By John Nash
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — On Saturday afternoon, the Norwalk High School boys soccer program held an alumni game at Testa Field.
Needless to say, playing soccer took a back seat to waxing poetic about the program’s first state championship since 1966.
More than 24 hours earlier, at Dunning Field in New Canaan, the present day Bears defeated Fairfield Prep, 2-0, to win the Class LL title.
While the final win of the season capped a season in which Norwalk will go into the record books as being a 21-1-1 team, this title run was much longer than just a season long.
In fact, you can date it back to the 2009 season — the fall when these 13 seniors entered the program as freshmen and started building to Friday morning’s final.
“Four years. It’s amazing,” said Santiago Muriel, a senior captain, who shifted from his outside back spot to the center midfield. “We’ve been working so hard. I remember as freshmen, putting in so much work. Sophomore year, we were so close; junior year, so close. And this year, it was our last year, we had to do it and we worked our (tails) off. We put it all out on the field and we got the win.”
Their freshman season ended with a 2-0 first-round loss to Greenwich.
The next two seasons would end in even bigger disappointment. As the top-seeded team in both the 2010 and 2011 FCIAC playoffs, the Bears were ousted by New Canaan in the first round.
In the state tournaments that followed, Norwalk — seeded fourth in 2010 and third in 2011 — found themselves ousted in the second round and semifinals, respectively.
This year, though, was the final shot for the seniors — not just for a state title, but as the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC for the third straight year, a chance to earn that title, as well.
That opportunity was almost washed away when Superstorm Sandy slammed the region, forcing a major delay in the FCIAC playoffs and leading the league to declare co-champions from the two teams which won the semifinals.
Norwalk defeated Wilton, 5-1, avenging its only regular season loss, to stake claim to its co-championship.
“The co-champs were a little unfair to us, but today there is no-champ,” said Nacho Navarro, who clinched Norwalk’s win with a late goal against the Jesuits. “It was all or nothing and we did it. Now, we’ve gone all the way.”
The emotions of finally getting that FCIAC title proved to pale in comparison of an outright championship.
Andrew Melitsanpoulos, a senior defender whose penalty kick in the first half gave the Bears a 1-0 edge, said he can’t imagine sharing such a ride with anybody else.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “I thought FCIACs was one of the best feelings, but to have both titles in the trophy case, there is nothing better than that. And to do it with guys I love and cherish, nothing beats it.”
Players have come and gone over the past two seasons, but the core group of 13 seniors has been that one constant in the program and its three-year run of success; a stretch in which Norwalk has posted a remarkable 52-8-3 mark.
Nico Samperez, a senior who stepped into the starting line-up this fall, replacing Muriel on the back line, summed everything up after the game.
“This is just an amazing feeling,” he said. “We made it and I’m glad to be here. I love these guys.”
As does the entire Norwalk soccer community, including the alumni who came back on a Saturday afternoon, proud as can be to represent the past of a program that won the state championship.
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