Norwalk High boys capture state soccer championship
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NEW CANAAN — The Norwalk High boys soccer team put an exclamation point at the end of a dream season.
The Bears, who have suffered their share of postseason disappointments the past few years, excelled in just about every facet of the game and proved to be too much for Fairfield Prep as they claimed the CIAC Class LL state championship with a 2-0 victory over the Jesuits in front of a capacity crowd of 3,000-plus on Friday at New Canaan’s Dunning Field.
It was Norwalk High’s first boys soccer state title since 1966.
“One of the things we’ve said to them from the start was hard work pays off, and no other team or group deserves this more than them,” Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton said of his players. “They literally have sacrificed so much and their whole life is revolved around Norwalk High soccer. It’s great to see them get out of it what they deserve.”
Top-ranked Norwalk (21-1-1) received a first-half goal from senior captain and defender Andrew Melitsanopoulos, off a penalty kick, and senior center midfielder Nacho Navarro put the game away with a goal off an assist from senior forward Kevin Joslyn in the final minutes.
Even though the third-ranked Jesuits (20-3-1) had their chances, they couldn’t break through on the Bears’ defense and goalie Svet Kozak.
“I thought the guys stuck to the game plan of what we wanted to do,” Laughton said. “In the first half we played good, created a lot of chances and had a 1-0 lead going into the half, which was great. I’m happy with the way they came out.”
The teams felt each other out early on and it took awhile before Norwalk found its rhythm with two offside calls 10-11 minutes in.
The first solid scoring opportunity for the Bears came in the 19th minute when a shot by Joslyn, off a pass by Michal Nowicki, hit the crossbar.
Several seconds later, Prep took the ball the other way and David Bruton fed Austin Sims, who appeared to score a goal into the bottom right corner of the net but it was waved off due to an offside call.
After Jesuits goalkeeper William Steiner cleaned up a loose ball in the 30th minute, he passed it out to the left back, who in turn booted the ball toward center back Patrick Connelly. Norwalk senior forward Santiago Muriel intercepted the pass and went to goal but was fouled from behind by a defender, then collided with Steiner, who slid hard for the ball at the 18 to try and thwart Muriel.
The foul by the defender resulted in a penalty kick with Melitsanopoulos stepping up to the mark to take the kick.
Not fazed at all when the Villanova-bound Steiner tried to unnerve him, Melitsanopoulos blasted a shot into the top right corner of the net to give the Bears a lead they wouldn’t relinquish at 30:43.
“Steiner is a ridiculously good goalie at saving PKs so I went up kind of nervous at first but I just imagined no one was around me and I just netted it,” said Melitsanopoulos, who will play next year at Manhattan and is a captain with Muriel and senior midfielder Alejandro Rivera. “It feels great (to win the state title). Whoever was going to score the first goal, I’m happy it was me but the win feels so much better.”
Fairfield Prep came out strong in the second half, and at times had Norwalk on the defensive.
The Bears may have bent but certainly didn’t break and were helped by the efforts of Melitsanopoulos, Paul Soja, Jose Canahui and Nico Samperez in the back.
Laughton praised the efforts of his defenders and Nowicki, a senior midfielder who played his best game of the season, on offense and defense.
“In the second half, to Prep’s credit, they didn’t want their season to end and they didn’t want to lose,” Laughton said. “They put us under pressure and it was a little nerve-wracking for a while but that second goal put the nerves at ease. It was a great way to end the game and the season.”
The Jesuits had their opportunities, including headers by Timothy Frassetto (49th minute), Stephen Tortora (52nd) and Sims (63rd) and a shot by Nick Dosky (72nd), but Kozak came up with the save each time.
Kozak finished with seven saves, five in the second half, in recording his 14th shutout of the season.
“It’s amazing how much he’s grown since his freshman year,” Laughton said of the junior keeper. “He’s really been a big part of the success we’ve had this year. Without him, there’s no way we would’ve been where we’re at and he picked a great game to play I thought one of his best games in a Norwalk jersey.”
The best chance for the Jesuits to score the equalizer came in the 67th minute when a header by Sims hit off the post.
“It was unfortunate but that’s soccer,” said Prep head coach Ryan Lyddy, who played soccer at Western Connecticut for Norwalk AD Wayne Mones. “We had multiple opportunities and had them (Norwalk) on their heels and it was a matter of time before we put one in but obviously didn’t do it.”
Several seconds after the hit off the post, Navarro slipped through the defense and was 1-on-1 with the goalie but couldn’t get off a shot as Steiner, who made five saves, read the play well and stopped Navarro from making a play.
Navarro would get his shot at redemption 10 minutes later. A shot by senior Matt Capomolla off a corner kick hit off the top of the pipe in the 59th minute but the Bears just bided their time before breaking through again.
Joslyn gathered up the ball after a failed clearance by Prep with Navarro to his right. It was a 2-on-1 and Joslyn dished the ball to Navarro, who fired off a shot far post and into the bottom left corner for the insurance goal with 2:32 remaining in the game.
