THOMASTON – There have been no stumbles, no slips, no bad days. Every step has been climbed; every moment has been seized in a season in the sun.
Only one challenge remains for the Thomaston High girls soccer team with the ultimate reward waiting in the wings – a first ever state championship. It will take a victory over No. 10 Cromwell Sunday at 10 a.m. at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford and the Bears can feel it, taste it and are ready for it.
“We’ve just got heart no matter who we play,” the team’s all-time leading scorer Claire Saunders (83 goals) said. “It’s like no one can stand in our way.”
A victory would give Thomaston girls programs state titles in five different sports over the last 10 years – basketball, softball, cross country, field hockey and soccer. A stunning achievement for a school with just 88 girls and 174 students according to latest figures.
Thomaston teams have won 18 state titles, 13 since the year 2000. Girls programs have won eight state titles since 2010.
Coach Jen Ewart has seen the mindset of her top-ranked team throughout a Berkshire League championship and undefeated season (19-0-2) it has been a major part of the success.
“I’m trying to stay humble but it’s like an aura, a presence that this is supposed to happen,” Ewart said. “The girls believe it. Sports aren’t always about physical skills. There’s the mental part of it. What did Yogi Berra say, ‘Baseball is 90 percent mental the other half is physical.’ ”
The Bears start eight seniors and three juniors who cut their soccer teeth on the recreation and middle school level earning plaudits for their performance and raising expectations for the future. The group has never disappointed.
It has been a steady rise starting with a first state tournament four years ago, a first winning season three years ago, a state quarterfinal appearance two seasons ago,the state semifinals last year and the BL title and BL Tournament title this year.
Thoughts of a state tournament have been around but were solidified this season with a first ever win against perennial power Nonnewaug.
“When we beat Nonnewaug the second time we played them for the first time ever it happened at the right time,” Ewart said. “We were gearing toward the end of the season and once we won that they said that is who we are and we’re going all the way. Winning has been imbedded in this team through the years in recreation, travel teams and premier teams.”
The Bears have peaked over the last several weeks. Since a dominating win over Nonnewaug in the BL Tournament championship game, the Bears have turned back a plucky Old Saybrook team, 2-1, blanked Terryville, 3-0, and shutout Lyman Memorial, 3-0 in the State Tournament.
It has been a run of precision passing and solid defense accompanied by an air of confidence.
“It means everything, we’re working hard for it,” said Thomaston’s leading scorer this season junior Sophia Coer (29 goals).
Cromwell (12-5-6) will present a stiff challenge. The Panthers, who won titles in 2006 and 2007, posted lopsided wins against Montville (7-1) and Windham Tech (6-1) before squeaking out 1-0 wins over Valley Regional in the quarterfinals and Canton in the semifinals.
The Panthers were quick to the ball and showed a physical demeanor in the Canton win. The defense also made itself known shutting down a Warriors’ team that had scored 15 goals in its previous five games.
Don’t expect either team to change what has gotten them to a state final.
“Our mindset has been that this is another game to prep for,” Ewart said. “Our focus is on playing 80 minutes and showcasing the best of ourselves.”
Neither team has been on the state championship soccer stage but the Bears have a few players have been on a different state championship stage. Nicole Decker, Ava Harkness, Lilly VanOrmer and Sloan Walmsley were members of the 2022 state championship basketball team
Decker, an All-Stater, and Harkness both were key figures on that team and will be when basketball starts after Thanksgiving. The experience will be a factor in Sunday’s tilt.
“So much of it is mental,” Decker said. “In basketball there is five on the court. It is more challenging on the soccer field with 11 players. You need everybody to be focused. Our basketball coach (Bob McMahon) always told everyone to go hard every practice, ever game. It was a lot about building team chemistry. Before the Nonnewaug game I told the team no matter what is at stake, it is just us. The same team that plays at Nystrom’s and practices. “
“The mental part of the game is important,” added Harkness. “You have to be mentally stronger than the other team.
Thomaston will starters will be seniors Decker, Harkness, Saunders Rejhana Aliu, Liv Blasko, Amber Quick, Katie Guerin and Kara Sacco along with juniors Coer, Lilly VanOrmer and Gwyn Romanzi.
One last step, one final moment. The journey that started long ago together on recreation fields will end one way or another. An already great season could become lifelong greater. And who doesn’t want the bus trip down Plymouth Hill into championship heaven.
One shining moment awaits. It just needs to seized.