By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Holden – When the Algonquin Regional High girls’ varsity soccer team reeled off 16 consecutive wins to open the 2015 season, few players, coaches and team supporters could have doubted that this would be a more than special campaign for the Tomahawk girls. The team had not captured the Division 1 Central Mass. crown since 2009, but this squad appeared to be launching an inexorable run at the coveted title.
It all came together just as hoped, but was not easy as top-seed Algonquin was forced to play comeback kids in prevailing, 3-2, versus host third-seed Wachusett Regional when the teams clashed Nov. 14.
The victory sends the Tomahawks (20-1-0) on to State semifinal competition at Westfield State University taking on Western champions Minnechaug Regional at 5 p.m. Nov. 17. The team advanced to the final round with earlier victories over Shepherd Hill and Tantasqua Regional by identical 6-1 scores, and earned some redemption after having fallen short in district final play in each of the last three years.
“This feels great. We’ve had a long time coming for this,” said an excited co-captain Meagan Stassi post-game. “Just the hard work that everyone has put in this year has really helped us and benefited us and put us where we are.
“There’s always pressure in a district game. We just know that we have to work harder than our opponent and Wachusett always gives us a good fight. What it came down to was our final goal and finishing it and we did.”
“We knew from the beginning that we would be a very special team just from our work rate and our effort,” added fellow co-captain Kendall Sweeney. “We were constantly out there working after practice, before practice, fitness and getting the team together.”
Algonquin got on the board 20 minutes into the game when junior co-captain Kate Hostage banged home a header off of a Stassi corner kick. Wachusett answered back scoring a pair of goals putting them up, 2-1, late in the contest.
Tensions mounted on both sides as time ran down but Algonquin reached deep and never panicked. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Hostage notched the equalizer lofting a well-placed shot top left corner just out of the outstretched reach of Mountaineer keeper Emma Trudeau.
With less than two minutes remaining and overtime becoming a real possibility, the Tomahawks clamped down and found the break they needed when sophomore midfielder Sydney Carney fed senior co-captain Caroline Leonard on a perfect pass from the right sideline. Leonard sliced through a pair of Wachusett defenders and buried the shot home for the 3-2 lead.
“I was on the left outside and Syd (Carney) sent a ball diagonally and I just ran and hit it into the net,” Leonard said of her title-clincher. “There wasn’t much time left and it had to be put in the back of the net to finish the game.”
“We didn’t want to have to worry about whether it would go to overtime and get the wind or not get the wind since it was obviously a factor today,” explained Tomahawk head coach Scott Taggart. “We really wanted to score before the end of the game.”
Algonquin managed to hold Wachusett at bay in the closing minutes despite a frenetic attack by the Mountaineers to even the score.
“This team has performed very well together as a group,” said Taggart. “I’m very happy in how they did it again today and I couldn’t be prouder of the whole team. We knew that there was a lot of respect there for Wachusett, their coach and their players. Every time we play them, it’s always a dogfight (3-2 and 2-1 regular season wins) and it’s to the bitter end all the time and we knew that today it was going to come down to someone making a play.
“I felt at the beginning of the year that this was going to be a very special team because of the number of attacking players we have. This is a very tight knit group. They all enjoy each other’s company. They’re together off the field most of the time and you can see that in the way they play. There’s no selfishness here and that’s great.”
“Wachusett is a great team,” Hostage said of her team’s opponent. “We always put up a good fight against them. It’s always a good game, but today it was all about who wanted it more and who was willing to work as a team to get the goal. It was teamwork, not individual work that set us apart.”