Rewarding season for Eagles ends in semis

MIDDLETOWN — All season long the Tolland girls soccer team defied expectations. The Eagles were expected to be in rebuilding mode after graduating nine players from their 2012 squad, but were instead one of the top teams in the CCC, and earned a No. 2 seed in the Class M State Tournament, where they faced third-seeded Waterford in the semifinals Tuesday night. Unfortunately, Tolland’s luck finally ran out in a spirited battle with the Lancers. They was unable to maintain a consistent offensive attack in a 2-1 loss.

The Eagles jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a goal from junior Melissa Azinheira, but surrendered it due to two gorgeous goals from Waterford star Melina Spanos.

Tolland made a frantic push on offense after the Lancers took the lead midway through the second half, but obtained few good looks at the goal.

“I thought it was a pretty fair battle on both sides,” Eagles head coach Ken Boucher said. “They had us for a while, we had them for a while, and that’s how it was throughout the game. I don’t think either team had very much of an edge. It just so happened that Spanos got through us a couple of times.”

With the loss, Tolland ends 2013 with a record of 14-3-2.

Both teams moved the ball well early and had scoring chances. The Eagles broke through with 14:35 remaining in the first half when Azinheira snuck the ball past goalkeeper Bobby Smith after her defender fell down.

Tolland’s aggressive defense limited Waterford’s scoring opportunities throughout the first half, but Spanos was too much for them when she broke with just over nine minutes remaining. Her laser shot knotted the game at the 9:15 mark, and gave the Lancers some much needed momentum. Meanwhile, their defense was similarly tough on the Eagles offense. Although both teams moved the ball well in the first half, it was mostly for naught.

“I thought we started off a little slow on offense and they stepped quicker to some of the balls,” Boucher said. “We’ve never been a team that started off the blocks fast. Were usually more of a second half team.”

The second half followed much of the same pattern as the first. Both teams went through both periods of controlling the pace and playing catch-up, and clear looks at the goal were hard to come by. Yet again, it was Spanos who picked up Waterford when it was struggling to maintain possession. Her goal that got past sophomore goalie Victoria Richardson with `7:19 remaining occurred after she had weaved through four defenders, and visibly took some of the wind out of the Eagles sails.

“We haven’t played too many girls of Spanos’ quality,” Boucher stated. “She’s a tremendous scorer. On the second goal, the first defender stepped, and it started a domino effect where she was able to get through four of them.”

Tolland did its best to speed up the tempo on offense after the decisive goal, but ultimately failed to find many holes in the Lancers disciplined defensive front. Its best scoring chance came when junior Jenny Jacobs broke through the defense at the 14 minute mark, but her shot banged off the top of the net with 13:53 remaining. Jacobs, the Eagles top scorer, was shut down on offense the entire match.

“We knew that they were going to be tough on Jenny and she wasn’t going to get too many touches on the ball,” Boucher said. “They had two or three girls on her in the second half, and we kept trying to find her where she could lay a ball off and spin and go. I told them in the last five minutes that pretty was out the window and we needed to see what we could do, but it just didn’t happen. I don’t think it was a matter of them shutting us down on offense as much as both sides were wearing one another out.”

“They played really good defense all night” Jacobs said, “and always had one or two defenders in on me.”

Both Boucher and Jacobs will look back on this season with fondness.

“The beginning of the season, I never expected to get to here,” Boucher said. “After graduating so many good players over the last two years, I thought this would be a rebuilding year and that maybe we’d get to the first round of the tournament and that’s it. I just told them, I’m not upset about this game because we played tremendously.”

“I’m going to look back on how fun this season was,” Jacobs said. “All the girls on this team are so funny and great to spend time with. This team is a safe haven for all of us.”

— Photos and story by Danny Atkinson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *