BRISTOL - There will be no lack of talent in tonightâ€™s game when the fourth-seeded St. Paul girls soccer team (15-3-3) takes on No. 1 seeded Old Lyme (19-1) at 6:30 p.m. at Falcon Field in Meriden in the Class S semifinals.
Both schools bring prolific offenses to the field, the Falcons led by senior Kendall Davis and the Wildcats by junior Mya Johnson.
The two have played a pivotal role in the success of their teams this season as each has scored a team-leading 31 goals coming into tonight.
This stage is nothing new for the Wildcats coming in as back-to-back Class S state champions.
In 2015 Old Lyme played to a 2-2 draw with Notre Dame-Fairfield and last season beat Old Saybrook 3-1 in the championship game.
â€śThe biggest thing is that theyâ€™ve been in semifinal games and final games,â€ť St. Paul head coach Jim Husbands said. â€śSo this game might not be as nerve-racking to them as it might be to some of our kids who have never played in this kind of a game. I think thatâ€™s one thing we need to be concerned about, making sure our kids go in with the right frame of mind and the confidence that they need to able to play.â€ť
The work put in to get to this moment culminates in the opportunity to leave Falcon Field with a program altering win.
â€śTo get a win [tonight] would be huge for our team and for our program,â€ť the Falcons junior defender Catherine Ciampi said. â€śWeâ€™ve never came this far at all in St. Paulâ€™s history so itâ€™s just huge that weâ€™re here and weâ€™re really hoping that weâ€™re going to win.â€ť
â€śI think that weâ€™re going to have to keep our heads up,â€ť St. Paul junior striker Hannah Rinehart said. â€śEven if they get a goal in before us we need to keep playing strong.â€ť
Most worrisome for the Falcons is the Wildcats returned all but three players from last yearâ€™s championship team including leading scorer Johnson.
As a freshman, Johnson finished with 31 goals in 2015 and scored six goals in the state tournament that season.
Fittingly, the junior will be trying to score on a freshman that has gotten off to a stellar start of her own in St. Paul keeper Nina Zwolinski.
â€śNinaâ€™s had a great season,â€ť Ciampi said. â€śWeâ€™re so proud of her and feel very confident with her in the back. I think that sheâ€™s going to rise to the occasion tomorrow and play as great as she has all season.â€ť
The Falcons have allowed 21 total goals this season compared to the six allowed by the Wildcats.
St. Paul, however, has been improving on the defensive end of the field and in the past four games the Falcons have given up just two goals, a big reason behind the five-game winning streak and capturing the NVL conference championship.
Zwolinski was named the NVL tournament MVP and will need to be a huge factor tonight for the Falcons against an Old Lyme offense that has scored 75 goals.
â€śIâ€™ve been a bit nervous before games,â€ť Zwolinski said of her postseason performance so far. â€śIâ€™ve been trying to focus when I get out on the field and to do the best for my team.â€ť
The defense will get help from a St. Paul offense that has had a remarkable season of its own with 67 goals scored.
While Davis is the leading scorer, fellow senior captain Briana Senese has been just as important to the success of St. Paul.
Seneseâ€™s two goals got the Falcons past East Granby 2-1 in the quarterfinals after getting out to an early 1-0 deficit.
The two are the only seniors for the Falcons.
â€śWeâ€™ve got the experience,â€ť Husbands said. â€śWeâ€™ve got a lot of kids who have played really well this year and I donâ€™t see any reason why we shouldnâ€™t be able to compete [tonight].â€ť
While the success of Old Lyme is no secret, the Falcons have had a terrific season thus far and are a confident group heading into tonightâ€™s matchup having won their last five games.
There will be a lot of talent on both sides of the field tonight highlighted by Davis and Johnson, but the Falcons know how far theyâ€™ve come and arenâ€™t going to back down to any opponent.
â€śFor this school and the team and like [Ciampi] said for the program, this would be huge,â€ť St. Paul junior defender Emma Cretella said. â€śWeâ€™ve worked so hard and this year out of all years I think is our best chance.â€ť
â€śI think this year weâ€™ve come really far,â€ť Rinehart said. â€śIf we made it all the way it would be really nice.â€ť
When asked about the game tonight, coach Husbands wasnâ€™t hesitant to mention the word â€śhuge.â€ť
Thereâ€™s a lot on the line for both teams but St. Paul is in an unfamiliar position. How the Falcons react to that will be something to watch.
â€śTheyâ€™re a really strong team but I think if we work really hard that we can beat them,â€ť Cretella said. â€śTheyâ€™re really fast but weâ€™re fast too.â€ť
â€śTo get us into the state championship game would be an incredible accomplishment for this team and for these girls,â€ť Husbands said.
Dan Orencole can be reached atÂ 860-973-1811 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan