WORCESTER, Mass. – After 110 scoreless minutes of soccer on Friday night at Coughlin Field on the campus of Worcester State University, the Division 1 girls’ soccer state final between Newton North and Minnechaug had to be decided by penalty kicks.
After each goalie made a save, Minnechaug hit the bar twice, Newton North shot over the bar twice and each team scored a pair of penalties, the shootout moved on to the sixth round. The Falcons missed and junior defender Katie Nugent stepped up and put away her PK to clinch the state title for the Tigers.
“Nugent has been excellent all season,” said Newton North head coach James Hamblin. “She’s one of those unsung heroes that just goes and does her work, defends well, and doesn’t get much thanks for it. She hasn’t scored all season, so she saved it for a great time.”
In a game that featured only a few quality scoring opportunities, most of them belonged to the Tigers.
Twelve minutes into the game, Minnechaug defender Taylor Coopee was able to clear off the line after a Tigers corner was deflected towards goal. Five minutes later, Tigers forward Angela Ward hit the post after Falcons keeper AnnaMaria Ribeiro had punched a long ball clear.
It was a frustrating day for the forwards of Newton North as Minnechaug defended in depth and the two teams combined to make the final an incredibly physical encounter.
Hamblin remarked, “They frustrated us. Not many teams have shutdown Shannon [Fitzgerald], Ang [Angela Ward] and Catie [Callahan]. In fact, I think it was the first game where we haven’t scored a goal in regular time. All credit to them; they shut us out.”
Newton North captain Christina Callahan mentioned after the game, “It was so frustrating because we would slip in through balls, but that final finish just didn’t come. We tried not to lose focus, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
The physicality almost got out of hand during the second half with several collisions between Ward and the Minnechaug central defenders. Some of the tackles looked closer to football than futbol, but the referee had a word with both teams during a timeout to try and settles things down.
Two minutes after halftime the Tigers appeared to take the lead. Ward picked out the perfect through ball to spring the speedy Fitzgerald behind the defense, but the team’s leading scorer chose to unselfishly look for Katherine Thomson rather than shoot herself. Thomson was ruled to have been just ahead of the ball and the goal was ruled out as offside.
Rather than being disappointed, the play inspired the Tigers.
“It kind of was a confidence booster because it showed that they are beatable and we did, just not the way that we thought that we would,” said Callahan.
Hamblin added, “It showed that we could break them down. I wish that Shannon had the self-belief to take it herself and whether or not it was offsides or not I’m still questioning it.”
Minnechaug was able to get some offense through the combination of junior forward Kayla Murphy and senior midfielder Rene Hamel, but the Falcons were not able to trouble Tigers keeper Maddie Bledsoe.
“Not knowing much about them, I was very impressed,” said Hamblin. “I think they had the better share of the first half, if I’m honest, but then we picked it up in the second half and all through extra time. They were always dangerous whenever they had the ball.”
In the end, it would be the Tigers that finished with the trophy in hand and an undefeated season to their credit. According to the senior captain, it was the perfect ending to a season that contained high expectations.
Callahan remarked, “From the beginning this is what we’ve wanted. We worked so hard for it; we never stopped talking about it. So, to actually have it and be able to say it is so surreal. I can’t even put it into words.”