NAUGATUCK — There is something to be said about making a good first impression. The City Hill Middle School girls soccer team, in its first year of competing in the Naugatuck Valley Middle School League’s six-team circuit, surprised the conference by taking the championship in an upset of Long River.
The third-seeded Cyclones (8-4) had their work cut out, facing two teams they lost to four times during the season: No. 1 Long River and No. 2 Swift (of Watertown-Oakville).
In its second go-around with the top two teams, City Hill lost 4-0 to Swift and 3-0 to Long River. So when the playoffs began, City Hill may have been an afterthought to win a league title. But the girls of Naugatuck stood the league on its ear and won the title.
“The turning point, in my opinion, came at the end of the regular season,” City Hill coach Ron Plasky said. “I met with each girl individually and talked about their play, as well as the team’s overall play. We focused our practices on competing every day at a higher level, while coming up with a game plan against our next opponents’ team style and strengths. The improvement from that point on was immeasurable.”
Caitlin May stood in goal for the Cyclones with the defense of Gabby Carrelo, Erin Doris, Hailey Deitelbaum and Bridget Rosikiewicz guarding the front of the box as City Hill faced off against Long River for the league championship.
“I give Caitlin a ton of credit,” Plasky said. “She became a force for us in the playoffs and made some huge saves down the stretch.”
Possession played a key role and it began at midfield where Cindy Stirk dominated the action. Abi Pruchnicki outhustled everyone to the 50/50 balls helping to maintain possession and Macie Best steered passes downfield.
Eighteen minutes in, Makayla Teixeira dished a beautiful pass that caught Hailey Boulanger in stride and she one-timed it past the Long River keeper for a 1-0 Cyclones advantage.
“Cindy really dominated midfield in practice and took that mentality into every game,” Plasky said. “Macie played as well as anyone on the team and was arguably our most valuable player in the playoffs. Hailey and Makayla were our two leading scorers and in the playoffs they came together and started to feed off one another to get our offense going.”
Armed with a 1-0 lead, City Hill came out in the second half looking to maintain the momentum. Nicole Mercer and Hannah Butler teamed up to strengthen the defensive presence in front of the Cyclones net.
Mia Rotatori, Sydney Lauer, Nicole Rohlman, Jalyssa Holmes and Jenna Rohlman added to the midfield pressure as City Hill controlled possession in the second half.
Best made a nice pass to Pruchnicki who wound up and drilled the eventual game-winner to the back of the net 15 minutes into the second half.
“Abi was a one-man wrecking crew in the final,” Plasky said.
Long River managed to get one to go with 8 minutes left but the Cyclones banded together and hung on for the championship with a 2-1 victory.
“Winning this championship in our first season was a special accomplishment for these girls,” Plasky said. “Their focus and determination in the playoffs was just incredible. They have had great coaching in their youth and travel programs. Coming together like this in middle school will only help the high school program in future years. This was without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had coaching and it was such a pleasure to be part of such a great group of girls. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”