After scoring, Navarro took off his jersey and was forced to the bench due to excessive celebration. He said later he hurt his hamstring on the play and needed to come out of the game anyway.
“They made a mistake in the back and Kevin Joslyn played it to me perfectly,” Navarro said. “He set me up right in front of the goal. It was a no-miss.”
The past two years, Norwalk was bounced out of the FCIAC playoffs in the quarterfinals, after earning the top seed, and lost to lower-seeded teams in the states.
The Bears carried the sting of those losses with them this year and went on to capture FCIAC and state titles.
“They never once doubted,” Laughton said. “Other people have said you guys are going to blow it in first round of FCIACs again and in the states. This is some of the stuff these guys were hearing but they tuned it out and just believed in what we were doing and believed in the ability of the team. It says a lot about those kids to do that.”
© The Hour Newspaper
Norwalk defeats Fairfield Prep, claims Class LL boys soccer crown
By Dave Ruden
NEW CANAAN — The 13 seniors on the Norwalk High School boys soccer team have been forced to live the past three years with the label of being the most talented squad not to win a postseason title.
It was the equivalent of winning Miss Congeniality at a beauty pageant.
“The past couple of years we’ve been known as the best team in the regular season,” said Andrew Melitsanopoulos, a three-year starter. “We knew we were good enough, but for some reason the pieces didn’t fall.”
Even three weeks ago, when success did come, the Bears had to share the FCIAC co-championship because the league was forced to postpone the final in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
With a last chance at closure on Friday morning, Norwalk went all out and, in a dominant performance, finally found that elusive sense of fulfillment with a 2-0 win over Fairfield Prep in the CIAC Class LL title game.
It was the top-seeded Bears’ first state championship since 1966.
“It feels amazing,” Melitsanopoulos said. “We put in so much work over the summer and the offseason, and after all the adversity and hardships we faced, we had to get at least one.”
Melitsanopoulos scored on a penalty kick in the 31st minute as Norwalk (21-1-1) was the far superior side in the first half, controlling possession and playing a short passing game to open space.
Santiago Muriel, the best player on the field all game, was often the catalyst orchestrating plays.
“He played phenomenally,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “He’s had a great year. He’s gotten better with every game and he was the difference maker today.”
The Bears tried to serve the occasional long ball to spring their top scorer, Kevin Joslyn. And the Norwalk forwards were effective pressuring the Prep backfield, which did an excellent job to keep the halftime deficit to one goal.
“We wanted to take it to them,” Laughton said. “We didn’t want to sit back. We wanted to be aggressors from the start, and we did that in the first half. We were fortunate to get a goal and I thought we could have had a few others.”
Melitsanopoulos’ goal came after Muriel took the ball off the feet of Prep’s Patrick Connolly and was taken down as goalkeeper Will Steiner came out to make the save.
Melitsanopoulos had converted a penalty kick against the Jesuits’ outstanding keeper in a preseason game.
“I was so nervous going against him,” Melitsanopoulos said. “I was lucky to get it past him today.”
Norwalk’s clinching goal was beautiful soccer, with Nacho Navarro, back after missing the semifinal win over Stamford due to a hamstring injury, alone in front, converting a touch pass from Joslyn in the 78th minute.
Prior to Navarro’s goal, the Bears faced some anxious moments, as No. 3 Prep (20-3-1) picked up its pace in the first 20 minutes of the second half, taking six shots.
Norwalk goalkeeper Svet Kozak stopped a header by Stephen Tortora and, after Austin Sims was taken down just outside the box, David Bruton struck a shot that caromed off of Norwalk’s nine-player wall.
“I’m very proud of what they did in the second half,” said Prep coach Ryan Lyddy, whose team was making its first state final appearance in the sport. “We took them totally out of their game. We were down here on the attack 90 percent of the time. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t put one in.”
The most exciting sequence came in the 68th minute, when Sims hit the post off a long throw in by Tim Frassetto. Norwalk quickly went on a transition attack, and Navarro got free on a breakaway, but he was stopped by Steiner when he attempted to dribble around him rather than shooting.
“Disappointed is a word that you want to use, but I’m just so happy for the seniors that got us this far,” Lyddy said.
In the end, the Bears, reputed as the state’s best team this fall, finally was able to take home a championship trophy rather than live with a mythical title.
“These guys have been through a lot,” Laughton said. “It was great to see them come out and finish off the season the way that we wanted to.”
NORWALK 2, FAIRFIELD PREP 0
PREP 0 0–0
NORWALK 1 1–2
Records: Fairfield Prep 20-3-1; Norwalk 21-1-1
Goals: N–Andrew Melitsanopoulos, Nacho Navarro. Assists: N–Kevin Joslyn. Goalies: FP–Will Steiner (4 saves); N–Svet Kozak (6 saves). Shots: FP–10; N–10
© Stamford Advocate
Norwalk Soccer Wins First State Crown Since 1966
by Tom Renner
New Canaan, Conn. — Chris Laughton has been part of the Norwalk soccer landscape since he was a kid, playing in youth programs, earning all-league honors and now coaching the Norwalk High team.
