West Hartford’s Conard and Hall high school girls soccer teams closed out the regular season Tuesday night, with the Red Wolves winning 2-1.
By Paul Palmer
It has been a long season for both the Hall and Conard girls soccer teams. When they met in their regular season finale on Tuesday, one was playing for pride, the other hoping to head to the state tournament off a win. If you didn’t know the records, you might be excused for thinking it was Conard prepping for states and Hall playing one last time, but you would be wrong. The Red Wolves were the more aggressive and connected team and knocked off Hall on the Titans’ Senior Night, 2-1.
“They showed me that when it means the most, they are there for each other,” said Conard coach Liz Tracy, whose team finishes the year at 5-9-2.
There is extra energy on both sides when the two West Hartford schools meet in any sport. Conard controlled the majority of the first half, using an aggressive, supporting, physical defense to dictate possession of the ball. Hall would get just one shot on goal in the opening half.
Just under halfway through the opening stanza, Conard’s Taylor Yepes delivered a free kick right on the Hall goal. Keeper Gabby Delasauriers moved to play the ball, which fell from her hands, but teammate Talia Sortman was there to clear the ball from danger.
With 16:50 to play, the Red Wolves were finally rewarded for their pressure. A miscommunication between Sortman and Deslauriers on a ball saw it slide by the goalie and Conard’s Mariana Temponi was there to push it into the empty net. “They know that they have to communicate better,” said Hall coach Scott Ferguson of his players.
Conard nearly doubled its lead with 3 minutes to play in the half when Bailey Hawkesby-Mullins launched a long ball from a tough angle to the right of the Titans’ goal, but Deslauriers had the angle covered.
“Senior night is always a little crazy, “said Ferguson. With both teams starting all their seniors after honoring the 12th-grade players, many players were in different positions for both teams. The opening kickoff honored one injured senior from both teams. Both Bethany Kim from Conard and Daniella Echeverria from Hall made their way to the circle using crutches before Kim moved the ball to Echeverria who played it into touch to allow both seniors to exit the field to their well-deserved applause.
Moments into the second half, Conard again nearly doubled the lead. A Hall defender mishit the ball, and Hawkesby-Mullins pounced on it, sending a dangerous cross through the box. The Red Wolves managed to get off a shot that Deslauriers blocked, and a rebound that she stopped while still on the ground to keep it a one-goal game.
Less than 40 seconds later it was Gabby Niman of Conard spinning around a defender and launching a shot that clanked off the crossbar. Finally with just 3:39 played in the second half, Conard once again scored, this time off a free kick. A perfect ball was launched from 35 yards out and Ava Nigro – a senior – went up and slammed the ball home with a perfect header.
“These seniors are an unforgettable group,” said Tracy of her Red Wolves players. “They have been through so much and I will never forget them. They will always be a part of our program.”
Trailing by two, Hall finally began to find its offense and tried to turn the tide. The Titans had several good runs into the Conard box but were unable to get off shots due to the defense. Hall also had several chances on corner kicks that saw the ball head into dangerous spots in the defensive area, but Conard was there to clear the ball.
Near the halfway mark of the second half, Hall would nearly get on the board when they had a free kick from about 25 yards out, but the shot went high and wide.
Ten minutes later, Hall would get on the board. After two Conard defenders converged on a Hall attacker and took her down, the Titans were awarded a penalty kick. Madison Maxwell stepped up the spot and beat Conard goalie Meryl Rung to the low left corner to make it 2-1.
The Titans had come into the game dealing with several injuries, and they may have picked up another one that could impact their lineup for the post season. With just under 12 minutes to play, freshman Leah Berey was taken down and injured her wrist. The extent of the injury and her availability for future games is uncertain.
Both sides kept pushing as the clock wound down. Conard repeatedly took the ball to the corner flag to run time off the clock. Hall countered by moving Sortman from the backline to striker, but she never really had a chance to make a difference up front.
Both Tracy and Ferguson spoke about the resiliency of their players this season and the growth they have seen since their first practices at the end of the summer.
“We ended the season with much more momentum,” said Conard’s Tracy. “I am nothing but proud of them and what they left on the field.”
For Ferguson, it’s time to prepare for the Class LL Tournament, and recover and regroup. “I’m really proud of their commitment. I’m just sorry we couldn’t celebrate Senior Night like we wanted.” Ferguson, whose team is now 6-7-3, is looking forward to seeing what his team can do next. “We want to see how we respond to states. That will help dictate how we are going to look next year,” he added.
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