By KEN MORSE
The St. Paul girls soccer team has been knocking at the door ever since they joined the Naugatuck Valley League in the fall of 2010. Last Friday at DeBarber Stadium on the campus of Seymour High School, the Lady Falcons tore the door right off the hinges to lay claim to their first NVL title.
“It feels great,” said St. Paul head coach Jim Husbands. “Every year, we have gotten better. Our preseason perspective was to have St. Paul move up into the elite category of the NVL and you can’t get anymore elite than being the league champions.”
The road to the top wasn’t an easy trek for (13-3-3) St. Paul as they had to get through number four seed Naugatuck 3-2 in the quarterfinals, number one seed Woodland 2-0 in the semifinals, and then knock off last years NVL runner-up in number two seed Holy Cross 2-0 in the championship showdown.
Kendall Davis, Addison Davis, and Briana Senese scored goals for the Falcons in the win over (12-2-2) Naugatuck. Kendall Davis scored both goals in the 2-0 win over (14-1-1) Woodland with goal keeper Nina Zwolinski making it hold up stopping 17 shots on goal.
In the championship game the Falcons were clinging to a 1-0 advantage after Kendall Davis sent her 25th goal of the season to the back of the net. The quick-footed defense of Romi Bagdasarian, Hannah Stanford, Catherine Ciampi and Emma Cretella formed a wall out in front of Zwolinski, the freshman who was named the MVP of the tournament with 53 saves and two shutouts.
Finally at 21:47 left to play Addison Davis got a pass over to Hannah Rinhart out in front and she managed to squeeze one in past the Holy Cross keeper Carley Defoe at the post for a 2-0 lead.
“It was definitely a long second half,” smiled a relieved St. Paul head coach Jim Husbands. “I kept trying to not look up at the clock but once we got that second goal it took a lot of pressure off the girls.”
Holy Cross had its chances outshooting the Falcons 22-15 but every time the Crusaders tried to make a big play midfielders Carolyn Del Debbio and Isabella Griffin came up even bigger intercepting advances in the passing lanes.
“It was just a blur,” said Rinhart of her goal that gave her teammates a cushion. “There was a lot of players around and I really wasn’t expecting the pass and then there it was. Getting that goal was just the best feeling in the whole world.”
The Crusaders have been in the limelight before playing in last year’s championship game with Watertown. So Holy Cross may have been more accustomed to the pressure but they certainly were no challenge for Zwolinski.
Holy Cross came right after St. Paul to start the second half when Kiley Harnish stepped around a defender and was nose to nose with the Falcons keeper. Zwolinski made a leaping save on a point blank blast to take away a sure tying goal.
A little more steam went out of the Crusaders’ attack when a 15 yard shot sailed high over the top of the goal. Moments later, Zwolinski emerged from a pile up out in front to pull down a corner attempt at the doorstep.
“I’m so proud of my teammates and how well we played for our first time in a championship game,” said Zwolinski. “This defense is always there for me and they are so quick to the ball. I can’t believe how this feels, this is just awesome.”
“In the beginning of the season we were a little rough,” said Kendall Davis. “Our communication has improved and we are playing at our best right now.”
The Crusaders continued to attack the St. Paul goal but chasing two goals made the task seem impossible as the minutes ticked off the clock. At the six minute mark, it became obvious that this was the Falcons’ game and their championship as Zwolinski fended off another pair of shots inside the box and it was only a matter of time before the celebration began.
“We have improved with every game since day one,” said Husbands. “The girls put in the hard work and I’m looking forward to four more games in the state tournament.”