By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
The Norwalk High boys soccer team has been the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC playoffs for three years in a row.
The last two seasons, the Bears have been upset by New Canaan in the quarterfinals. This time around, Norwalk will look to get by Danbury on Friday in hopes of reaching the semifinals.
The Bears (14-1-1 FCIAC) have their sights set on finally getting over the FCIAC quarterfinal hurdle by defeating the eighth-seeded Hatters (9-6-1).
“We’re not focusing on the past,” said Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton, whose team hosts Danbury at 7 p.m. “The main thing is it’s a new year. These kids have been there before and they know what to expect. They’re excited to be playing in the FCIACs.”
In Friday’s other quarterfinal matchups, No. 4 Wilton (12-3-1) hosts No. 5 Stamford (11-3-2) at 4 p.m., No. 6 Staples (10-4-2) will be at No. 3 Greenwich (12-2-2) at 3:30 p.m. and No. 7 New Canaan (9-4-3) travels to No. 2 Ridgefield (13-2-1) at 4:30 p.m.
Norwalk, which has gone 7-0-1 after suffering its lone loss of the season at Wilton, beat Danbury 2-0 during the regular season. Laughton wasn’t at that game due to the birth of his son so he doesn’t know a whole lot about the Hatters but he does know what he has in his squad.
“We need to continue to do what we’ve been doing all season,” he said. “We definitely want to come out and play hard, play the way we’re capable of playing.”
The Bears have gotten contributions from a number of players this season, including standout seniors Kevin Joslyn at forward, Andrew Melitsanopoulos at defense and Nacho Navarro at midfield. Laughton agreed those three have been solid but he also credited seniors Santiago Muriel (forward), Michal Nowicki (midfielder), Matt Capomolla (forward), Alejandro Rivera (midfielder) and Paul Soja (defender) and junior goalie Svet Kozak for stepping up recently.
Norwalk got past New Canaan 4-0 in its regular-season finale on Wednesday.
The Warriors suffered a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Hatters on Senior Day Monday but bounced back to down McMahon 8-2 on Wednesday. Wilton is 8-2 following its 5-3 loss at rival Ridgefield and didn’t play the Black Knights during the regular season.
It’s the first time in 18 years the Warriors are hosting an FCIAC playoff game.
“They don’t know about us and we don’t know about them,” Wilton head coach Jim Lewicki said of Stamford. “My team is different from the ones we’ve had in the past. It’s a team that knows it can compete with anyone. We need to possess the ball and control the speed of play because in the past, Stamford teams like to run.”
Led by senior midfielders and captains John Prinner and Sam Slater, the Warriors have shown more balance than in previous seasons. The defense has been solid and the offense has been able to find the back of the net frequently with several playmakers up top.
The Wreckers are also playing some of their best soccer at the right time. They are 7-1-2 since losing at Norwalk at the beginning of the month.
Staples, which was runner-up in the league a season ago, defeated Greenwich 1-0 and that may give the Wreckers some confidence but now it’s a whole new game, head coach Dan Woog said.
“We have some nice momentum going,” he said. “Greenwich is always tough and it should be a good game.”
Noah Bender has given the Wreckers a boost up top since his return from injury. Bender, a senior, scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Danbury on Wednesday.
Senior Harry Birch also has battled his share of injuries this season but Woog expects him to be a presence in the midfield going forward.
Staples’ back line has gotten the job done and the always-reliable James Hickok is looking to backstop another Wreckers team through the playoffs. Hickok, the All-State senior goalie and two-year captain, has played in three conference final games.
“He’s a leader and the heart of this team,” Woog said.
The Wreckers have come along way since the beginning of the season. They lost eight starters from last year’s team and started out 3-3.
“When we were 3-3, our goal was to get into FCIACs and we went on a nice run,” Woog said. “The guys are playing not only to win but to continue playing with each other. It’s a tight group. You can’t coach chemistry.”
As for the Rams, they are looking to continue their postseason magic from the past few seasons. They defeated the Tigers 2-1 during the regular season.
“We tend to do very well in postseason play,” New Canaan head coach Victor Sanchez said after his team’s 2-2 tie with Staples on Monday. “They understand what we need to do. When it comes to the playoffs, it’s about that grit, fire and the passion and pride you play with. They’ve been bringing it for the past few games so hopefully everything comes together come playoff time.”
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