Greenwich beats Darien in FCIAC girls soccer
GREENWICH -- Saturday's FCIAC Tournament showdown between the Greenwich and Darien High School girls soccer teams will most likely be remembered as the Snow Bowl, with Cardinal Stadium resembling a Winter Wonderland.
As the seconds ticked by during Saturday's FCIAC quarterfinals, the weather conditions deteriorated, making it a challenge for the rival teams to get their footing on Cardinal Stadium's snow covered artificial turf field.
Yet to Greenwich's excitement, Naomi Leeds was able to strike before Mother Nature sent the day's biggest snowflakes from the sky.
Leeds' goal in the 47th minute stood up in weather conditions that provided the teams few opportunities to score, as fourth-seeded Greenwich held on to beat fifth-seeded Darien, 1-0, in the quarterfinal round of the league tournament.
The defending league champion Cardinals (11-2-4) advanced to Tuesday's FCIAC semifinals where they will play either top-seeded St. Joseph or eighth-seeded Trumbull at Wilton High School. Like the other three games in the tournament, St. Joseph's match against Trumbull was postponed until Sunday due to the inclement weather. The Cardinals-Blue Wave matchup was the only game in the tournament that was played Saturday.
"I have been coaching for 24 years and have never coached in conditions like that," Greenwich coach Danny Simson said. "It's a complement to both teams for playing in adverse conditions like that. It was a great win for us. Our girls had to dig in against a good, friendly rival."
A mix of rain and snow fell during most of the opening half. But it began to snow heavily just before the middle of the second half and the field became a white mass of snow.
"The conditions were crazy in the second half," Darien Coach Leigh Parsons said. "The ball went from skidding all over the field to dying. It almost turned into a big snowball at one point, so the conditions were not ideal."
Leading 1-0, the Cardinals had the advantage as the conditions grew worse and Blue Wave scrambled to generate scoring opportunities.
"You couldn't see 10 yards in front of you," Parsons said. "Toward the end of the game it got dangerous. Ideally, I would have liked to have gotten the game postponed until tomorrow (Sunday) like everyone else, but I can't use the weather as too much of an excuse -- both teams had to play in it. Take nothing away from Greenwich, they are a very good team."
The opportunistic Leeds made the play that sent the Cards into the semifinals. With the home team applying pressure, Leeds gathered the ball in traffic deep in the box and angled a shot with her right foot past Darien sophomore goalie Phoebe Taylor, giving GHS a 1-0 edge with 32:55 left to play.
"It was real hard to play out there, it got really cold," Leeds said. "But we are pretty good with handling the weather conditions. Playing in snow like that was a good experience and is a cool story to tell."
The goal was a huge lift for Greenwich, which was unable to tally with the wind at its back in the first half.
"That goal couldn't have been better timed," Cardinals senior forward and tri-captain Shannon Colligan said. "When we didn't take the lead with the wind at our back we knew we needed to go really hard in the second half. Then we put one in just before the weather got real bad. It was very hard to score during those last 15 to 20 minutes."
The game was stopped briefly when Simpson and Parsons inquired about the safety of the field with the officials with 14:14 remaining in the second half.
"The officials checked the rules and said if they ended the game at that point it would be a 1-0 win for us, and that wouldn't be fair to Darien, so we played on," Simpson said.
The Cardinals and Blue Wave took turns possessing the ball in the first half. Greenwich's first scoring chance came when Colligan took a free kick in the eighth minute, but her attempt sailed wide to the left. Leeds nearly gave the Cards a 1-0 lead, but her shot from 20 yards out hit the cross bar in the 13th minute.
Marking up tightly, Greenwich kept the Blue Wave from converting on a pair of corner kicks from Darien sophomore Dillon Schoen late in the first half. Junior Vanessa Budd, senior Marieke Bravo and sophomore Emily Stein also paced the visitors' aggressive play.
"There are a lot of positive things that we can take from this game," Parsons said. "We possessed the ball a lot in the first half and created chances out wide. They scored just before it got bad and after that, what can you do with an inch of snow on the ground?"
It was a good day for the goalies, as Cardinals sophomore Maddie Graham made seven saves, while Taylor made six. As the Blue Wave pushed up in the first half and tried to mount pressure in the second, Graham was supported by defenders Amanda Onofrio, Emily Johnson, Sarah Mischianti and Christina Combias.
"Our defense was amazing today," said Graham, who cut her eye during a collision midway through the second half. "They really stepped it up and marked up tight and put pressure on every ball. Our success starts with our defense getting the ball up the field."
Though the Cardinals have plenty of work to do in order to defend their FCIAC title, they will long remember Saturday's wild quarterfinals.
"We were just talking about it in the team room, no one could ever remember playing in a game like this," Mischianti said. "I had a lot of fun out there. Sometimes when you play in conditions like this it's tough, but the important thing is we won the game."
The victors, which were led by senior tri-captain Izzy Mackell, junior Emma Haslun and junior Sophie Waine in the midfield, also have an extra day of rest on whoever they will play in Tuesday's semifinals.
"It was quite a test, but we wanted to get this game finished today," Colligan said. "We got our game out of the way and now we have a day of rest and a day of training."
Reach David Fierro at firstname.lastname@example.org