Woodland girls soccer captures second straight NVL title

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REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
WATERBURY — Woodland High girls soccer coach Cait Hernon admitted the second half of the Naugatuck Valley League girls soccer championship game on Thursday, Nov. 3, was “exceptionally stressful.”
The top-seeded Hawks were clinging to a one-goal lead over No. 2 Watertown, trying to defend their league title from a season ago. The Warriors were relentless, controlling the ball for much of the half.
Luckily for Hernon and Woodland, the “security blanket” was minding the net. Junior keeper Casey Mulligan made 15 saves and was named the NVL tournament’s Most Valuable Player as Woodland beat Watertown, 1-0, to win back-to-back league championships and third overall.
“It feels a lot less stressful now that the game is over,” Hernon said.
Michaela Gasparri scored with 23:38 left in the first half off an assist from Dani Celotto, which Mulligan made stand over the rest of the game. The Woodland (16-2-1) keeper said a 1-0 lead is the hardest advantage to maintain. She credited her teammates in helping her maintain the lead and win MVP honors.
“I have a lot of faith in our defense,” Mulligan said. “I trust them with everything. I think they did an amazing job.”
Gasparri noted that over the second half the Hawks had to keep dropping one of their forwards back to the center mid position in order to slow down the Warriors (13-5-1) attack.
“It was really tough to adjust to how they adjusted to play in the second half,” Gasparri said. “Our defenders are so good. They are one of the main reasons why we won last year and this year.”
Over the course of the season Gasparri and Celotto had to step on offense with senior Paige Letourneau sidelined with a torn ACL. Hernon said the duo combined to score 50 goals this season, adding about 30 assists.
“They play so well together, it is really hard to stop them because you have to stop both,” Hernon said. “You can’t just stop one.”
Isabella Beauty made 10 saves for the Warriors, who fell just short of winning their first NVL title since 2018. Watertown has reached the NVL final in 10 of the 13 years the tournament has been held.
“I am so proud of my team right now,” Watertown senior Daniella Perugini said before pausing for a few tears. “We worked really hard all season. I am so proud of all that we have done. I love my girls, I love my team and I just couldn’t be more proud.”

SEMIFINAL
WOLCOTT – An opportunity came the way of the top-seeded Woodland girls soccer team late in overtime of their NVL semifinal against Wolcott on Tuesday night at Joe Monroe Field.
Eagle keeper Kim Langlais made a tremendous diving save on an initial shot from the right side by Dani Celotto, but Meghan Hartnett was there to put in the rebound for the Hawks with 3:15 left on the clock. That one goal was the difference in a 1-0 Woodland win over fourth-seeded Wolcott. Second-seeded Watertown got 16 saves from Isabella Beauty and a goal from Francesca Guerrera in its 1-0 victory over third-seeded Holy Cross in the nightcap. The Hawks and Warriors will play for the championship Thursday evening at 5 o’clock at Municipal Stadium’s Ray Snyder Sr. Field.
Wolcott came out ready for Woodland and had the Hawks on their heels in the first half. Woodland won the NVL title last season, but being there before isn’t always a positive.
“I think they just weren’t as prepared as they needed to be to face a Wolcott team that was very determined tonight and played their hearts out,” Hawk coach Cait Hernon said.
Hernon got a better effort out of her team in the second half and especially overtime, but the game remained in a scoreless deadlock until Hartnett found herself in the right place at the right time. Hernon may not have liked the way her team played for much of the game, but the Hawks are back in the final.
“This group of girls has worked very, very hard to prove that they’re a competitive team and that they deserve to be in the finals,” Hernon said.
Wolcott came up just short, and coach Chris Riviezzo felt bad for his team after the hard work they put in for 100 minutes.