Pictured: The 2021 Coginchaug girls soccer team leaves the field for the final time, its season ending in the semifinal round of the Class S tournament in Waterbury.
By Scott Serrano
WATERBURY — Coginchaug fell one step short of playing for its first state championship in girls soccer, and it was a familiar nemesis that ended the quest.
Despite fighting hard throughout all 80 minutes, the 12th-seeded Blue Devils came up short Tuesday night in the Class S semifinals at Municipal Stadium, falling 4-0 to No. 20 Northwest Catholic – the same team that knocked them out in the quarterfinals of the 2019 tournament.
Coginchaug finishes the season 12-4-2.
“We did a lot of great things this season,” said Coginchaug co-captain Alyssa Woodward. “We played as a team, never were selfish … came together and played our hearts out — we never gave up.”
Northwest Catholic (10-8-2) will face No. 2 Holy Cross (16-2-1) in the state final this weekend at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.
The Lions got going early Tuesday, scoring just six minutes in when Emily Nicholas dribbled through the center of the Blue Devils defense and slipped the ball to the right side, where Alexia Lilly buried it to open the scoring.
“We knew we had to stay composed and try to get the goal back,” said Coginchaug senior co-captain Samantha Paul, a starter on the 2019 team that lost to the Lions in the quarterfinals. “It didn’t go in our favor, but we gave it our all the entire game.”
The Blue Devils came close to getting that goal back with 17 minutes left in the first half. Lila Craig made a nice defensive stop near midfield, stealing the ball from a Lion striker and feeding it to Paul on the left. She moved it on to Katie Farr, who burst down the sideline and rocketed a shot that sailed just high and wide left of the net.
On the ensuing goal kick, Northwest Catholic quickly moved the ball upfield to Nicholas, who barely stayed onside and slotted her first of three goals on the night in the bottom left corner to make it 2-0.
“The first goal … huge, just huge to set the tone early like we wanted to,” said Northwest Catholic coach Shelbie Carr. “We wanted to come out hard and then continue the pressure … and we did.”
Down two goals, Coginchaug kept fighting. Eight minutes in Farr sent another cross in that Lions goalkeeper Charlotte Polking bobbled but was able to cover up before the Devils could pounce on the rebound.
A minute later Coginchaug defender Serena Fournier kept her team in the game, clearing a shot off the line with the net empty, keeping the deficit at 2-0.
In the same minute, Blue Devils goalkeeper Emma Samperi made a save on a cross and Coginchaug set out on the counterattack, with Marina Chanthinith dribbling down the left flank, past a defender and sending a slicing shot inches past the far post.
Coginchaug later had a potential scoring chance by Farr wiped out on a close offsides call, and Craig forced Polking into coming off the line to make another save as the Blue Devils continued their push to get back in the game.
But Northwest Catholic began to exert its own pressure, forcing Samperi to come up with a big save on Nicholas who broke in alone on the right side of the box.
The Lions finally broke through again with 12 minutes left, with Nicholas scoring her second goal from the top of the box as the gaps in the Coginchaug defense began to widen.
“They (Northwest Catholic) always have powerhouse players — they never stop,” said Coginchaug coach Megan Kavanaugh. “We tried to exploit areas we thought we could exploit … we tried to open up the offense in the second half, do some things to get some offense going.”
Nicholas finished off her hat trick and the scoring with 1:07 left, effectively ending Coginchaug’s season one stop short of the program’s first title game appearance.
“The seniors did a really great job of putting the team on their shoulders … trying to get the win even when things weren’t going well,” Kavanaugh said. “We’re gonna fight for 80 minutes. Our motto has been ‘we want to earn it’ and we worked hard this year to earn our spot in the semifinals.”