To single out the top teams among Fairfield Warde, Fairfield Ludlowe, Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame-Fairfield from the past fall sports season is no easy task. And it is fraught with claims of subjective analysis, when the intention is to undergo this endeavor with an objective eye.
So many teams had fine seasons, and how does one compare a team with a winning record in football to a team that placed high in a CIAC state cross country meet? Hard to do, if not impossible. And what about a swim team that had nearly all of its athletes lower their times and increase their diving scores? Let's just say the atheltic directors -- Chris Manfredonia and Glenn Mackno (interim) at Warde, Dave Schulz at Ludlowe, Steven Donahue at Prep and Rob Bleggi at Notre Dame -- and their staff of head coaches and assistants did a splendid job of getting their teams on the field (pool), playing as a unit and working toward a common goal. That's what high school sports are about -- the process, not the results.
Some played at a consistently high level, whereas some teams were often there but not always, and even a few teams that did not enjoy successful final won-lost records where there from time to time. If the measure of a successful program is not focused narrowly on the wins and losses -- and it shouldn't be -- then we can say that every team's goal was to win as often as possible. So here's to the five teams that got there through hard work, learning about teamwork and digging down to escape adversity through a collaborative effort maybe a little more regularly -- maybe -- than some of the other teams in town.
Here we go:
High honorable mention (a complete honorable mention list would take up the entire sports section): Ludlowe football (6-5). Vince Camera came into his first year, after six as head coach at Platt Tech in Milford, assembled a deep, talented and experienced staff and together they instilled the proper attitude, techniques and schemes to ensure that even better records most likely will be on the horizon. If turning a football team around is a multi-step process, year No. 1 must be judged a success. Warde boys soccer (8-7-4). Earned No. 7 seed in FCIAC tournament but lost to Ridgefield. Seeded 20th in Class LL and upset No. 13 Shelton 1-0 before being eliminated in second round by eventual co-champion No. 4 Glastonbury. A late-season elbow injury to captain Jack Mappa did not help the Mustangs. Warde girls cross country (6th Class L state championships, 9th State Open). Senior Cate Allen had a remarkable year -- third in the FCIAC, repeat winner in Class L, sixth at the State Open, 10th at New England Championships. Warde girls volleyball (12-9). Team stood at 12-3 before schedule got too tough for a very good team, not a great team. No. 16 seed was eliminated in first round of Class LL tournament by NFA 3-2. Ludlowe girls soccer (10-8-1). Injuries might have prevented the Falcons from having more wins in the regular season. Seeded 22nd for Class LL tournament and promptly beat No. 11 Amity 2-1 before upsetting No. 6 Hall-West Hartford 7-5 in a penalty-kick shootout in the second round. The season ended with a quarterfinal loss to No. 3 St. Joseph, which won it all.
The Fab Five:
5. Fairfield Warde field hockey (10-7-2-1). No. 10 seed in the Class L tournament. The Mustangs won two tournament games, one in the FCIAC playoffs and the other in the state playoffs. The last time Warde won a state tournament game was in 2006.
The Mustangs upset Greenwich 2-1 in the conference quarterfinals, then lost a semifinal to Wilton. They maintained momentum by defeating No. 7 Norwich Free Academy 4-0 in their Class L first-round matchup. Next up was Cheshire in the quarterfinals. Though the Mustangs had a strong second half, they had fallen into a 3-0 hole in the first half against the No. 2 seeded Rams and lost 4-1.
Emily Allen and Erin Hines were named first team All-FCIAC, Darci Byington was All-FCIAC East and Katy Stepsis and Megan Hines were honorable mention selections. Jodie Shannon's expected a strong season from her team and the playoff victories proved her faith in the Mustangs was justified.
4. Fairfield Warde girls soccer (10-6-3). No. 15 seed in the Class LL tournament. The Mustangs were 7-0-1 entering into their cross-town rivalry game at Ludlowe on Oct. 4. The game was even, with Warde generating a few more chances before the Falcons scored toward the end of the match for a 1-0 victory.
