Angle named MVP of Senior game
Ashleigh Angle enjoyed a rather nice conclusion to her high school soccer career on Friday.
The Woodstock Academy senior was named the Most Valuable Player for the Red team in a 1-0 victory over the Blue in the Connecticut Girls Soccer Association Senior All-Star game at Middletown High School.
“It felt really nice after a long season just to have something,” Angle said of the MVP award.
Angle, a midfielder for the Centaurs, became the first Woodstock Academy player to be named the MVP in a Senior All-Star game according to coach Dennis Snelling.
Earlier last week, both Angle and Ivy Gelhaus were named Class L All-State performers and received the invite to play in the Senior game.
“It was really fun to play in and a really cool experience. I’ve never played in something like that before. It was really competitive, too,” Angle said.
Even though the two teams were just essentially handed their shirts and told to go out play, Angle said it wasn’t hard to quickly establish a little chemistry.
“There were so many super-talented players who were able to just pick it up and you could rely on all of the other players on the field,” Angle said.
Angle had the only tally in the match.
Angle said the ball came in from her left to the middle. She played the ball, splitting a couple of defenders, leaving her 1-on-1 with the keeper.
“I passed it to my left foot and tucked it into the corner,” Angle said.
In addition to Gelhaus, Angle said she also knew a couple of other players on the Red team.
“It was nice to have that competitive atmosphere again and I had a good time with the coaches and it was great to play with Ivy again,” Angle said of her last high school soccer match.
It was the first time in the last 15 years that the Academy had two All-State players in the same season in girls soccer.
Gelhaus finished with 19 goals and five assists this season while Angle scored six goals and had two assists. Both were named first team Eastern Connecticut Conference All-Stars.
“They gave us a chance to win no matter who the opponent,” Snelling said of the two seniors. “They have been great captains and leaders and will be big shoes to fill as we move forward.”
Angle said she hopes to continue to play soccer at the next level. She has been receiving interest at the Division III level.
Tough to see season come to a close
The tears were in evidence Wednesday.
The Woodstock Academy Centaurs girls soccer team had just seen its season come to a close.
The No. 4 Centaurs were upset by No. 13 Daniel Hand of Madison, 4-1, in a Class L state tournament second round match.
The Centaurs didn’t reach the goal that all the high school teams who qualify for the state tournament are striving for – a state championship.
But in the 20 games that they played, they did accomplish a lot.
“It was a winning season, losing only one regular season game and winning the ECC championship back-to-back. Lots of people scored goals, different names helped the team, there were plenty of positives,” Woodstock Academy coach Dennis Snelling said.
The Centaurs finished 16-2-2.
The only blemish on the card prior to the loss to the Tigers was a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Norwich Free Academy in the final match of the regular season.
They won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I regular season title and, for the second straight year, defeated Plainfield in the league’s championship match.
Heather Converse had the only goal in that match against the Panthers and it came with 52 seconds left.
It was her first career goal and one imagines, she will never forget the moment.
Nor will she forget her senior year.
“This is the best season, as coach has been saying, that we’ve ever had,” Converse said. “The attitude of the girls here is so positive. They are great people and players and I’m really going to miss them. I’m just so proud of everyone.”
Unfortunately, as Converse pointed out, “there is only one winner in the end.”
If there has been a monkey on the back of the Centaurs’ program, it has been the state tournament.
Woodstock Academy, outside of receiving a bye, has not won a state tournament match since 2013.
The draw the Centaurs received after another first-round bye this season was not easy.
Daniel Hand is a quality program out of the soccer-rich Southern Connecticut Conference.
It may have come in as the 13th seed, but that was deceptive.
The Tigers came in with an 11-3-4 record.
Two of those losses came against Class LL schools Amity and Cheshire.
It didn’t take long for Daniel Hand to strike.
Snelling had warned the Centaurs (16-2-2) about Daniel Hand junior Kayla Howard prior to the contest.
But Howard took her first touch down the sideline, cut around the Centaurs defense and beat Woodstock Academy keeper Irene Askitis one-on-one just 1 minute, 25 seconds into the match.
“We had eyes on her, we knew we had to mark her and keep her off the ball. The first time she touched it, she scores,” Snelling said.
The goal was the only tally of the first half which the Centaurs dominated, getting six shots to the Tigers two.
But Daniel Hand struck early again in the second half off a set play when Chloe Silva got in the middle of the box and headed a corner from Francesca Antoni into the net just 4:13 in.
