Sitting together on the edge of the turf in the far corner of Dunning Field in New Canaan on Monday, the Westhill boys soccer team was at the crux of its tumultuous season, down 2-0 after 40 minutes of play.
One-by-one seniors spoke up, pouring their hearts out for their teammates to absorb.
“It was very emotional,” Westhill senior captain Stephen Magnifico said. “A lot of the seniors talked and about how horrible we felt. We talked about how it can’t end like this. I’m at my most emotional point in my soccer career. I have been playing for a long time with all my friends. We have 16 seniors and this is our last chance together. I don’t want to blow that.”
The team responded to the emotional rallies, playing inspired soccer the entire second half and coming off the field emotionally and physically drained.
The Vikings lost the game 3-1, but came off feeling better about the final 40 minutes than they did about the first.
“I thought that was probably one of the best halves we have had all year. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Westhill coach Joe Andrews said. “It’s been rough. It’s been a long season. A lot of training, some injuries, then quarantine hurt. It is what it is and we are trying to make the most of it. Thankfully we are able to finish the season and thankfully we have one more game.”
The Westhill players have been through a lot this fall.
First they had to go through what everyone else did, not knowing if there would be a season, going through a month of cohort training while the start of the season was delayed and being put into regional pods.
Just when the team cleared those hurdles, began practicing normally and played two games, beating and tying rival Stamford, the rug was once again pulled out from under the players.
On Oct. 7, two days after the second Stamford game, two Westhill players tested positive for COVID-19.
The team would have to quarantine for two weeks with no games or practices allowed.
“We’ve been through probably more than any other team with the two weeks quarantined,” Magnifico said. “It was tough but it makes us all stronger. We tried to stay fit and do what we could but not playing together for two weeks was tough. We came back and got a few wins which helped. Now, we need to pick that back up.”
The Vikings beat Darien 2-1 in their return to action Oct. 19 and picked up two more wins over Wright Tech since coming back.
The last three games have seen the team go drop two and tie one, moving them to 4-2-3 with one regular season game left at Darien Friday.
The Vikings will get to play at least three postseason games in their FCIAC-West Region, starting next week.
With 16 seniors on the roster and in a shortened season made shorter by the quarantine, the final games of their careers seem to have snuck up on the players.
The finality of it all seemed to hit home during those halftime speeches in New Canaan.
“Our turning point was at halftime tonight,” Andrews said. “With as many seniors as we have, those guys really stepped it up at halftime. For the first time, they really demonstrated leadership. I was more proud of that than anything else.”