NEW CANAAN — The New Canaan girls soccer team hasn’t had a had a problem with remaining positive this fall.
Less than 24 hours after losing to Ridgefield in the FCIAC championship game last Thursday, the Rams were back home for a more relaxed practice, effectively pressing the reset button on their season.
“We had a really fun practice on Friday,” senior co-captain Katelyn Sparks said. “We dressed up in our Halloween costumes, played music on Dunning and played some fun games. I think we had a positive reaction to the loss because we know we played really well and it could’ve gone either way.”
The approach clearly worked as New Canaan kicked off the CIAC Class LL tournament with a 5-0 rout of Conard Monday at Dunning Field. Four Rams had goals, with freshman Dillyn Patten scoring twice, and New Canaan built a 3-0 lead by halftime.
“Obviously, the day after (the FCIAC final) was tough, but the girls have responded really well,” New Canaan head coach Rich Hickson said. “They recognize what they’ve achieved and the fact that they were (in the final), they should be proud of it. We’ve still got more this season, so we’ve got to dust ourselves off and make a good push of it in states.”
No. 12 New Canaan (14-5-1) will now take on No. 5 Staples (14-1-3) in the second round of the playoffs at 2 p.m., Wednesday, in Westport. Staples won the regular season meeting 2-1, scoring twice in the final nine minutes.
The Rams admittedly didn’t know much about the No. 21 Chieftains (8-8-1) before their game on Monday, and Hickson called it “a trip into the unknown.”
“You just don’t know that much about these teams and I’m sure it’s similar with them not knowing much about us,” he said. “We spoke about controlling the controllable, and making sure we play the way we want to play. When we win our individual battles, hopefully that will manifest into a positive result.”
Sophomore Emma Schuh put the Rams on the scoreboard first when she caught up to a long through pass from freshman Kaleigh Harden and put the ball past keeper Jessica McNally (6 saves) in the 11th minute.
Conard’s defense, which featured Lauren Massaro, Molly Binder and Madison Hoang, kept New Canaan in check almost to halftime, but Patten hit the net twice in the final 4:17 of the half for the some breathing room.
“That really helped because we would’ve come into the halftime talk not as positive,” Sparks said. “Our coaches noted that was one of our weakest halves probably in about 10 games, but having those two goals got our confidence back up. We had the momentum going into the second half and picked it up.”
The first goal came with Patten under pressure from Massaro, as she fought off the defender in the 36th minute. The New Canaan freshman then teamed up with her sister, senior co-captain Kendall Patten, for another goal with 1:07 on the clock.
Kaleigh Harden and Olivia Cosco added second-half goals to round out the scoring for New Canaan.
The Rams played lock-down defense, with solid games from Sparks, senior co-captain Caroline Schuh, sophomore McKenna Harden and junior Katherine Lisecky along the backline. Keepers Jordan Paterson and Emma Gibbens each made two saves.
Conard’s best chance came midway through the second half, when Gibbens made a diving save on a shot by Madison Lopol, and Sparks blocked and cleared a following attempt by Savannah Paolitto.
Now, the Rams will get ready for an FCIAC showdown with Staples and their head coach Barry Beattie, who has coached many of the girls on the New Canaan team.
“Staples is a really strong program,” Hickson said. “I know Barry (Beattie, Staples’ head coach) well and he does a great job over there. They’re competitive every year and he’s in or around the finals. We know it’s going to be tough game and the type of players they’ve got on the team, but we’ll go in confident that we can compete and get the result.”
NEW CANAAN 5, CONARD 0
CONARD 0 0—0
NEW CANAAN 3 2—5
Records: Conard 8-8-1, New Canaan 14-5-1.
Goals: NC—Kaleigh Harden, Dillyn Patten 2, Emma Schuh, Olivia Cosco. Assists: NC— Harden 2, Schuh, Kendall Patten 2. Goalies: C—Jessica McNally (6 saves). NC—Jordan Paterson (2 saves), Emma Gibbons (2 saves). Note: New Canaan travels to No. 5 Staples Wednesday.