Only 10 minutes stood between Avon and a back-to-back championship on Friday.
Masuk’s goalkeeper had just batted the ball out of the box on a Falcons corner kick and sophomore Stephanie Saccoccio got to it first. So, she aimed for the right corner and prayed that it would go in.
“I really wanted to win,” Saccoccio said.
Not only did she score, but it was also her goal that secured her team its second consecutive Class L title in the CIAC state tournament final in Meriden on Falcon Field.
“It was a fast-paced ball, so it was enough to get it to where I wanted to,” said Saccoccio, who was part of the state champion varsity squad that beat Farmington 2-1 last fall.
For Avon senior co-captain Kaylan Conrad, this game was a little more special than last time because it was her last one manning the Avon High net.
“It’s been special all four years, I’ve just been so lucky,” said Conrad, who has committed to playing soccer at Bryant University next year. “I was very nervous because I wanted to finish strong and finish with a win for the season and I think everyone else wanted that. I think it was a little nerve-wracking, but we pulled through strong.”
This was Avon’s first time playing Masuk and head coach Jim Murray said that the team “was a tough opponent.”
“We just took care of an opportunity and Stephanie was on again this time,” Murray said. “We always try to cover anything deflecting out. Stephanie had a nice run. There was no defender near her. She just collected it on the turf and buried it far post. It was a perfect shot.”
Murray said he could also count on Saccoccio – typically a left midfielder – in a more defensive role.
Both teams pressed strong on offense throughout the game. Conrad snatched the ball to intercept a few Masuk corners and crosses in the first half. She also punched a ball away after a Masuk play lobbed it high for an attempted “counter breakaway.”
“They gave us a really good battle,” Conrad said.
Avon senior Hunter McCarthy said it was “by far the most incredible game I’ve ever played.” She said that the Masuk players held their own and were aggressive. This was her second year on the team, so she joked that she can say she’s never lost a state final.
Murray praised his back line – junior Youn Jae Baek, Lauren Miller, Amanda Holtzman and Sarah Betancourt – for solid work all season.
“They played very cohesively,” he said. “It also doesn’t hurt to have a four-time state finalist goalkeeper – Kaylan Conrad.”
At the end of the first half, when a ball bounced in Avon’s box and Conrad punched it, Betancourt “came out of nowhere and cleared it out of the center,” McCarthy said.
“That was a game changer,” McCarthy said. “She did amazing. I think our defense held their own today.”
Conrad said that the Falcons normally “turn back under pressure” and “struggle more with finding the open space,” but that Friday was different because the girls utilized the open space more.
It was Avon’s fourth consecutive year in the Class L championship, so the team has experience playing with high pressure.
Last year, Avon came from behind to win 2-1 over local rival Farmington. When asked if there was anything she learned from that game going into Friday’s championship, Conrad said, “I knew that no matter what it’s a 50-50 game and that they could counter attack, we could counter attack.”
“So, no matter what someone is always going to have the upper hand. I think this year we were a little more aware of that. We just kept fighting and we came out with a win,” Conrad said.
It was a rebuilding year for Avon at the start of the season, so Murray said it wasn’t always clear who the team could count on to score. When a television cameraman asked him who were Avon’s key players, Murray said he responded that they all are.
“We always look for everybody to score,” Murray said. “Today it was Stephanie’s turn to propel us into the championship.”
While Murray said that the team was in a tough league, the “pressure was off” this time around because “this was a new team.”
“Most of the girls had a good feeling. We kept saying as the tournament started just win the last game,” Murray said. “And they did.”