St. Joseph Cadets win FCIAC girls soccer title

Jenna Bike remembers it like it was yesterday, working out during the preseason, thinking out loud how great it would be if the St. Joseph girls soccer team could finish the regular season unbeaten, win an FCIAC title and cap it all off with a Class LL state title.

“I can remember doing timed laps during preseason and saying that,” Bike said. “That’s all we wanted.”

Thanks to Bike and the patience of her teammates, the Cadets are now two-thirds of the way to making those lofty goals a reality.

After being frustrated by a number of offside calls during a first half that saw fifth-seeded Wilton dominate from start to finish, Bike finally got the ball past the defense and into the net, scoring the only goal of the game in the 13th minute of the second half to lift top-seeded St. Joseph to a 1-0 victory in the FCIAC championship game Wednesday afternoon at Norwalk High School’s Testa Field.

St. Joseph  didn’t have a shot on goal until senior Sam Grasso put one on goaltender Hana Previte from close range in the 28th minute.

Every time Bike made a run and got behind the defense, she ended up getting called for offside.

But Bike knew it was only a matter of time before she got her chance to deliver a championship. If she doubted that, all the talented sophomore had to do was look toward the sideline at head coach Jack Nogueira.

“It was getting a little frustrating, but you just have to keep your head up. It was just unlucky those calls were being called,” Bike said. “But we had Jack on the sideline yelling, ‘It’s coming. It’s coming.’ That was definitely uplifting.”

Then the Cadets made it happen. Senior Alexandra Waizenegger got control of the ball at midfield and sent a 40-yard pass up the center of the field.

Bike took the ball in stride then beat Wilton goalie Hana Previte with a hard shot inside on the right side of the net to put the Cadets ahead 1-0 with 27:34 left in the second half.

“With (Bike) or (Grasso) at any moment they can score a quick goal,” Nogueira said. “She was getting a little frustrated. She was offsides a lot, so I just wanted to keep her calm and in the game and keep her confidence up.”

This is the second straight FCIAC title for St. Joseph. But unlike last season, when the Cadets had to share the crown with Greenwich after Superstorm Sandy wiped out the completion of the tournament, this one comes undisputed. The last time St. Joseph did that was 2008.

“People used to make jokes that we were co-champions,” Bike said. “Now we’re actually the champions, and it’s the best feeling.”

St. Joseph will continue its run an an unbeaten season, taking an 18-0-1 overall record into the Class LL state tournament.

Wilton (13-3-3), which put the only blemish on St. Joseph’s unbeaten season with a 2-2 tie during the regular season, kept consistent pressure on senior goalie Molly Meehan throughout the first half, producing seven shots and a number of quality scoring chances.

Wilton had the best scoring opportunities in the first half including a re-direction by center midfielder Lindsay Knutson off a pass by Zoe Lamason that snuck just past the left post.

Two minutes later, sophomore Rebecca Hersch fired a shot just wide right off a feed from junior Haley English.

Had Wilton been able to put one away early, the Cadets might have felt even more pressure than they did. The final result might have been much different.

“Give Wilton credit. Their athletes and their backs did a tremendous job all game. And we won the game. We found a way to win and I think that’s what great teams do,” Nogueria said.

St. Joseph will now face its greatest challenge, moving up to the Class LL state tournament for the first time after finishing as the Class M runner-up last year. The Cadets will be the second or third seed for the tournament.

“It’s a new challenge, but I think we’re ready for it,” Bike said.