“We thought we would come out strong and we just lost track of those marks at the back post and two people were wide open and could have scored,” Snelling said.
The Tigers looked like they had put it away off another corner just 2 ½ minutes later.
Antoni sent it in from the corner and Chloe Thompson stepped in front of it on the near post, she re-directed the ball which hit a Woodstock Academy player and went into the net for the 3-0 advantage.
But the Centaurs didn’t pack it in.
Converse, who scored her first career goal in the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship match last Thursday, scored her second just 1:29 after the Thompson tally.
“I kind of trapped it, turned around and slammed it into the net. I was able to get my anger out a little bit,” Converse said.
The goal revitalized her teammates a bit.
“We started getting more possessions, looked more in control. We just owned it after that and I really thought we had a chance. No one gave up,” Converse said.
The problem was that, even though the Centaurs were working hard and moving the ball well, they weren’t getting quality chances.
“We kept moving forward, kept getting into the space that we needed to be in, but we weren’t getting the ball to the goal. They’re a good team, Daniel Hand is always a good team,” Snelling said.
The end, however, came at the halfway mark of the half when Hayley Dean, on a free kick put the ball into the goalie box. Howard picked it up, dribbled to the near post, tossed it back out to Dean who sent it into Samantha Riordan on the opposite side and Riordan did not miss the open net.
“We couldn’t track them in those set plays. When you get down to these late rounds, you don’t want to give up free kicks in the final 30 (yards) of the field. Every chance they had at goal was well calculated,” Snelling said.
The Centaurs will lose seven seniors.
Leading scorer Ivy Gelhaus (19 goals, 5 assists), Askitis, midfielders Regan Stuyniski and Ashleigh Angle (6 goals, 2 assists), Converse, Aislin Tracy (2 goals, 3 assists) and Isabel Cintron will all graduate.
“The six that we had for four years built this program up with their work ethic, attitude, and approach. Certainly, we will miss them all. I told them that. Part of the reason the team was so successful and cohesive was those kids. They were the foundation of the team,” Snelling said.
Centaurs still hungry after winning ECC title
The Woodstock Academy Centaurs are the Eastern Connecticut Conference girls soccer champions for a second year in a row.
But they still have something to prove.
The Class L state tournament begins this week.
“I want the team to achieve something they haven’t achieved and winning back-to-back ECC championships was nice, but I really want them to go into the state tournament thinking they can win a couple games, not just beating the team called ‘bye.’” Woodstock Academy coach Dennis Snelling said.
The last time the Centaurs won a state tournament game was in 2013 when they downed Fermi, 6-0.
The Centaurs again received that first-round win over “bye” and will meet the winner of the Daniel Hand/ Sacred Heart-Kaynor Tech match at 2 p.m. on Wednesday at the Bentley Athletic Complex.
Snelling is hopeful that his team will have put the ECC championship behind them by that point.
“There is a finality to the game. When you win it, it’s hard to come back from. It’s almost a re-focus of the season starting again or the postseason continuing. You have to find a focus and get it to the state tournament so you don’t just go one-and-done there,” Snelling said.
Last Thursday, Heather Converse found herself in the midst of chaos.
In the closing minute of regulation play of the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division 1 girls soccer tournament championship match, the Woodstock Academy senior fullback came trotting down the field to take part in a play the Centaurs had just put in the day before in practice.
“We were just thinking of ways to score off a corner kick,” Converse said.
The senior stands about 5-foot-11, much taller than Plainfield keeper Madi Pearson and the thought was to use that size to block Pearson’s vision.
Little did the Centaurs know at the time that the play would give them their second consecutive tournament title with a 1-0 win over the Panthers at East Lyme High School.
Plainfield kicked the ball out with 1:05 left in regulation of a scoreless match.
Woodstock Academy coach Dennis Snelling had one thought in mind.
He didn’t want to go overtime or penalty kicks so he had pushed everyone forward.
“We were playing it like we were losing because that’s what it feels like when its 0-0. Anybody who could possibly head a ball was in (the area) on the corner kick,” Snelling said.
Woodstock Academy sophomore Emma Redfield took the corner and what happened next was anybody’s guess.
“It was just crazy,” Converse said of the confusion that reigned in front of the Plainfield net. “There were five girls around me and I didn’t even know where the ball was. I just saw it come out and I just kicked it.”
