St. Joseph booters bring their best
A little less than 20 minutes remained in the first half of Saturday’s game against Stamford High, when the undefeated St. Joseph girls soccer team began to give an indication of how powerful they might become this season.
The Cadets were absolutely dominating the field, tipping it firmly on one side with constant pressure on Stamford goalkeeper Alex Lemekha and tic-tac-toe passing at midfield. Stamford (0-5) is in a transition year, still searching for its first win, and having yet to score a goal.
But St. Joseph’s defense would not budge, never allowing the Black Knights to get the ball over midfield.
The amazing thing is, St. Joseph was doing it with nine substitutes on the field.
With the starters still in the game over the first 20 minutes, it was like Stamford was standing in front of a mountain avalanche with a toy shovel in its hand.
The Cadets out-shot Stamford 13-0 and rattled in five goals over that opening span en route to a decisive 8-0 victory at the Dalling Sports Complex.
If St. Joseph isn’t regarded as the best team in the FCIAC, the Cadets showed a number of reasons why they should be.
Senior forward Sam Grasso, an All-New England pick as a sophomore, seems to be well on her way to 100 percent after being slowed by an ankle injury last season.
Grasso’s speed and technical ability was just too much for the Black Knights to handle and she finished with three goals and two assists in 40 minutes of play.
“I’m close to one hundred percent,” Grasso said. “It just depends on what day it is.”
Sophomore Jenna Bike, already among the top midfielders in the FCIAC, displayed great chemistry with Grasso up front to go along with her superior field awareness, adding two goals for the Cadets.
Promising sophomore forward Leah Lewis, senior midfielder Alex Waizenegger and freshman Lindsey Savko also scored for St. Joseph, which finished with a 30-3 advantage in shots and a 5-0 edge in corner kicks.
“They’re just great athletes,” an impressed Stamford coach Jeremy White said. “There are boys soccer players, there are girls volleyball players, there are girls soccer players. Those are athletes.
“Same thing with Ridgefield. They don’t have a girls soccer team. They have a soccer team, and they’re athletes. They play aggressive. They play physical. Their technique and their skill, it’s really fun to watch. It’s impressive, and it’s something every team in the FCIAC should watch.”
Wins like this have been commonplace for the Cadets during the early part of the season, thanks in part to a roster loaded with veteran talent, as well as the lightest part of the schedule St. Joseph will see.
Coach Jack Nogueira knows he’ll get a better indication of the team’s identity, once the Cadets start playing the likes of undefeated teams like Trumbull (Sept. 30), Staples (Oct. 4) and Ridgefield (Oct. 8).
But Nogueira is happy knowing his players have done as expected, posting a 5-0 record while out-scoring their first five opponents by an absurd margin of 29-1.
“I’m happy that we’re injury free,” Nogueira said. “We have to play some better teams to find out who we are. I’m happy with our team, but being happy and getting results is two different things. If we start doing this against better teams, I’ll be even happier.”
They are stacked at every position on the field with Grasso up front, Bike at midfield, returning All-American and reigning FCIAC Player of the Year Sabrina Toole and senior captain Cori Scales on defense, and senior Molly Meehan returning as the starting goalkeeper.
After all, how can you go wrong with three future Division I college players on the field. Grasso has committed to William & Mary, Scales will play at Central Connecticut, while Toole is deciding between Fordham and Notre Dame.
“I think we can be unbeatable this year if we play the way we’re capable of playing,” Toole said. “We’re solid at every position. That’s what sets us apart from most other teams.”
The Cadets are also highly motivated after losing to Northwest Catholic in last year’s Class M state championship game.
“It’s a goal,” Grasso said. “I think we can go all the way if we play up to our potential.”
“This year we want to redeem ourselves,” Toole added. “We want to win FCIACs and states.”
This season, the Cadets will have to beat the best after moving up from Class M to Class LL for the state tournament. But that’s exactly the way they want it.
“I think it’s good for us,” Toole said. “Some people question us because we’re in M, but now that we’re in LL we have a chance to really prove ourselves.”
The Cadets are loaded with depth, as they showed on Saturday, forcing Lemekha to make 15 saves.
The team’s leading scorer, sophomore Sam Lelo (six goals), isn’t even a starter. Lelo is one of the first players off the bench along with Savko.
“We have a lot of players who can score goals,” Nogueira said. “That’s the really good thing about this team.”
If the stars fail, the rest of the team has the ability to pick it up behind players like junior midfielder Julia Marino and junior defenders Sara Chille and Adrienne Williams.
“Every year is the same for us. We try to win an FCIAC title and we try to win a state title,” said Nogueira, whose team went 18-3-2 last season.
“Those goals are the same. We have great leadership this year with our captains (Grasso, Toole and Scales). We have some very good players, so we’re just waiting to see how it goes.”
Sept. 27 at Danbury, 6
Sept. 30 at Trumbull, 7
Oct. 2 Greenwich, 4
Oct. 4 at Staples, 4