BEACON FALLS — Two weeks ago, the Woodland girls soccer team held a celebration with a pasta dinner prepared for them by Karen Kemp, the mother of senior midfielder Jehna Kemp. Over the course of a long season the Hawks have become a family.
On Monday, Woodland gathered again for a celebration to honor its seniors playing their final home game. The senior night celebration was held with heavy hearts as they also remembered Karen Kemp, who passed away over the weekend.
As the seniors—Jamie Minoski, Riley Shaw, Kelly Boucher and Kelly Sherman—were introduced, the crowd cheered their favorite Hawks. The final senior to be announced to the crowd was Jehna Kemp, accompanied by brother Matt and father Ken.
Hawks honored the memory of Karen Kemp and the seniors by coming away with a hard-fought, 3-1 victory over Wolcott. Keri DeBiase led the way scoring two goals with Audra Blewitt adding a goal and an assist. Marissa Macek added an assist with keeper Alma Rizvani making five saves in the net for the Hawks (11-1-3).
But the story of the night wasn’t the score.
“This team has become a close-knit family over the course of the season,” Woodland head coach Joe Fortier said. “No one ever wants to go through something like this. But with this group of girls they have all been there for each other and especially for Jehna.”
Woodland controlled the action from the outset holding the time of possession for most of the game. But the Hawks had their hands full, going up against Wolcott keeper Rebecca (17 saves). Alaina Neddermann, Shaw, Kemp and Andrea Piccolo helped the Hawks maintain possessions throughout the game.
With 17:11 left in the first half, Wolcott broke the scoreless deadlock when Lindsay Cifaldi took a corner inside the box and lofted a shot over the head of Rizvani to put the Eagles on top 1-0.
Ten minutes later, Blewitt wrestled away a ball at midfield and sent a lead pass out to DeBiase, who outraced three defenders into the box. With the defenders trailing the play, DeBiase slid in and put the shot just past the dive of Darley to tie the game at 1-1.
“I have been playing with these seniors for the past three years,” DeBiase said. “We are one big family and it was so great to have them get this win on senior night. That Wolcott keeper is one of the best in the league. But we were able to keep the pressure on by maintaining our possessions. The seniors are the core of our defense and they have been phenomenal this year and that is why we have been so successful. We will certainly miss them next season.”
Woodland finally went ahead with 19:10 left in the game. Marissa Macek had her back to the goal out in front of the box and made a spin move to shed her defender. A quick pass inside found Blewitt shoulder-to-shoulder with a defender.
Blewitt switched the ball to her other foot and caught Darley out of position. The shot eluded the diving keeper at the post for a 2-1 Woodland advantage.
Later, Kemp sent a lead pass over the top of the defense, catching DeBiase in full stride outside the right corner of the box.
A push from behind sent DeBiase sprawling to the turf and the referee awarded a penalty kick with 10:37 remaining. The junior attacker lined it up and sent a low line drive out of the reach of Darley to the near post for the insurance goal to make it a 3-1 final margin.
With 1:36 left, Fortier sent Savanah Aviz into the game to replace Kemp, who left to a rousing ovation from the crowd and big hugs from her coach and the rest of her teammates.
“This has been pretty rough on all of us but I have been amazed by how these girls have handled such a delicate situation,” Fortier said. “These girls are here for Jehna and it’s not just for this season. They have developed a bond together and a friendship that will last a lifetime.”
The Hawks will be the No. 2 seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament, which begins Saturday.