The Somers High School boys’ soccer team has once again found itself in a familiar position – the Class S state tournament championship game.
The No. 6 Spartans defeated No. 23 Northwest Catholic of West Hartford 4-3 on Friday to advance to their third straight championship appearance. The previous two have ended with Somers walking away with the trophy.
For the second straight game, Somers found itself down two goals and not even 10 minutes into the game. The Spartans battled back to tie it on goals by Nick Murdza and Joe Pantuosco.
Somers then took a 3-2 lead on another goal by Pantuosco and held it at the half. Early in the second half, Somers got its final goal from Murdza.
“Northwest Catholic is a very talented team,” Somers Coach Rick Kelley said. “Thinking that you can come back from a 2-0 deficit so early on would be very arrogant against a team that quality. What worked in our favor was that the boys just continued to play their game and stuck with what we practiced and it eventually worked.”
Northwest Catholic scored its final goal with four minutes to go in the game and Kelley said he thinks the Indians just ran out of time to catch up.
“Had they scored earlier, the game definitely would have been different,” he said. “The other team was very good. That was our toughest opponent. Even throughout the year, we played some good Class M and Class L schools, but that was a quality side we played tonight.”
Luke Alvaro and Mike Dumas notched assists for Somers (15-5). For Northwest Catholic, Robert Place, Cooper Kerr, and Alejandro Tobon had goals. Somers goalkeeper Kyle Trusch made four saves and Evan Fox made six for Northwest Catholic (10-10).
Kelley had been particularly aware of Tobon and felt his team did a nice job neutralizing the talented player. Kelley said that a couple other Northwest Catholic players stepped up and really put the pressure on the Spartans. Somers figured out the Indians’ gameplan and made some adjustments and it worked in the Spartans’ favor.
According to Kelley, earlier in the year, he was concerned that his team didn’t have the mental toughness to come back from a deficit. He said that in the first five games – where Somers went 2-3 – they didn’t have it.
“They got scored on and they got down,” he said. “Given how things have turned out, I’m glad we had those losses where we did in the season. It was a good rebuilding for the team mentally and they’ve come back stronger as a result. They took care of the games they needed to in the regular season and put us in a good seed for the tournament and now we’re at the finals fighting for a third state championship in a row.”
For the players on this Somers team, many of them have been to championship games before, but not in the role that they are currently playing. Last year, the team graduated 12 players. Eight of them were starters and all eight went on to play college soccer. The younger players have obviously learned from them.
“They passed on legacy to these players,” Kelley said. “This team learned from them and has been able to perform this year as a result. They’re a good group of kids, very cohesive, all strong friends, and it really shows when they dig down. They don’t get down on each other and are building each other up. That’s just a really wonderful element.”
Somers will play the winner of the No. 9 Old Saybrook (13-5-1) versus No. 4 Bloomfield (13-4-1) game on Saturday. The championship will take place on either Nov. 23 or 24 at a time and location to be determined.
Kelley knows that Bloomfield is fast and physical, but feels that the team plays well into what Somers wants to do. He doesn’t know much about Old Saybrook – except that to be in the semifinals you have to be pretty good – but will learn more about them when he watches the game on Saturday.
Kelley says that as a competitive person himself, it’s overwhelming when it’s happening but that it’s gone pretty well.
“They’re hard workers, talented, and they are so open to learning new things that when we need to change up pieces of our game, they’re very adaptable,” he said. “As a first year coach, aside from going down two goals in the quarterfinals and semifinals, they’ve made it easy for me.”