Pictured: Mercy is the No. 4 seed in the SCC Tournament and will meet No. 5 Branford in the quarterfinals Saturday at Xavier High School at 1pm.
By Paul Augeri
Sixteen games into the soccer season, Mercy has recalculated its compass in the direction of the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament and, later on, the state tournament.
The Tigers wrapped up a 12-2-2 regular season on Wednesday with a 2-0 victory over host Cheshire. Mercy has posted six straight shutout wins and is unbeaten in its last nine matches.
“We have been playing great,” coach Marcus Harley said. “We have been improving ever since the season started, which is what we wanted to do. The main goal was to build to the end. We qualified for the league tournament and state tournament and we wanted to be rolling going into both.”
Sophomore forward Kate Donlan scored midway through the first half and freshman Laney Smith iced it with her fourth varsity goal on an assist from Kaylee Benson in the 77th minute.
Donlan, who scored 10 goals as a freshman, has scored 16 in 16 games this year. She’s done a nice job, Harley said, of creating chances for teammates when opponents send multiple defenders her way.
“She is a consistent player and a workhorse,” said Harley. “She’s just got the energy and the drive to play and play and play. She plays through when it gets tough, or when she’s in pain, whatever. With the season she had last year, we knew she would get double-teamed and even triple-teamed, and she can make passes.
“I told her, if you can give us one goal a game, and we’ve got Melina in goal … and she’s done that.”
Junior Melina Ford, who had 6 saves, and her defense – Avery Kohs, Jess Eaton and Jules Yuris in the back, and Megan Menard, Julia Nadolski and Lauren Kohs in the middle – all played a role in shutting down the Rams (9-5-1). It was the team’s 12th shutout of the year.
“It’s not just Melina,” Harley said. “She doesn’t see a whole lot of shots because those girls stop a lot of balls from getting through.”
Mercy’s two losses this season were to Amity at home (second game of the season) and Guilford on the road. In the Tigers’ second meeting against Amity, ranked third in this week’s Class LL/L coaches’ poll, the teams played to a 2-2 draw that Harley said was their springboard to a strong finish.
“That tie at Amity was a big tie for us,” he said. “It gave the girls confidence to go finish the last seven or so games of the season. And we’ve just been rolling. We’re getting goals. One of our big problems at the start of the season was we were not scoring. We’re still working on it, but we’ve fixed that. We’ve got other people scoring.”
Megan Gallagher, Allie Epright and Haley Morales have provided some scoring punch. And so has Smith, who came into the picture after starting the season with the freshman and JV teams and totaling 16-17 goals, Harley said.
“We moved her up the first time we played Cheshire (on Oct. 1),” said Harley, “and wanted to see if she could hold her own against the older guys. She took full advantage of that and demonstrated that we should keep her up at varsity. She’s getting a lot of playing time and producing, whether its scoring goals or creating chances. She’s left-footed and can really dribble, and defenses are not aware of it, and she’s got a really good chop (move).”
No. 4 seed Mercy will play a SCC tournament home game on Saturday at Xavier (1pm) against No. 5 Branford. The Tigers won the Hammonasset Division with a 6-1-1 record.
“Saturday, that’s when our season starts,” Harley said.