ECC Tournament: Centaurs claim Division 1 championship
On the bus ride down to East Lyme High School on Thursday , Woodstock Academy coach Dennis Snelling made sure his team knew that this was not unchartered territory.
“I was talking to the girls about the history of Woodstock girls soccer during my tenure and just made it clear to them that we had been in the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) final or semifinal so many times as a program that there was no need to be nervous about it,” Snelling said.
When his team scored just 2 minutes, 14 seconds into the championship match against Stonington, it was clear that message was received.
The second-seeded Centaurs outlasted the top-seeded Bears, 3-2, in overtime in the ECC Division 1 championship.
It was the second championship in five years for the Centaurs who last claimed it in 2018.
Sophomore and Stonington transfer Leah Costa sent the ball in from the left of the Bears’ goal and it hit a Stonington defender right in front of the net, trickling over the line for the Centaurs victory just 2 ½ minutes into the first 10-minute sudden death overtime period.
“It was fitting that it came from Leah’s foot,” Snelling said. “We just sent the ball in, sending it toward the goal as much as possible. We’ve had strange things happen in overtime when everyone is tired and that was the message – get it at the goal. It was still surprising.”
Woodstock Academy (12-4-2) opened the scoring quickly when Grace Gelhaus, off a rebound, put the ball into the Stonington net just moments after the opening whistle.
“Grace just started the game on another level and kind of played that way the whole game. It kind of kept Stonington back because it had to stay on Grace,” Snelling said.
But just 1:24 later, the Bears countered when Maya Terwilliger fired a long shot just over the outstretched hand of Woodstock Academy keeper Rebecca Nazer (7 saves).
Despite the Centaurs holding a 13-7 advantage in shots in the first half, it was the Bears who led at the half as Terwillger scored again on a follow off a shot by Lily Loughlean with 1:43 to play.
“That’s soccer,” Snelling said of the discrepancy of what was taking place on the field as opposed to the scoreboard. “We had a lot shots close to the crossbar and their goalie (Kelsea Anderson) is an All-Star and kept them in it. It was just a one-goal deficit and we’ve seemed to have that all year.”
Freshman Gabbie Brown came up big halfway through the second half when she controlled a bouncing ball and fired before Anderson could come out of the Stonington net to tie the match with 21:01 left in regulation.
The goal sent the match into the sudden death overtime as neither team could forge ahead.
“We knew she was going to be doing that,” Snelling said of the freshman’s first career varsity goal. “We just didn’t know it would be in the championship game. She played all 80 minutes of every JV game, got in great shape and had a great level of confidence to go out there and play hard right away.”
It was the confidence that convinced Snelling to play her in the championship match and she delivered.
“She was playing like a varsity player right from the start against Bacon Academy (in the ECC semifinals). She had no shyness and was just warming up at a different level than what we saw at the beginning of the year,” Snelling said.
The win was the eighth in a row for the Centaurs who are 9-0-1 over their last 10 matches.
“We’ve been really great at keeping it to one game at a time but as win like this, going into the state tournament, I’m sure is great confidence builder. We haven’t lost in a while,” Snelling said.
Prior to the contest, five members of the team were honored.
Gelhaus, Freya Robbie and Costa all were named ECC 1st team All-Stars. Lennon Favreau was the team’s Scholar-Athlete and an ECC honorable mention choice and Kayla Leite received the team’s Sportsmanship Award.
It was a long, hard, physical battle.
But the result made it all worth it.
Woodstock Academy advanced to the championship match of the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division 1 tournament with a 1-0 (5-4 PK's) victory over Bacon Academy earlier in the week at the Bentley Athletic Complex.
The final score of the semifinal may have to be reported as 1-0.
In reality, neither the Centaurs nor the Bobcats put the ball in the back of the net.
It was decided by penalty kicks with the Centaurs taking that battle, 5-4.
“It was a really hard game,” said Woodstock Academy senior back Magdalena Myslenski.
“I just think the game, as a whole, just didn’t have any offense. It was a middle of the field game with both teams just grinding it out, trying to get that counterattack goal and when both teams are doing the same thing, apparently, you go to penalty kicks,” Snelling said.
In the postseason, there is no such thing as a tie until you get to the state championship game.
There must be a winner and that is determined by penalty kicks.
Fortunately, Woodstock Academy was up to the challenge.
After 80 minutes of regulation play and 20 minutes of sudden death overtime, five Centaur players lined up against Bacon Academy keeper Elizabeth Glover.
All five, including one who had to go twice, hit their PK’s.
Gelhaus went to the right side of Glover and scored; Robbie put one under her left arm and Macy Rawson went to the upper right.
Lennon Favreau stepped up and put it into the left side.
But official Frank May had not blown his whistle starting the play yet so Favreau had a do-over.
“The fact that she was able to collect herself and do the second one again perfectly to the other side, I think is just a sign of her intelligence. That’s tough to do,” Snelling said.
The Bobcats (10-4-3) had Audrey Palmer, Mia Haggeman, Alyssa Blanchette and Kayla Hall all hitting their PK’s but they did miss one.
That meant the final kick for the Centaurs either would send them to the championship match or into a second round of kicks.
The person who had the responsibility of making that last kick count was senior Maya Orbegozo.
“I was talking to my teammates, we were huddling and they were telling me, ‘no pressure.’ I just kind of shook it off, took a deep breath, told myself that I was going to be OK and I just had to put it where I put it (Monday) when we practiced penalty kicks,” Orbegozo said.
She shot at the right corner and it found the back of the net.
“It was such a relief. I can’t express what it felt like when everyone started running at me. It was a rush of excitement, a rush of adrenaline- there’s no better feeling,” Orbegozo said.
And no better reward.
A shot at a championship.
“It’s my senior year. I’ve never been on a team that’s done this and to have it happen in my senior year, just to be in postseason play, it’s a blessing. I’m so thankful,” Orbegozo said.
The season is not done for the Centaurs.
The 11th-seeded Centaurs play host to No. 22 Windsor in a Class L first-round state tournament match on Tuesday at the Bentley Athletic Complex.
“I’ve seen who they have played. They have had some Central Connecticut Conference matchups. It looks like a competitive game. I think being on the home field will give us a big advantage and a lot of confidence,” Snelling said.