2-0, Tolland’s defense did the rest.
The Eagles punch in for a quarterfinal game Saturday at noon at No 7 Notre Dame-Fairfield, 3-2 winners Thursday over No. 10 Watertown.
NO. 18 TOLLAND 2,
NO. 2 NONNEWAUG 0
At Nonnewaug High School
TOLLAND 0 2 – 2
NONNEWAUG 0 0 – 0
Goals: T – Alyssa Giroux 2. Assists: T – Maria Cayward; Mia DeMartino. Shots: 19-6 Tolland. Saves: T – Sophia Rotondaro 4. N – Sofia Pagnamenta 13.
Records: Tolland 11-7. Nonnewaug 13-3-1.