WESTPORT -- It might not have been a win or a loss that was the turning point in the season for the Staples High girls soccer team. It instead might have been a draw on Oct. 4.
Scuffling along with one win through their first eight matches, the Wreckers battled undefeated Trumbull to a 1-1 stalemate in that contest, a tremendous boost in confidence that carried over into the team's 7-1 rout of Norwalk on Tuesday afternoon at Loeffler Field.
"I think after our tie versus Trumbull, we kind of set everything up very well," said senior forward Ryan Kirshner, who scored two goals against Norwalk. "We still have a chance for states and we still have a chance for FCIACs, so we had a huge drive coming into this game."
Staples, which reached the Class LL state semifinals last year, dominated the time of possession versus Norwalk and consistently pressured the Bears' defense. The Wreckers outshot the Bears 29-4, including 18-1 in the first half. Staples' record rose to 2-5-3 and Norwalk's record fell to 2-9-0.
The match was scoreless for nearly 14 minutes when Norwalk was penalized for a handball in the box. On the penalty kick, Gea Mitas shot to the lower right of the goal past Norwalk goalkeeper Mackenzie Gross, putting the Wreckers ahead 1-0 at 26:44 in the first half.
Over the next six minutes Gross made several impressive saves to keep the deficit at one for Norwalk. At 25:36, Staples forward Paige Murray was making a run toward the goal when Gross came out and slid at Murray's feet, knocking the ball clear. Three minutes later, Gross stopped Kirshner on a shot from several yards out, and then stopped Kirshner again at 19:25.
Following that, Norwalk's offense exhibited one of its few bright spots.
With 17:18 left in the half, Olta Shkembi put a foot to a loose ball in front of the Staples goal and pushed it past goalkeeper Mary Bennewitz, tying the match 1-1. Unfortunately for the Bears, it was their lone shot on goal in the first half.
Staples soon took over.
After failing to capitalize on several corner kicks, the Wreckers netted their second goal when Kirshner took a long pass from Meghan Lonergan and blasted a shot to the nearside post that went through the hands of Gross and into the net.
Kirshner scored again at 2:44, the beneficiary of another well-placed pass from the backfield. It was a trend that continued throughout the contest, as defender Siri Andrews and others dropped onside passes just beyond Norwalk defenders.
Staples led 3-1 at the half.
"We found our target forward very well," Kirshner said.
Due to injuries, the Wreckers have been without a few impact players, including senior midfielder Turner Block. But they're slowly regaining their health. They received contributions from across the roster, including Olivia Gerrard (three goals) and Rebecca Bregman (one goal, two assists).
"I thought the girls came out with a lot of fire and intensity, which we needed," Staples head coach Heather Driscoll said. "We needed to put a couple in the back of the net to raise their confidence. They did a good job moving the ball. I think winning a lot of 50-50 balls to help us keep possession certainly gave us a good boost."
Coming into the contest, Norwalk head coach Job Fernandez said he warned his players about the field conditions and the athleticism of Staples players.
"Because this is a grass field and it's a soggy turf, to make sure that we maintained our defensive composure," he said. "Because if we were to dive in, try to plant and turn and chase, girls that are very athletic, it wouldn't go well for us. And some of that happened."
Driscoll, a first-year coach, thinks her team is finally rounding into shape.
"We're a pretty young team for the most part, so it's certainly exciting for the future," Driscoll said. "I think they're starting to click and we're starting to get players back from injuries, so that's always good."
STAPLES 7, NORWALK 1
NORWALK 1 0--1
STAPLES 3 4--7
Records: Norwalk 2-9-0; Staples 2-5-3.
Goals: N-- Olta Shkembi; S-- Olivia Gerrard 3, Ryan Kirshner 2, Gea Mitas, Rebecca Bregman. Assists: S-- Bregman 2, Meghan Lonergan, Siri Andrews, Sydney Crossfield. Goalies: N--Mackenzie Gross (18 saves). S--Mary Bennewitz (1). Shots: N--4, S--29.