Pictured: The opening minutes of Coginchaug’s home match was cause for celebration between Katie Farr (15), who scored on an assist from Sam Paul (5), and Farr’s sister Sophie (9). (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
DURHAM – The Coginchaug girls soccer team has spent these first two weeks of the season learning how to play together, especially on the back line. After losing four seniors there, coach Megan Kavanaugh has had to reconstruct a unit that, on Thursday, operated at peak performance.
Coginchaug’s latest victory, 3-0 over defending Shoreline Conference champion Haddam-Killingworth, boosted the Devils’ record to 4-0-1. They have yet to allow a goal and allowed the Cougars (3-3-0) just a handful of good attempts on net.
“After last year we knew that the back line was kind of an area that we’d have to rebuild,” Kavanaugh said. “Actually, right now we’re playing four people who are naturally midfielders in the back, and they have been really stepping up with learning the system and learning to defend individually and as a unit.”
Senior co-captain Sam Paul has been the leader of the crew, which includes juniors Charlotte Dunleavy, who played in the back last year with the veterans, and Marina Chanthinith, who is back in the fold after not playing last fall.
“Sam is back there giving instruction and guidance and Charlotte’s experience helps, too,” Kavanaugh said. “They are all learning together. Every day they’re getting a little bit better. They’re smart kids. They want to do the right thing and I think they’ll just continue to build off each other. There is the pride of ‘nobody’s getting by me’ and ‘we have to do this together.’”
Junior Katie Farr scored six minutes into the match and sophomore Faith Corona converted in front of the net seven minutes later to give Coginchaug what turned out to be a sizeable advantage. Farr scored in the final 10 minutes of the second half with an assist from younger sister Sophie, a freshman.
Farr’s first goal, created by Paul, was about as impressive a score as you’ll see at this level. Paul, the center-back last year, ran down the ball before the end line on the right side, set herself and set a diagonal cross in front of the net. Farr headed it home with authority.
“We’ve been working on this for two weeks,” Kavanaugh said, “because so many times we’ve sent a ball across the box and haven’t gotten on the end of anything. We’ve practiced getting it across and making some sort of contact. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
“The kids said, ‘That’s what we’ve been practicing!’ It’s good to see when something we practice really pays off in the game.”
Junior Emma Samperi had four saves for Coginchaug, her best coming on an H-K free kick from 25 yards that she batted away in traffic. Samperi and senior Carly Benbow have shared time in net depending on the situation.
“Emma so far has been our No. 1,” Kavanaugh said. “We kind of knew going into the season that we had two very different goalkeepers with two very different strengths. Our opponents would determine which would play. Emma’s confidence has grown, she’s coming out of the goal well, she’s aggressive off her line. She’s stepped up big time, and the defenders are gaining confidence in her as the games go on. But that’s not to say we have only one goalkeeper.”
The game also marked the season debut of senior co-captain Alyssa Woodward, who has recovered from a summertime ankle injury.
Kavanaugh said this week’s opponents would show her what the Blue Devils are made of and capable of. Well, a 2-0 win over East Hampton on Tuesday and now a convincing win over an H-K team that is on the younger side this year has given Coginchaug a good feeling about its prospects.
“I was looking for moments where things weren’t working and how do we respond when they weren’t going well,” said Kavanaugh. “We are learning each other’s tendencies and how best to build off each other and taking a ‘do what the team needs me to do approach’. That, sprinkled in with really talented players, has helped gotten us off to a good start.”
H-K keeper Brianna Nugent finished with six saves.
Coginchaug hosts North Branford on Monday. H-K is back in action Tuesday at home against Cromwell.