The Mustangs had opened the season with a five-game winning streak. The loss signaled the start of the hard part of their schedule and Warde finished by going 2-5-1, qualifying for the conference tournament. Wilton won that FCIAC quarterfinal but the Mustangs rebounded in the first round of the state tournament by defeating No. 18 Manchester 2-0.
Warde's offense was throttled by Glastonbury in the second round but the Tomahawks couldn't break through either because of the Mustangs' cohesive `D,' and the match had to be decided in a penalty-kick shootout that Glastonbury won to advance to the quarterfinals. Warde goalkeeper Katie Brennan was nothing short of sensational against Glastonbury.
Brennan and Julia Delaney were first team All-FCIAC players.
3. Fairfield Ludlowe boys soccer (13-5-1). No. 5 in Class LL tournament. A strange mix of many seniors and many underclassmen was blended on the field by coach Kevin O'Hara. The Falcons' trademarks were quick ball movement with an emphasis on attacking. Though they had skillful players on attack, a failure to produce enough goals in the tournaments prevented Ludlowe from having a truly remarkable season. Scoring goals in tourney soccer is like trying to hit against pitching in playoff baseball -- a tall order.
Scoring was not a season long weakness for the Falcons, but their defense carried them. Sophomore goalie Frederick Meagher emerged as a reliable player in his first year as a starter. But he received more than a fair share of support. In the tournaments, Ludlowe was upset by Stamford in the FCIAC quarterfinals, then the Falcons beat Manchester 2-0 in the first round of the state tournament before the season closed with a 1-0 loss to Danbury in Fairfield in the second round in which not enough offense was generated.
Erik Stahle, Matt Doyle and Jordan Layne were each named first team All-FCIAC. Lorin Tobey, Tulio Almeida and Mark Dubovskiy were All-FCIAC Central selections.
O'Hara hesitated not a blink after being eliminated by Danbury 1-0 in the second round in Fairfield in calling this team the best he'd coached at the school. Doyle and Tobey were juniors.
2. Fairfield Prep football (11-2). No. 7 in Class LL tournament; state finalist. It's hard to argue that by season's end that anyone in the state in any sport -- let alone in town -- was at a higher level of performance than the Jesuits' football team. On Oct. 18, Prep stood at 4-2 following a 35-27 loss to perennial SCC power Hand. Making the playoffs was going to be a struggle because one more loss would likely shut the door. That never happened. There was no quit in them, just a rededication of purpose.
Prep brought a seven-game winning streak into Saturday's Class LL final in New Britain against Southington at 1:35 p.m. The Jesuits cleaned up their game in all phases of play and became as unified and single-minded as a team can be. They outscored their last seven foes by an average of 35.5-19.7 and that list of beaten teams is a Who's Who of state football -- West Haven twice, Xavier and Glastonbury, state tournament teams almost on a yearly basis.
Doing it against the best when it really matters is a mark of a championship team.
Coach Tom Shea guided the team and junior quarterback Colton Smith, among a cast of many contributors, was the Jesuits' primary leader on the field.
1. Fairfield Ludlowe girls volleyball (19-4). FCIAC semifinalist, Class LL semifinalist, No. 5 in the Class LL tournament. The Falcons had a year of milestones. Topping that list was the Falcons' first-ever win over Darien and that came in the state tournament quarterfinals.
Perhaps an ingredient was missing to prevent them from getting past Greenwich in the FCIAC semifinals as Ludlowe played about as well as a team can play in defeat, losing in a tiebreaker against the Cardinals.
The Class LL semifinal loss to Cheshire was a different story. The Falcons had to be at their best, and they weren't mentally. They fell behind the Rams early in game No. 1. Ludlowe could not rebound and lost in three games. If the Falcons had the two best players on the floor, there was a chance that Cheshire had the third, fourth, fifth and sixth best aside from Ludlowe's Casey Boatwright and Corrinne Lang.
Boatwright and Lang were two of the eight players selected first team All-FCIAC. April Cooke, a junior, was honorable mention.
Coach Meghan Skelton preached to the team early on that they were special and capable of wonderful accomplishments. Once the Falcons bought into that message, which was fairly soon, they elevated themselves to that elite status. From the season opener through the state semifinal loss, no team in town played so well on a consistent basis.
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