In high school sports, the way schedules fall into place either by luck or by design, teams usually have to deal with a stretch or two of tough, challenging matchups.
Sometimes, a team’s toughest stretch of competition can come at the beginning of a regular season. Sometimes, the tough games are spread out over a three- or four-game stretch in the middle of the regular season. Sometimes, like this season’s schedule for the Norwalk, that tough stretch can come the final two weeks of the regular season.
The Bears (13-1), who have for the most part been dominant on both sides of the ball, are in the midst of their toughest eight-game stretch to close the regular season. Despite suffering their first loss — a 5-1 setback to FCIAC rival New Canaan on Oct. 15 — coach Kyle Seaburg likes the challenge.
“As far as our schedule goes, each year it rotates,” Seaburg said. “This year, the end of the season sets up well to prepare us for the playoffs. We are excited for the opportunity that it provides. The FCIAC is a very competitive league with great coaches and players that constantly challenge you.
“The entire team is a coaches dream in the fact that they work hard everyday to improve.”
The Bears, ranked No. 5 in the Coaches Top 10 poll, started the tough stretch with a 6-5 win in overtime against FCIAC rival Ridgefield. Following the win was a 3-0 victory over FCIAC foe McMahon and 2-1 non-league win over 2018 CIAC Class L runner-up Cheshire. The loss to No. 3 New Canaan followed and then came FCIAC wins over Greenwich (3-0 victory) and St. Joseph (9-0).
The Bears have two challenging FCIAC home games left, with No. 4 Darien on Thursday at 7 p.m. and No. 7 Staples on Tuesday (Oct. 29).
“As far as this season goes, we are really excited about the opportunities that are in front of us,” Seaburg said. “As a team, we have worked really hard on building a cohesive group of players that work well together.
“Tessa Albrecht is having a great year and continues to push herself. She is one of the most coach-able players I have had the pleasure to coach.”
Other players contributing include senior captain and forward Julia Vacarro, junior forward Lia L’Archevesque, senior captain and defender Jordan Hogan, senior captain at center midfield Mia Lanzaratto and senior captain and forward Adriana Alfisis.
“Julia Vacarro is unselfish and an amzaing playmaker,” Seaburg said. “Lia L’Archevesque is tenacious and quick and Jordan Hogan sees the field really well and helps start the attack on defense. Mia Lanzaratto has a calm leadership on and off the field and she helps to distribute the ball all around the field. Adriana Alfisis does whatever is asked of her and has amazing stick skills.”
The ultimate goal is to reach the Class L final for the second time. Norwalk lost 1-0 to Cheshire in the 2011 Class L championship game.
Tough schedule for Branford, too
Branford coach Pete Frye goes out of his way to put together a tough regular-season schedule as a way for the Hornets to improve and be prepared for the postseason.
This season is no different. The Hornets (7-4) played their second FCIAC team this season on Saturday and lost 3-0 to three-time defending Class L champion Staples. Branford lost 6-2 to Wilton to open the season. The Hornets close the regular season with tough matchups in three of their last four games — at Hand on Thursday at 7 p.m., at Cheshire on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and at North Branford on Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. North Branford is 13-0 and hasn’t allowed a goal this season.
“We feel we have the toughest schedule in the state,” Frye said. “By the end of our season, we will have faced all six teams that played in the state finals last year either during the regular season, in a scrimmage, or summer league games. We will have faced four other teams that have been or currently are rated in the Top 10 this year.
“Staples was a stout test for us. Until someone beats them in the CIAC tournament, they are the best team. They are very well-coached and extraordinarily disciplined.”
Frye said at this stage of the season the Hornets’ offense has been their strength. But it is still a “work in progress” as the team strives to be consistently strong every single game.
“The first half of the season has been a roller coaster ride,” Frye said. “We only had one game that was decided by less than three goals. We have been working on a different scheme defensively as Guilford (8-0 loss to the Indians) exposed some weaknesses that needed to be addressed.
“We are a very young team. We only start four players who have more than one year of varsity experience. There have been some very positive signs.”
Molly Zaffino is the Hornets’ top scorer. Brianna Shaw is another key scorer and has moved to the middle of the field. Frye said the move has opened up the offense. Freshman Scout Engstrom is another top scorer and Madison Acquarulo and Nora Longway have contributed as well.
“Maggie Martin and Karly King don’t show up in the score book as frequently as those other players, but they are the engines that make our offense work,” Frye said. “Our goal is to see improvement with each and every game.
“Hopefully our team will be peaking as we enter the end of the season tournaments (SCC and Class M). Our team has shown a great amount of resilience and there are currently a lot of positives for us to build upon. I can’t wait to see how we fare the second half of the regular season.”