Girls soccer: St. Joseph wins third consecutive state title

St. Joseph defeated RHAM, 1-0, to earn its third Class L state title in a row. — Andy Hutchison photo
St. Joseph defeated RHAM, 1-0, to earn its third Class L state title in a row. — Andy Hutchison photo

St Joseph High’s girls soccer team has overcome some obstacles this fall, passing most tests with ease to earn a matchup with top-seeded RHAM of Hebron in Saturday Class L state championship game.

Holding true to form, the third-seeded Cadets again overcame on-paper odds and dominated against the better seed, prevailing 1-0 to hoist their third straight state trophy, at neutral site Middletown High. It was St. Joseph’s fourth title in five years.

Freshman forward Maddie Fried scored the lone goal on a set up by junior captain and game MVP Jessica Mazo. The goal came less than five minutes into the second half.

Fried is one of the Cadets’ four newcomers in the starting lineup, and they helped make somewhat seamless the transition from last year’s graduation losses.

RHAM had lost only once this season and were never held scoreless, until running into the Cadets that is. The Sachems barely mustered a threat to tie.

“It’s sweet because we had a bunch of road blocks. We started four freshmen and we lost some players to injury in the middle of the season. The girls kept working, kept pushing,” said St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira, whose team lost only to FCIAC foe Ridgefield. “Our league prepares us for such close games every game. The kids are battle-tested. They know what to do,.”

St Joe’s went 11-1-4 in the regular slate, before capturing the FCIAC crown and winning five state games. RHAM, which plays out of the CCC, posted a 15-1 regular-season mark.

“I’m happy for the kids, I’m happy for the program, I’m happy for the school,” Nogueira said.

Cadet goalkeeper Veronica O’Rourke made three saves, and with her team holding the lead, slid to corral a ball near the top of the 18 yard box — one of few plays she had to make thanks both to the Cadet backline and their midfielders.

Mazo and Andriana Cabral, another component of that fantastic freshman foursome, controlled the play from the middle third, and Fried and  led the attack with her quickness.

“When you control the ball in the midfield it makes it easier to defend, and that makes it easier to score because you have the ball more,” said Nogueira, who thought his team could have put a couple in the back of the net in the opening half.

Fried hit the crossbar in the opening 40 minutes.

“They put us under a lot of pressure. They’re very quick to the ball, strong,” RHAM coach Nick Libera said.

Cadet defenders senior captain Tory Bike, Alexis Mason, Hailey Vechiarelli and Helen Mahoney, yet another freshman, worked hard to boot balls back the other way and break up any pressure the Sachems established in the back third.

Dori Grasso, Julia DiCesare, Mazo, Cabral, Pizzicarola and Jordan Wymbs controlled the midfield, keeping possession away from the Sachems.

The goal was scored with 35:08 remaining on a play that began with a Mahoney throw-in.

Mazo worked to get into position, before sending the ball to Fried for a look from in close.

“It’s so crazy. I’ve never been so happy — to get both,” Fried said of scoring the deciding goal and winning the title. “Jess had an amazing cross to me, right to my feet. I just turned my hips and shot it in.”

Alexis Mason had a handful of corner kick setups, made possible by Fried, Grasso and company. Mazo’s hard work in the middle of the field helped spark the St Joe’s counter attack.

“Jessica Mazo is such a great player. She has the heart of a lion, the heart of a champion. She keeps playing, keeps working, just doesn’t give up,” Nogueira said.

“It feels amazing. It’s a little bitter-sweet because we lose a lot of players, but it’s a great way to finish it up,” said Mazo, referring to seniors O’Rourke, Caroline Wallace, Maia Moscova, Bike, Miranda Quint, Wymbs, Heidi Stook and Mason.

Other members of the champion Cadets are freshman Laci Lewis, sophomore Ashley Collins, junior Amanda Flynn, sophomore Ana Nogueira and and junior Sierra Clark.