Snelling was expecting possibly a “phantom” whistle since it’s difficult for the officials to see what is going on and players were on the ground and there was risk of them being kicked.
There was no whistle.
“I saw that the goalie did not have the ball so I knew there was a chance that it could still go in,” Snelling said.
Converse was not the likely choice.
She had a similar wide-open chance off a corner kick early in the first half that was just blocked by Pearson who also stopped a rebound shot from the Centaurs’ Lucy McDermott.
“The sideline was asking ‘How did that not go in?’ (on Converse’s shot). I said, ‘Heather will never score, she is cursed,” Snelling said.
Converse had never scored a goal in a high school soccer match.
Ashleigh Angle had the ball briefly but she was swallowed up in the scrum in front of the net and then, miraculously, it popped out.
Converse didn’t miss this time and with 52 seconds left, her goal gave the Centaurs (16-1-2) the win.
“My girls were grumbling and what not, but you can’t expect the refs to see what was going on. There were at least 10 bodies in there, a defensive back scored. You can’t expect the officials to see in there and blow it dead. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it bounces their way. It just squirts out sometimes,” Plainfield coach Jon Zielinski said.
There was little doubt who scored.
Converse jumped high toward the night-time sky, easily elevating herself above the crowd.
“Whenever anybody else scores, I always jump as high as possible anyway. That’s just my reaction,” Converse said.
This time was probably a bit more pronounced than others although Converse didn’t stay airborne for long. Sophomore teammate Peyton Saracina tackled her in celebration.
It was the third Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament title for Woodstock Academy in 24 hours.
Previous to the girls soccer championship, the boys soccer team got the best of host East Lyme, 2-0, for its first-ever ECC tournament championship. The night before, the volleyball team captured its second consecutive ECC tournament title.
“It’s just been an amazing fall sports season so far,” Converse said. “Volleyball has been doing so good and seeing the boys win before us gave us a lot of motivation.”
Last year, the Centaurs downed Plainfield (16-2-1) by a 6-0 score.
This one, for that reason, was probably a little sweeter because of the dramatic win.
“It feels even better,” Converse said. “I can’t even describe it. I’m just so proud of the team.”
Snelling agreed with those sentiments.
“I’m proud of the team to win back-to-back against a team that really put their bodies on the line. Plainfield did everything it could do to get that game. It meant so much to them and to come away with it any way is a wonderful thing,” Snelling said.
Converse talked while clutching the Most Outstanding Player award that had been given to her.
“It’s so humbling because as a defender, you don’t really get a lot of the credit, but I can’t thank my team enough just for being there and working so hard this season,” Converse said.
The Centaurs had advanced with a 1-0 win over Norwich Free Academy in the semifinals last Tuesday.
That win avenged the only loss of the season for Woodstock Academy and it came thanks to the 19th goal of the season for senior Ivy Gelhaus.
She scored with 25:11 left in the match.
The ball bounced by the two defenders shadowing Ivy Gelhaus and on to the senior’s foot.
“Ivy read the ball just the right way. It bounced up off the turf. The hours that we spent on turf this year really helped us win this game,” Snelling said.
WA back in ECC championship
Ivy Gelhaus scored 14 minutes, 39 seconds into the second half for the Centaurs.
It was the only goal the Centaurs would get, but also the only one they needed.
"It just takes the one to win," Woodstock Academy coach Dennis Snelling said. "It was another great effort by our defense to get the shutout. They were really coming at us at the end. We basically survived ther last five minutes."
The second-seeded Centaurs shutout No. 3 Norwich Free Academy, 1-0, to advance to Thursday's Eastern Connecticut Conference championship match at 7 p.m. at East Lyme High School.
The Centaurs are the defending champs and will play No. 1 Plainfield for the championship in a rematch of last year.
The Panthers also barely survived their semifinal match with Killingly.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie through regulation and two 10-minute overtimes. Plainfield was declared the winner by making four penalty kicks to the Redgals one.
"If it's nothing more than practice for the state tournament, that's fine," Snelling said of the win over the Wildcats Tuesday. "It was a good, clean game. I know we used a lot of energy, but NFA played us clean in all three games and they had a great team this year. (NFA coach Kyle Baron) finally had everyone healthy and it was a great matchup."
The Centaurs were the dominant team throughout.
Woodstock Academy took 17 shots to NFA's two.
Ashleigh Angle was denied a goal in the first half when her shot was turned away by center-back Natalie Dionne.
