New Canaan’s Dillyn Patten and Wilton’s Maddie Wecker pursue the ball during the FCIAC girls soccer quarterfinals Thursday at Dunning Field. — Dave Stewart photo
The New Canaan girls soccer team has been playing with an underdog mentality for the entire season. It’s an approach which has served the Rams well.
Now the underdogs are one step away from the FCIAC title game.
Sophomore Emma Schuh helped end a back-and-forth battle when she scored off a pass from senior co-captain Kendall Patten in the 76th minute as No. 4 New Canaan edged No. 5 Wilton 1-0 in the FCIAC quarterfinals Thursday at Dunning Field.
The trip to the semis has been a long time coming for the Rams, who have been picking up steam as the season rolls along.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” head coach Rich Hickson said. “We started the year, we got together, and I spoke to the captains and the team about what our goals were. We wanted to qualify for the state and FCIACs and once we did that, the goals change — it’s how far can we go? This is a fantastic group. They’ve really come together, they work incredibly hard and from the way we’ve played all season long, this is a great achievement for everybody.”
New Canaan (12-4-1) will face rival Darien (10-5-2), the No. 8 seed, in the semis at 7 p.m., Monday, at Wilton’s Kristine Lilly Field, The Wave upset No. 1 Staples 2-0 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
The Rams gained a measure of revenge on Thursday, as Wilton defeated New Canaan 2-1 back on opening day.
“Earlier in the season, we lost to them and we really wanted to come out and just win it,” Schuh said. “Early in the season, there’s no trophy, but here, we want to make it to the end. That was the first game of the season and we knew we could do better.”
Wilton (10-4-3) faced a tough challenge, as the Warriors were playing their third game in four days and then had to contend with the loss of Boston College-bound midfielder Lindsay Groves, who left the quarterfinal with an injury late in the first half and did not return.
“She’s an important player to the team, so it definitely impacts,” head coach Renato Topali said. “We had to make a couple of changes but it’s a team game. So there’s an opportunity for other girls to step up and I thought certain players certainly stepped up today. It’s part of the game. Injuries happen. Unfortunately injuries have hurt us but I’m proud of the girls who stepped up.”
New Canaan had the better of the play for much of the game, especially in the second half when it tilted the field to the Wilton net. The Warriors had a few quick counters, but managed just a few clean shots, as Ram goalie Jordan Paterson was called on to make just three saves.
“Maybe in the second half we had a bit more of the ball, but Wilton was still incredibly dangerous when they did go forward and on the break,” Hickson said. “They have some talented kids. We had a bit more of the possession and managed to get that goal.”
Both back lines held up well. The Warriors’ defense, featuring goalie Erynn Floyd along with backs Olivia Gladstein, Maddie Wecker, and Piper Chase among others, helped hold off New Canaan’s pressure.
“We played great defensively as a team,” Topali said. “They kept us in the game. We had a couple of chances to score early, we didn’t get that done, and that put more pressure on us in the back. New Canaan, give them all the credit, I think the better team won today.”
The Rams had a few chances in the first half, led by Schuh and freshmen Dillyn Patten and Kaleigh Harden up top, and Kendall Patten in the midfield.
New Canaan’s offense was persistent, and finally broke through in the 76th minute with the Kendall Patten-Emma Schuh connection. Patten controlled the ball on the right and crossed it perfectly to Schuh on the back post. The sophomore sent it home for the game’s only goal.
“We brought the intensity,” Schuh said of the goal. “We’ve done that in earlier games, too, and the chemistry just worked.”
Wilton had one final chance in the closing moments, but Paterson came up with the save to seal the win for New Canaan.
Now, the Rams will face rival Darien for the second time this season after defeating the Wave 1-0 at DHS earlier this month.
“Darien-New Canaan doesn’t really come much bigger: A semifinal in FCIAC,” Hickson said. “We played them in the season, it was a highly-competitive game and we expect nothing less on Monday.”
FCIAC Girls Soccer Quarterfinals – New Canaan 1, Wilton 0
Thurs., Oct. 25, at Dunning Field
Wilton 0-0 0
New Canaan 0-1 1
New Canaan: Emma Schuh 1g; Kendall Patten 1a
W – Erynn Floyd 7 saves
NC – Jordan Paterson 3 saves
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