By Paul Augeri
Pictured: Katie Farr beats Valley Regional goalkeeper Elizabeth Allen in the second half for Coginchaug’s third goal of the match.
DURHAM – A tie last weekend against venerable Old Lyme was the first indication that the Coginchaug girls’ season was beginning to come into focus.
The Blue Devils kicked their performance up a notch Thursday in a 3-1 victory over Valley Regional, signaling that they should be included among the contenders in the Shoreline Conference.
Sophomore Katie Farr scored two goals, junior Samantha Paul scored and also assisted Farr, and senior keeper Claire DeFlora made six saves as Coginchaug improved to 3-1-3 with four games left before the start of the Shoreline’s postseason tournament.
“We’ve been putting together pockets of good play, but we’ve really kind of focused on sustaining that for 80 minutes,” Blue Devils coach Megan Kavanaugh said. “We’ve gotten a little bit deeper as the season has gone on We’ve gotten more people who have gained some (varsity) experience and that has kind of helped us sustain those pockets of good play longer.”
Sophomore Olivia Baldwin headed a corner kick that squirted through the box inside the near post in the 70th minute. But Valley (3-1-1) was unable to produce another good opportunity against Coginchaug’s sturdy defense.
“In the Shoreline you have to go through adjustments in your play from one game to the next,” Warriors coach Lauren McDonald said, “and today we had to be a (better) defensive team. That’s kind of where we struggled today. Coginchaug’s midfield is very strong and they have some very skilled players.”
Farr put the Blue Devils ahead in the 11th minute, flicking a pass from Paul out of the reach of Valley keeper Elizabeth Allen. Paul buried a shot to the far post to make it 2-0 with 6:07 remaining in the first half.
“This was a good result for us,” Kavanaugh said. “We were kind of excited for Valley to come in to kind of give us a gauge of where we were because they’re always strong, they’re always physical and they’re always fast. For us, those are the kinds of teams that give us trouble, the teams that play the kind of kick-and-run sort of style. This was definitely a good test for us to sort of see where we were and how mentally tough we can be.”
Farr, who is making a case as one of the Shoreline’s top players, put the match out of Valley’s reach when she beat Allen one on one midway through the second half.
Farr, Paul, senior center-back Jess Parkinson and junior Alyssa Woodward form the core of Coginchaug’s attack. Kavanaugh said many on her roster play summer soccer, although not on the same teams, so their ability to play well together through seven games is one reason why the Blue Devils are on an upward track.
“As we were starting the season, we were trying to find where we were as a team because we didn’t have a true preseason,” the coach said. “Our first couple of games we had to figure out how to jell together, how to mix in some players who haven’t had a ton of varsity experience and blend them with the kids who do have a lot of varsity experience and make them a cohesive group.”
The Blue Devils’ 2-2 draw with Old Lyme ended a four-match winning streak for the Wildcats, who have won three state championships in the last four years.
“So I think when we played Old Lyme, the players started to believe ‘maybe we have come together and can do something now,’” Kavanaugh said. “Because a tie against Old Lyme is always a great result. They are so strong in every aspect of the game and they are always a good measure for where you are when you play a team like that.
“And we try to play a similar style to Old Lyme, so that tie is a good gauge for where we are, and kind of where we want to continue to improve, so when we get to the postseason we’re at our peak.”
Valley has played only four times since the Oct. 2 start of the compressed season (11 matches instead of 16). The Warriors’ preseason practices were disrupted by the school’s closure in September because of a positive coronavirus case.
“We’ve kind of been held back in a way, but we keep rolling with the punches,” McDonald said. “That’s the year in a nutshell, unfortunately. But I commend the girls for coming out and working hard every game. This wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but they didn’t give up. We were able to get a goal back, we just wish we had that momentum the whole game.”