But the Centaurs got the one they needed when Lucy McDermott sent a long ball into the area which was contained by Gelhaus.
"The ball bounced right through.Ivy read the ball the right way, it bounced up off the turf. I think the hours we spent on turf this year helped us win this game," Snelling said.
There were some anxious moments when Abigail Tucker got her foot on a ball for NFA inside the area and popped it straight up into the air.
"It was really scary," said senior midfielder Regan Stuyniski. "I was pretty much in the goal and I looked back over my head and was like, 'Oh no.'"
Fortunately for the Centaurs, it hit the cross bar.
Keeper Irene Askitis caught the ball in front of the net and fell to the ground, shielding it from the white shirts of the NFA players surrounding her for her only save of the match.
Centaurs get ready for ECC Semifinals
There are some coaches who have the belief that a loss in the regular season is not all that bad a thing.
It can bring a team back to reality and give it more of a sense of purpose knowing that everything it had worked for all season could easily be taken away in just 80 minutes.
Woodstock Academy coach Dennis Snelling is not a disciple of that philosophy, but it’s how he had to approach it after a 1-0 loss to Norwich Free Academy last Wednesday.
“We had to spin it that way,” Snelling said. “I don’t think we needed to lose to keep getting better, but it showed us we’re not invincible. We’re into the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) and state tournaments now and if you lose, you’re done. I think it allowed us to experience that feeling because we haven’t been behind all year,” Snelling said.
The loss cost the Centaurs an undefeated season.
They finished 14-1-2.
It also cost them the top seed in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament.
That honor went to Plainfield and so it was the second-seeded Centaurs who took to the pitch on Friday at the Bentley Athletic Complex in an ECC Division 1 quarterfinal match with No. 7 East Lyme.
The Centaurs again found themselves behind, but this time, they were able to rally and beat the Vikings, 3-1.
The win vaults the defending ECC Division 1 champs into the semifinals where they will again play NFA at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Waterford High School.
“We may have had a relaxed approach against them (last week) because we had beaten them the first time and we know we can’t play like that in a tournament,” Snelling said.
Tuesday’s semifinal match will be played on the turf at Waterford which Snelling feels benefits his Centaurs. Last week's match with the Wildcats was played at Fontaine Field which is has been reduced to mud with patches of grass due to the use and the wet fall weather that the area has experienced.
The championship will be played on Thursday night in East Lyme.
The quarterfinal match was eerily familiar to Snelling and it wasn’t a good feeling.
“It looked like the NFA game the way we started out. We weren’t playing well enough to win so I was concerned,” Snelling said.
The Centaurs had little to blame it on.
Everybody was on the field and healthy.
That was a concern following a 4-1 win over Killingly last Monday when Snelling was concerned he had lost leading scorer Ivy Gelhaus (18 goals) for the remainder of the season to a knee injury.
Gelhaus, fortunately, only suffered a bruise and was back on the field against East Lyme.
The concern over the lack of offense grew even more when Emma Belleville put the Vikings (4-12-1) up 1-0 when she took a cross and headed the ball past keeper Irene Askitis with six minutes left in the first half.
Give a big underdog a halftime lead and it gives the underdog confidence.
The Centaurs were able to take that away and had the momentum before halftime when sophomore Peyton Saracina got a nice volley off a corner kick from Kayla Gaudreau for her fifth goal of the season with 54 seconds left in the half.
“I think it’s really defeating for the opposing team because they didn’t go into halftime with the lead and talk about how they were going to protect it. It took away a lot of the positivity that they would have had and it, emotionally, turned the game on them,” Snelling said.
Still, the Vikings came out and played hard, making it difficult to discern between the No.2 and No. 7 seed until just under eight minutes were left.
Saracina took a cross from Gelhaus and headed it home to give the Centaurs the advantage.
Freshman Adeline Smith scored her third goal of the season off a team-leading seventh assist from Gaudreau with 2:47 left to give the Centaurs a little breathing room.
Snelling said the Vikings concentrated much of their attention on Gelhaus, double covering the senior, which opened the door for the younger Centaurs to get some opportunities.
They could have used that scoring against the Wildcats.
NFA sophomore Kayla Park scored a goal in the first half on a breakaway.
Snelling decided he had to go for broke.
“We basically sent everyone forward once we fell behind. We had all the pressure. I don’t think NFA purposely sat back, they were just forced back,” Snelling said.
The Centaurs outshot the Wildcats, 15-4, despite playing on a rather difficult surface.