Staples girls soccer rolls to 4-1 upset victory over New Canaan

By Matt Norlander

Katz out of the bag.

Staples and its biggest weapon, senior Jaclyn Katz, will not be sneaking up on any more opponents this year. Not after the sixth-seeded Staples upset No. 3 New Canaan in the quarterfinals of the FCIAC girls soccer tournament Saturday morning.

Katz scored a hat trick that propelled the Wreckers to a 4-1 victory at New Canaan High's Dunning Field.

"Since my freshman year we've been building for this," Katz said afterward.

The opening-round tilt had plenty of intrigue entering it, as New Canaan (atop the East Division) was 12-3-2 overall and Staples (second place in the Central) owned a 10-3-3 record. The teams hadn't played this season until Saturday morning. That gave Staples the advantage, according the star of the game.

"I think it really was an advantage to us that we hadn't played against them before," Katz said. "We just came out playing as if we were on an even playing level. They're ranked third, we're ranked sixth, but our record doesn't really show what we've done this year because we had a few under-a-minute losses or ties that should've been wins."

Staples got on the board first when Katz scored with 18:13 remaining in the first half. Rams goalie Holly Burwick was drawn out a few yards from her comfort zone, and after she deflected Katz's first shot, the english on the ball bounced Katz's way again. She had no goalie in front of her and easily put the ball into the twine.

"I knew exactly how they were going to play, just from last year and knowing they'd be very physical, quick and we'd have to be unafraid," Rams coach Kirk Bamford said. "And unfortunately today, from an old English saying, we got mooked."

Wreckers head coach Nikki Ross wasn't like Bamford; she didn't know how to gameplan for what the Rams would do. She did know a few impact players to prepare against, but beyond that, her team needed to play its best soccer of the season. According to her, it did.

"We were definitely coming in a little bit blind," Ross said. "But we knew they had a couple of great girls, especially [Caroline Murray] and her speed and [Sarah Mannelly] on her headers, just awesome, so those were our big concerns for today. ... The level at which we played is definitely better than it has been so far. We've made great progress throughout the season and finally everything connected today."

New Canaan's Madzie Carroll tied the game at 1 with 5:54 left in the first half when she took advantage of one of the many opportunities New Canaan had in front of the net. Carroll whizzed the ball past junior Staples goalie Jessie Ambrose, who had seven saves on the day.

"She's not afraid to take the chances of coming out (of the penalty box)," Ross said of her ambitious goalie, who only gambled and lost once, on that Carroll goal.

Burwick had three saves in goal -- a low number, meaning New Canaan did a fine job of keeping Staples out of the penalty box for most of the day. But the 10 a.m. start time may have been too early for the Rams, as Bamford alluded to.

"The way the game started showed we could dominate this game today," he said. "But unfortunately it started to get a little bit physical and [then Katz scored] and then it became a slightly different game. Unfortunately we got caught napping, if you will, a little bit asleep at times and making a couple of silly errors to allow them the two goals that were very similar -- the second and the third one. The fourth one, again, was something we should've dealt with. We could've cleared it three times and played it back to the same person."

Staples' second goal came from Katz with 34:30 left in the game. Abbey Lake sent a cross to Katz while under heavy pressure, and Katz rocketed a shot toward Burwick that sailed high, slammed into the crossbar and fired straight down into the goal. The score was indicative of the Wreckers making the most of the few chances they had inside Burwick's 18-yard territory.

Lake put one past Burwick with 25:03 left in the game, killing the spirit of New Canaan on its home field. Katz got her hat trick -- her second this season -- with 6:37 to go.

"Her speed up top is just tremendous," Ross said of Katz. "Her, Abbey Lake and Ally Cross played perfectly off each other."

Bamford was frustrated in part because he hadn't seen a team score so many times with so few chances against Burwick, who's been one of the stingiest netminders in the conference the past three seasons.

"We didn't take our chances," Bamford said. "They had four shots in the second half and scored three."

New Canaan had 14 shots at Ambrose. It had six corner-kick opportunities to Staples' one.

It's the first time the Staples girls soccer team has made the semifinals of the FCIAC in 15 years.

"Every person has been stepping up and playing the way every person needs to play for us to earn a win," Katz said.

New Canaan also suffered injuries Saturday, as senior Kelly Armstrong rolled her left ankle in the first half, and Lauren Holly busted up her nose later in the game. Now the Rams will have their longest break of the season between games, as they'll await to find out their first opponent in state competition next week.

"Maybe a break is as good as a change sometimes," Bamford said. "It's been very competitive this season, but again, I don't think we played a footballin' team today. We played a strong, physical, speedy team and they took advantage of their opportunities, and unfortunately we couldn't convert ours today."