An intense crosstown West Hartford rivalry was on display Saturday afternoon when the Hall girls soccer team hosted Conard.
By Paul Palmer. Photos by Paul Palmer and Craig Rosenberg
The rain cleared out just in time Saturday for part one of the Conard-Hall girls soccer showdown for the 2023 season. In a classic battle on the Hall high turf, Leah Berey poked home a loose ball for the Titans off a scramble late in the second half to give the home side the 1-0 win.
Hall had the better of play for the first half with several good scoring chances that were denied by Conard goalie Meryl Rung and her defensive mates. Hall’s Sally Kritzman saw her one-time volley go just over the top of the net from 15 yards out for one of the Titans’ better chances.
For most of the half it was a matter of who would give way first – Conard’s defense or Hall’s offense. Sarah Punt, Kritzman, and Kyra Baun did a solid job of using the right sideline for sustained attacks. The Titans had seven first half corners kicks to the Red Wolves’ two. Conard’s defense of Brooklyn Knowles, Maddie Dupont, Bryn Huber, and Lili Sardilli kept their form and gave Rung a clear sightline to any shots that managed to come through.
It wasn’t until there were 13 minutes left in the opening half that Hall goalie Gabi Deslauriers first touched the ball – and that was on back pass from a teammate. Meanwhile Rung was gathering saves and cutting angles to keep her team in it – in particular when she smothered Kate Pillow’s low shot with 8:30 to play.
Conard’s offense came to life and managed to build on offense off the play of Taylor Yepes, Courtney McPhee, and Alice Araya. But Hall’s backline anchored by Talia Sortman, Sienna Calabro, and Sarah Jane Mielcarek played a solid half, keeping the Red Wolves from getting any good scoring looks.
With just under four minutes to go, Conard got its best chance of the half when Yepes banged a long 40-yard free kick that scraped off the top of the crossbar and over the net. Yepes’ ability to deliver quality, long balls and free kicks was evident all day and was the biggest threat from Conard in the game.
“I told our players, no silly fouls on Taylor,” said winning coach Scott Ferguson. “The one we did make she hit the crossbar and you had to hold your breath.” As the two sides headed to the intermission it was a scoreless draw.
“I’ve seen us be resilient,” said first-year Conard head coach PJ Louis. “At the half we talked about outworking them. In the first half we did not do that.”
Ferguson talked with his side about staying focused on their opportunities despite not being able to net a goal in the opening 40 minutes. “We’ve had a couple of loose games so I told them at the half that we will get our good chances and now of them will go in.”
It was the visitors that came out with the early fire to start the second half. Conard controlled play and moved the ball well into the attacking zone but could not find that final touch to score. Hall regained its momentum and saw an early shot that was heading for the net deflect off a defender. Dupont was in the right place at the right time when she managed to head a Hall cross to the 6-yard line out of danger.
At 23:29 it was Punt delivering another quality corner into the Conard box, finding Sortman at the back post, only to have her header skip off the corner of the post and go wide.
As the game moved into its final 15 minutes it looked like it could fittingly end in a scoreless tie. Hall would get the game’s only score off a free kick from Punt. She dropped it into the box and a low shot was kicked away by Rung and a scramble for the ball saw Berey get a toe poke on the ball ahead of several defenders. The ball rolled into the far corner of the net with no chance for Rung to make a play on it.
Both sides continued to try and crate scoring chances as the clock headed for 0, but neither side could capitalize and Berey’s goal was the difference.
“Both teams worked super hard today,” said Ferguson, whose team moved to 4-4-4 on the season with the win. “We got everyone’s best effort out there today. You always want the game with your rival to be a good one.”
Conard falls to 2-5 with the loss but has a shot at redemption in the crosstown rivalry when they host Hall to close out the regular season on Oct. 26. “I’ve got that one circled on my calendar at the end of the year,” said Louis of the rematch.
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