OLD LYME — Amid the restrictions and precautions in place for schools to go forward with a fall sports season, Old Lyme girls soccer coach Paul Gleason sees an appreciable freedom in being able to play.
“I told the team at the beginning of the season that this is the best of seasons,” he said through an N95 mask on Monday. “There are no awards at the end of the season. No All-State selections, nothing. (This season) is about just playing to enjoy this game and enjoy how wonderful it could be. My kids have embraced that.”
“I’m having a wonderful time other than being terrified of catching Covid,” Gleason added.
On the field, Old Lyme remains the most feared team in the Shoreline Conference. The Wildcats (6-0-1) scored twice before the midway point of the first half and the two goals were enough to send Haddam-Killingworth to its first defeat, 2-1 at Gardner Field.
“The kids are playing really, really hard and I’m enjoying watching them,” Gleason said. “I’m enjoying watching my seniors play especially.”
Old Lyme was the biggest challenge to date for H-K (5-0-1). That the Cougars had to go forward without senior forward Yumi Imai (excused absence), their leading scorer, made it all the more difficult. Coach Mike Shea had six underclassmen in the starting lineup.
“It was a learning process with Yumi being out and adjusting,” Shea said. “We do have some young players out there right now. They are learning their position more and seeing the field a little bit better. Obviously it would have been nice to continue undefeated, but it’s good to sometimes taste that loss to maybe perform better the next time we’re faced with (a challenge) like this. We’ll get there.”
Junior midfielder Abby Manthous gave Old Lyme the lead when she chipped a shot just inside the far post with 12:09 gone in the match. Five minutes later, Emily DeRoehn blasted a shot past H-K keeper Sophia Torello. The opportunity came out of a corner kick by Manthous.
Old Lyme pelted Torello in the second half with several shots and a few others that slid by, unable to pad its lead.
“It was a crazy game and H-K is a good team,” Gleason said. “We should have had — we hit a post, shot at the goalie a couple of times, the goalie missed the ball a couple of times. Had we put the ball on the goal a little bit harder, I think we would have had a few more goals.”
H-K got on the board with 7:29 remaining in the second half when freshman Rory Parri, who started in place of Imai, put a hard shot from the top of the circle directly at keeper Sam Gray. The low shot hit Gray in the hands, trickled through her legs and into the net.
“They didn’t have many good shots today, which I was happy about,” Gleason said. “The shot from the midfield there was a brain fart from our goalie. It happens.”
H-K’s lack of chances had a lot to do with Old Lyme’s wall of defenders — Emily DeRoehn, Elle Zrenda, Lauren Wallace and freshman Kayla O’Leary.
“They cut off our passing lanes every chance they had,” Shea said. “They did a fantastic job. And they beat us to the ball most of the time, too. They did a great job at that.”
H-K looked as if it would have another scoring opportunity when junior forward Kedarjah Lewis beat her defender one on one, but Elle Zrenda flew in and cleared the ball.
“Physically we definitely could have used some more strength out there,” Shea said, referring to Imai. “They were beating us to the ball, bumping us off the ball fairly easily.”
Lewis felt the absence of her kindred spirit. She and Imai are one of the top scoring duos in the Shoreline.
“That was a big loss not having Yumi. Her and I connect the best on the team,” Lewis said. “Our chemistry is unreal, to be honest. I know where she is at all times. Sometime we don’t even really have to talk. I just know she’s behind me or next to me.
“Today I tried to help direct the team, Without Yumi, my job was to hold the ball to let my team get forward and then play them through. Old Lyme had a tough defense back there. We had a little trouble getting the ball up (the field). We expected today would be a challenge. I thought they were going to dominate us way more than they did. We could handle it any other day. It wasn’t a good day without Yumi.”
Gray had six saves for the Wildcats. Torello had nine saves for H-K.
Old Lyme 2, Haddam-Killingworth 1
0 1 — 1
Old Lyme (2-0-0)
2 0 — 2
Goals: Old Lyme — Ali Kyle goal, 27:51; Grace Lathrop goal, 22:46. Haddam-Killingworth — Rory Parri goal, 7:29; Rory Parri goal, 7:29.