By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
A year after the fall postseason was canceled and teams were left wondering what could have been, the Naugatuck Valley League girls soccer tournament returns this weekend.
The first round is set to start Saturday with higher seeds hosting games. The semifinals are scheduled for Nov. 2, starting at 5:30 p.m., with the final Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. The semifinals and final are out at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. Seeds are to be determined.
The Woodland girls stand at the head of the pack at 12-0-3 with one game left to play — Oct. 27 against St. Paul. The Hawks beat Naugatuck on Oct. 22 and Seymour on Oct. 25 by identical 6-1 scores.
“Playing some of these teams that will be in the tournament is always a good way to get your team ready to take it to that next level,” Woodland head coach Cait Witham said.
Woodland and Naugatuck battled to a 2-2 draw in their first meeting on Oct. 16. Witham said the outcome didn’t surprise her, noting that Naugatuck head coach Lisa Mariano always has her girls ready to play.
“At this point it really doesn’t matter what seeding you are going into a tournament like this,” she said. “It’s all a win-or-go-home scenario, so we just need to go out there and take care of business.”
Naugatuck is 7-7-1 with a game Oct. 27 against Wolcott left to play. The Greyhounds went 2-2-1 in their last five matches.
“I think we have finally found our groove,” Mariano said. “A lot of the younger girls are stepping up and they are stepping up at the right time.”
“The last few weeks we have been playing some tough teams packed with talent,” she added. “That is preparing us for what we will face in the tournament. It’s a perfect scenario and I think we will be ready to compete.”
Woodland boasts a sturdy defense with Isabela Mejias and Casey Mulligan sharing duties in the net and a back line manned by seniors Jenna Mierek and Katy More and juniors Kaitlyn Leonard and Madeline Raffone.
On the offensive side, the Hawks have relied on junior Paige Letourneau and senior Sara Alessio. Juniors April Bell, Nina Daponte and Delia Kotsaftis provide a spark on offense, as well.
Witham is also excited about the progress of some of the younger players, including sophomore Dani Celotto and freshmen Michaela Gasparri and Meghan Hartnett.
The Greyhounds aren’t as deep as most teams in the tournament, but they have excelled using a lineup that is diversified and can play multiple positions. Naugatuck is led by seniors Saige Winslow, Alannah Hernandez, Julianna Magalhaes and Anissa Simones.
Winslow leads the defensive charge in net with the back field of juniors Sophia DeFilippo, Hernandez and Thalia Jardim and sophomore Ava DeFilippo.
Magalhaes and junior Lauren Sonski lead the way offensively. Juniors Rana Aljamal and Aubrey Deller and sophomore Layla Nemeth have been solidifying the midfield.
Naugy has four freshmen, Bethany Carroll, Ella Celozzi, Isabela Gilchrist and Hallie Ortega, who have contributed to the team’s success, as well.
“The goals for the season is to always make the NVL tournament and the states,” Mariano said. “So, from that perspective, we have done what we set out to do and now we are looking to take it as far as we can.”