Tolland Shuts Down Watertown Attack to Capture Semifinal Win

NEW BRITAIN-Through nearly 74 minutes of Tuesday night’s Class L Tournament semifinal game against No. 3 Watertown, No. 2 Tolland girls’ soccer had outplayed the Indians, and yet found themselves tied at one and on the verge of going to overtime. The Eagles needed to get out ahead of the tenacious defense and create a shot that could beat goalie Emily Deptula, who was having a strong game. That’s when senior Hannah Sotrozuk and freshman Allysa Giroux came together to smoothly execute the game-winning play.

With just over six minutes remaining, Tolland gained control of the ball at midfield and it quickly found its way to Giroux, who was able to outrace her defender. Giroux then slipped a beautiful pass to the open Storozuk in the left corner, and the team leader quickly hit a pinpoint shot into the opposite side of the net, giving the Eagles a 2-1 lead and ultimately securing a trip to the state finals.

Tolland (17-2) advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1989, when it lost to Weston. It experienced a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Notre Dame-Fairfield two years ago in the semifinals. It will face No. 16 Farmington (8-4-4) on Saturday, which defeated Hand 2-1 on penalty kicks in the first semifinal. If the Eagles win, they will capture the program’s first championship since 1985.

“Alyssa just put a great ball through and I just kept my eye on the back of the net and put it through,” Storozuk said.

“I feel speechless, that’s for sure,” she said, her voice cracking. “I’m excited and can’t wait for Saturday. We’re going to come up big, and hopefully go home with the victory.”

“A lot of these girls in the senior class have been playing together since third grade. That’s almost a decade. They just know where each other is going to be and who cheats and who doesn’t, and what their skills are. Finding that ball across to Hannah was just amazing,” head coach Erica Reed said. “It’s really nice to play with girls when you know what they are going to do, it’s pretty to watch.”

Tolland took control of the action early through quality defensive play. The Eagles agile defenders tightly guarded Watertown’s top offensive players and regularly kept possessions short, cutting passes off and keeping them from getting downfield. In doing so, the defense created more opportunities for the Tolland offense.

The offense possessed the ball a majority of the time for in the opening minutes and made many quality passes, but the Indians defense was able to keep players from getting too open and make passes closer to the goal difficult. Eventually, however, the defenders were unable to hold up and Tolland got on the board.

Giroux again made an excellent pass on the first goal, this time finding senior Lindsey Papa open close to the goal on its left. Papa rifled a shot to the right corner of the goal that Deptula had no time to react to, giving Tolland a 1-0 lead 16:17 into the game.

“Giroux again slipped the ball through and in front of me like she did with Hannah, and I just took it right across my body to the left and into the corner,” Papa said. She has four tournament goals.

The senior credited her offensive success “to the support of our midfielders, and everyone working together. The reason I have been getting the ball through is because our midfielders have been working together, and that’s how we’ve gotten this far. We have such a special group this year”.

For the remainder of the first half, the play was more back and forth and fast paced, with neither team able to advance the ball near the goal easily and generate solid scoring opportunities. Tolland had multiple shots go over the goal or wide of it, but each of these were challenged. Its defenders continued to surround Indian players and not allow them to gain any quality shots, frequently beating them to balls.

Watertown’s two shots on goal in the half came roughly eight minutes into the game on a shot straight at Kelsey Leach, which she easily stopped, and a high, arching shot with 9:32 remaining that was altered and also easily stopped.

The defense was largely able to hold striker Meadow Mancini, one of the state’s best scorers and All-New England last season, in check during the game, even as she scored the Indians lone goal. Reed and her defenders discussed their ability to do so and its importance.

“What I did when defending her was just try not to let her turn. She can beat you down the sideline any day, so you need to always be on her back and not let her the opportunity to do so,” Maddie Peasley said.

“Meadow is a top-class striker, so for these guys (Maddie and Rachel Lee) to shut her down is pretty impressive,” Reed said.

In the opening few minutes of the second half, the Tolland defense continued to play at a high level, playing highly physically and quickly closing in on passing lanes. When Watertown was able to get off the occasional shot, it was either wide of the goal or above it.

“Going into these games, you know you’re going to face some very good strikers and we got to shut them down. We’ve trained the girls all year to play tight and play hard when the ball is in the air, and they’re just doing it,” Reed said.

On offense, the Eagles were unable to convert on multiple scoring opportunities during this stretch. Deptula made diving saves to her right on consecutive possessions in the opening three minutes, with the shooters failing to kick the ball to the opposite side of where she was located. A few minutes later, a shot from the right corner was saved, followed by one that was high. This stretch ended with a save by Deptula that was well-defended and slowed down.

Even as Tolland was outplaying Watertown, its inability to increase its lead meant that all the momentum could change with one play, and that’s just what happened. Mancini received the ball in the right corner ahead of her defenders and displayed her talents, firing a quick and pinpoint shot that beat Leach to her right with 23:19 remaining, tying the match at one.

In the next few minutes, the game became more physical and back and forth. Tolland was unable to generate significant offense and appeared slightly worn down. However, its defense continued to shut down Mancini and her teammates, leaving the action mainly located in the middle of the field. However, the Eagles immediately snatched momentum back with Storozuk’s goal.

“I think that we really need to talk this week about keeping up the intensity throughout the game,” Reed said. “We talked at halftime about how one goal is not enough. I think they saw that. You can’t play with a one-goal lead. You have to put it in. We had some opportunities, but we really need to put those easy shots in.”

Leach had four saves for Tolland, while Deptula made 14 for Rockville.

Peasley discussed what the team must do to get ready for the title game against Farmington.

“I’m just so excited to be her and I know we’re going to give it our all. In practices, we need to keep our drive going, and on the bus, we have to keep our rituals going.”

When asked about their chances heading into Saturday’s game, Reed and her players showed the upmost confidence.

“With our senior class, I believe we can do anything. The sky’s the limit!”, Reed said.

“I definitely think we’re going to win in the finals,” senior Ally Enman said.

“We just have to stay positive, keep our heads in the game and put it in the back of the net,” Storozuk said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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