He has never been as proud of his association with Norwalk as he was on Friday, when the Bears beat Fairfield Prep, 2-0, to win their first state title since 1966.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Laughton said after the top-seeded Bears (21-1-1) used goals by Andrew Melitsanopoulos and Nacho Navarro to defeat the third-seeded Jesuits (20-3-1) at New Canaan High School. “It means a lot to me, considering my background. Now every time we see that state championship trophy, we’ll know we were a part of it. It’s a great feeling.”
Melitsanopoulos scored the game-winner with 9:17 left in the first half on a penalty kick. Santiago Muriel created the opportunity when he broke in alone on the Prep defense and was hauled down.
Melitsanopoulos drilled his penalty shot into the left corner, as Prep goalie Will Steiner could not get a hand on it.
“Steiner is ridiculous on penalty kicks,” Melitsanopoulos said. “I was confident in the way I was taking them. I figured I’d go to my usual spot and it worked.”
Prep, which outlasted Greenwich in penalty kicks in the semifinals, stepped up its pressure in the second half. The Jesuits had several quality chances, including a golden opportunity by Austin Sims with about 10 minutes to go.
The Norwalk defense held firm, and Navarro gave the Bears breathing room with a goal with 2:32 remaining. Kevin Joslyn set up the goal with a nifty move around a defender before slipping a pass to Navarro, who drilled the ball into a wide open net.
“Our defense has done a great job all year,” Laughton said. “I have a lot of confidence in our back four and our goalkeeper. I wasn’t too concerned. But that second goal really lightened the mood a little bit.”
It was fitting Norwalk that Melitsanopoulos, Navarro and Joslyn figured in the goal scoring for the Bears. They were all multi-year starters, part of a 13-member senior class that had been denied titles in the past. The Bears were knocked out in the league playoffs in the first two rounds the past two years, lost in the state semifinals last year and in the second round two years ago.
This year, they are the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference co-champions and state champions. They were the best team in the state from September through November, and now, they have the hardware to show for it.
“I’m especially happy for the seniors,” Laughton said. “These guys have been there, they were putting in the work when no one else was. It’s nice to see the fruits of their labor pay off. I’m really proud of them.”
© Norwalk Daily Voice
Norwalk blanks Prep in Class LL finals
By Jesse Quinlan
For all that the Norwalk boys soccer team had already accomplished this season, there was still one more crowning achievement the Bears needed to put a bow on their historic 2012 campaign.
Well, they can finally check state title off the list too.
Senior defender Andrew Melitsanopoulos scored on a penalty kick in the 31st minute, and the lethal combination of Nacho Navarro and Kevin Joslyn added the insurance goal with less than three minutes to play as top-seeded Norwalk completed its mission with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over third-seeded Fairfield Prep in the Class LL finals at standing room only New Canaan High School Friday.
It is the first state championship since 1966 for the Bears (21-1-1), who now have one final piece of hardware to go along with a share of the FCIAC title and the No. 7 ranking in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
“These kids have been through so much and overcome a lot of adversity,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “I’m really proud of them, celebrating this moment with their family and friends is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Bidding for their first-ever state title, the Jesuits (20-3-1) nearly got on the board first but a goal by leading scorer Austin Sims was disallowed midway through the first half.
After a few quality chances themselves, Norwalk would finally get the golden opportunity it was looking for when Santiago Muriel stole a clear and dribbled into the box where he was taken down.
Enter Melitsanopolous, a Manhattan-bound defender with a rocket for a right leg.
Melitsanopolous went upper right corner with a ball that Villianova-bound keeper Will Steiner had no chance on.
“I know he’s a great goalie and I was really nervous before the shot,” Melitsanopolous said. “It worked out for the best though, and this is just an amazing feeling. We were dubbed the favorite in the FCIAC for three years and had some tough losses, but I think we had to wait our turn. This was the year we put it all together.”
In the final minutes of an action-packed second half, Joslyn gained control of a ball outside the Jesuits box and slid across a perfect pass to Navarro — his longtime teammate — who put it in the back of the net.
That gave the Bears a 2-0 lead, and the countdown to the championship celebration was on.
For Norwalk’s nine senior starters, this day was the end of a storybook ride. For the players who will return next season like goalie Svet Kozak (six saves), it was simply a pleasure to have have played a helping hand in the history-making season.
“This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had,” Kozak said. “Next year will be a rebuilding one, but this one we’re all going to remember. Our seniors meant so much to the program, so I’m really happy for them.”
The premier of the Class LL finals will be broadcast on MSG Varsity, io ch. 14, on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
© MSG Varsity