With unity and camaraderie came the exquisite cohesion that established the Cheshire girls soccer team as the flagship of the Record-Journal fleet.
The Rams finished 17-4, won the SCC Tournament, earned a fifth seed in the Class LL tournament and savored a victory over Fairfield Warde before suffering a second-round ouster against Westhill-Stamford.
Perhaps their tourney seeding is the best way to retrospectively evaluate the 2016 team. Eight years had passed since a Cheshire team was seeded higher.
Thus, the Rams led the way in the selection process for the inaugural All-Record-Journal girls soccer team by placing a trio of senior tri-captains — Saige Bingman, Sarah Clark and Allison Leonetti — on our Dream Team.
Sheehan, co-champion of the SCC’s Oronoque Division, placed two representatives in junior forward Kelsey Burr and junior defender Sam Larkin. Southington also had two players — sophomore central defenders Alijah Vega and Abigail Connolly.
Each of the other four area schools had one delegate — junior goalkeeper/forward McKenzie Wrinn from Maloney, sophomore midfielder/defender Elizabeth Garlock from Platt, junior defender Demiree Cyr from Lyman Hall and senior captain/defender Melanie Lacott from Wilcox Tech.
But it was Cheshire coach James Luis who captured the grace and savvy of Bingman, Clark and Leonetti and protracted it into a symmetrical masterpiece that maintains the program as one of the best in the SCC and beyond.
“Three completely different personalities but great in their own way in terms of what they bring to the table,” is how Luis explained their impact. “They’re very good friends, and when you have that chemistry off the field, the tendency is to have it on the field as well. That was huge bonus point for us.”
Bingman, a Connecticut Girls Soccer Coaches Association ‘LL’ All-Stater along with Clark, scored 17 goals and assisted on eight others to rise brilliantly from the ashes of an injury-plagued junior year. Bingman will bring her immense offensive skill to Fordham next fall.
“She’s a tremendous player, a tremendous athlete. She has a great attitude toward the game,” Luis said.
Clark had 11 goals and four assists.
“Sara’s a great kid with a great personality,” Luis said. “Mom’s a kindergarten teacher so you would imagine she’d be the same type of personality. She’s very respectful and a good leader.”
Leonetti (7 goals, 3 assists) used her speed to advance the Cheshire attack through the midfield in addition to bringing ultimate leadership skills.
“What Allison brings above and beyond everything else is her personality, her attitude,” Luis said. “She was the true leader of the team vocally. Her motivation was infectious to everybody else in wanting to succeed this year and everybody worked very hard because of it.”
Kelsey Burr and Sam Larkin, Sheehan: Burr, a dynamic forward (10 goals, 12 assists) and Larkin, a defender, represent the different ends of Sheehan’s axis of success (13-4-3, Class L quarterfinalist).
Burr is expert at creating offense and Larkin is proficient at preventing it. Sheehan coach Rob Huelsman describes them both as being natural players.
“Kelsey is a natural player, natural meaning she reads very well, anticipates very well and she likes the ball. If she doesn’t have the ball, she wants it so she goes after it,” he said.
“Also attack-wise. Kelsey is not only a finisher but had 12 assists and Olivia Dubuc had 15 goals as a result of that. She knew technically when to play the ball to Dubuc so she is a tactically excellent player and dangerous.”
Larkin has been in the defensive mix since she earned her varsity wings as a freshman.
“She’s a natural defender; her physical makeup is very strong so if a player is coming in one v. one or it’s a 50/50 ball, she’s strong enough to take the players on and make some really hard tackles.”
Logistics compelled her to become a leader.
“She had three underclassmen playing back there with her so there were times she knew she would have to take the cover because she’s experienced and smart,” Huelsman said. “Everybody stayed back because that’s the way we played. If you saw Sam going to take on a ball or a plyer, you’d better drop and cover. In looking at the teams we saw, I’d say she’s the best defender.”
McKenzie Wrinn, Maloney: Consider the constant deliberation of Spartans coach Eoin McClure when he evaluated how Wrinn could best help the team.
She spent most of her time as a goalkeeper and kept most of the games within striking range, but when Maloney had a set piece within range of the goal, Wrinn’s responsibility instantly took on an offensive posture.
“I need 10 more of her,” McClure said. “She had over 200 saves, three shutouts and scored nine goals. She’s super athletic. Every time her team gave up a goal, she always said something positive to her teammates. She’s like having a coach on the field.”
McClure expects her to play a similar role next year when he hopes an influx of freshmen will help Maloney better its 5-9-2 record.
Elizabeth Garlock, Platt: The eyes of Platt coach Nick Dionne twinkle when he discusses the merits of having a player the quality of his defender whose alertness and savvy as a sophomore should create a pathway to greater dimensions.
“Lizzie is remarkable,” Dionne said. “Every time she takes the field she’s out there giving 100 percent. She never gives up on a play. She is the most relentless player I’ve coached. She makes things easier for everybody. We have to get things clicking but with Lizzie out there we always have a chance.”
The Panthers managed just one victory but their two draws against Maloney prevented their city rival from qualifying for the postseason. With that as a solid accomplishment and Garlock as a building block, next year can’t come soon enough.
Demiree Cyr, Lyman Hall: Tony Crane took the reins at Lyman Hall this year but his coaching prowess is recognized throughout the region as former Cheshire coach and on the premier circuit. So when Crane talks girls soccer, folks ought to listen.
He expounds reverently about her contributions and looks forward to her senior year with great anticipation.
“She basically was the reason we did as well as we did,” Crane said. “Defensively she could start and play for anybody in the SCC if not the state. She really is that good.”
Cyr played through nagging injuries.
“I wish I had two more like her,” Crane said. “She played through the year at about 80 percent.”
He ranked her among the top defenders he’s coached. Colby Gibbs and Kylee McIntosh played for him at Cheshire and both are playing in college.
“She’s strong, tough and you can’t get her out of the game,” Crane said. “If you need a center defender, that’s her — good foot skills and great leg. When she puts her foot to the ball, there’s nothing to fault.”
Melanie Lacott, Wilcox Tech: Just like her coach and teacher Lillie Johnson, Lacott aspires to be a hairdresser and her experience in leading Wilcox Tech to a successful season has become part of the foundation for her future.
Her transition from student to athlete piqued Johnson’s interest.
“I remember her before I started coaching and how excited she was to play,” Johnson said. “When I actually got to see her play I saw why she was so excited. She was at every practice, every game and wanted to help out coaching and directing. She loves the game and puts everything into it.”
Many a game transpired where prolific teammates Katie Kearney, Karli Scala and Soleil Bennett scored multiple goals but Johnson would report that Lacott was her unsung hero. The result of their collaboration was an 11-7-1 season.
Alijah Vega and Abby Connolly, Southington: When Southington fell a win short of qualifying for the Class LL tournament in 2015, coach Mike Linehan didn’t have to go very deep in his analysis to choose a required area of improvement.
The Blue Knights yielded 42 goals. This year, with Vega and Connolly as a defensive centerpieces, that number was cut in half and the victory total doubled, the Knights went to the tournament and a young core of players is in place for continued success.
Vega was joined on the defensive end by keeper Janelle Mangassarian, and wings, Chelsea Cocozza, Caroline Kenmitz and Kelly Doyle. Vega represents a stellar unit that is apt to thrust the program into a new dimension.
Whenever the ball penetrates the defensive third, it seems to find Vega’s foot.
“The back line is athletic, aggressive and tenacious,” Linehan said. “We had to create a back line with Abby in the middle and we had two brand new center backs with her and Alijah. They were critical to our success in creating shape back there.”
Both Vega and Connolly were All-CCC players.
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