Girls soccer: St. Joseph players reflect on state title

St. Joseph senior girls soccer player and tri-captain Lindsey Savko called her individual task going into Saturday’s Class L state final as being able to find the eye of the tiger.

For Cadet sophomore Jess Mazo, the match in Middletown with Masuk High was a chance for redemption.

For St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueria, his No. 3 seeded team’s 4-0 win over No. 5 Masuk was simply gratifying.

The successful conclusion drawn from these facts resulted in St. Joseph’s second consecutive state title, it’s third and four seasons. The Cadets are 5-1 all-time in state finals.

“This year is a little bit sweeter,” Nogueria said of repeating. “Last year we were supposed to win, we had all the horses, we had all the players. This year was a little more gratifying, because a lot of people didn’t think we could play and these girls came out and played.”

Mazo and Savko alternated goals in the second half for St. Joseph (20-2-1) to upend Masuk (17-3-2).

“I was just getting my head in the game,” Savko said of her thoughts heading up to the final on the team bus. “I had the eye of the tiger today and I wanted to finish strong. I’ve played soccer with Jack since I was ten years old. I’m so happy.

“Once I beat the defender (on her second goal), Miranda Quint sent me a good ball. I thought I have this, this is my last year. I wanted get to thirty (goals on the season) in this game if I could.”

Mazo broke the scoreless match with a scintillating run off the opening touch after the break. She wove her way through four defenders, before she was knocked to the turf inside the penalty box. Mazo tucked the ball into the upper right corner of the net, and the Cadets had the lead only 28 seconds into the second half.

“We had to overcome adversity (FCIAC final loss) and had to gather again,” Mazo said. “I didn’t have my best game (in a 1-0 semifinal win over Daniel Hand). I give (Hand marker Riley Kokoruda) credit for that, she took me off my game. I wasn’t going to let my season end that way.”

After Mazo’s PK, Savko struck under three minutes later off a free kick by Alexis Mason.

The ball was targeted to Tory Bike by the far post and Masuk keeper Calli Sederquest went high to compete for it. Savko pounced on the loose ball and found the net at 36:43.

Masuk held off numerous Cadet challenges in the first forty minutes.

Cadet midfielders Sophia Smith, Quint, Maia Moscova, Julia DiCesare and Mazo controlled the middle, and pushed the attack forward.

Keeper Veronica O’Rourke was at her best in the 37th minute, when the junior kept the game at nil. O’Rourke slid quickly to her right in front of a well-placed cross from Kasey Lawrence, just before Giavanna DeLorenzo could get a foot on it with 2:44 remaining.

Chances were few for Masuk, as backliners’ Christina DiCesare, Mason, Tory Bike and Hailey Vecciarelli were at the top of their game.

Leading 2-0, St. Joseph sensed an opportunity to lock up another title and kept attacking.

Off a counter, Mazo showed off her speed and endurance, as she took off from midfield before drilling a ball off the left post and into the net. That took the score to 3-0 in the 63rd minute.

Mazo said: “That took a little bit of air out of me. (Masuk’s) Megan O’Mara was catching up to me. That was a long run. I tried to hit it and see what comes out.”

Mazo doesn’t play to her size.

“My dad plays soccer so he kind of taught me how to use my body,” said the 5-1 Mazo. “Height isn’t one of my advantages so I have to find something else. I try to sit low, use my skill a little bit.”

Nogueria said: “I’ve said all year that number four Jess Mazo is the best player in the state and she proved it today. To be honest, I thought she was incredible — no one can stay with her. I have two more years with her, so that’s good.

“For Lindsey — it’s been a great year for her, a great four years.”

Savko, marked tightly, was able to create enough space and tallied with 7:01 remaining to account for the final score.

“We wanted another one,” she said. “With the atmosphere, I wanted to finish strong with these girls. We always believed we could do this.”

Mazo said of winning a title this season, “It’s great. They are a great group of girls. They work really hard and have great leadership. To win this for them (the seniors) is a great feeling.

“For me, I feel more of an accomplishment. Last year the team was stacked...This year I had to step up a little bit, so it means more to me.”

Smith, a senior tri-captain agreed.

“We knew from beginning of season we could have a special season,” Smith said. “It’s an incredible feeling. This is my first year starting...It’s crazy, it’s been great being with these girls I wouldn’t want to be on the field with anyone else. We’re a family, they are all my best friends. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like without them next year.”

Senior tri-captain Christina DiCesare said, “Our message from the start is we wanted to go out winners. It’s a group effort. Without any one player on this team we wouldn’t be where we are.”

When asked about pairing up with new players on the back line, she said, “We had to get them acclimated to how we play, what we expect, how hard we work. They did it all. I think we left the program in good shape.”

O’Rourke, who will return for her fourth year as a starter next fall said, “It really means a lot winning this year. We never gave up. It wouldn’t be possible without our great backline, midfield and Lindsey and Jess up top.

“I never could have imagined myself as a freshman making it this far. I’ve always been a goalie, I knew what I was walking into joining a really great team. I’m very lucky to have an opportunity to contribute.

“I thought (the season) it was going to be challenging for us, and that’s why we worked so hard. Both Tory Bike and Hailey Vechiarelli communicate well together and I communicate with them.”

St. Joseph seniors, playing a part in some or all of three state titles won in four seasons are: Sophia Smith, Alexa Cimino, Christina DiCesare, Emma O’Neill and Lindsey Savko. Juniors are Caroline Wallace, Veronica O’Rourke, Heidi Stook, Maia Moscova, Tory Bike, Miranda Quint, Jordan Wymbs, Amanda Rivera and Alexis Mason. Sophomore are Dori Grasso, Jess Mazo, Claire Curry, Amanda Flynn, and Sierra Clark. Freshman are Hailey Vecchiarelli, Ashley Collins and Julie DiCesare.