NORWALK -- Norwalk's U11 girls travel soccer team is slated to continue its memorable fall with its biggest game to date: The State Cup final in Farmington on Sunday.
Norwalk advanced to face Bethel for the right to be Connecticut's U11 Cup champions with a 3-0 semifinal-round victory over visiting Suffield last Saturday at West Rocks Middle School.
Nicknamed the Blue Thunder, featuring players with their hair colored blue for their State Cup run, the team is barreling toward the end of a season that can be deemed quite a success. After all, in addition to advancing to the Cup final, the Thunder also captured the Southwest District title in the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association by capping off its regular-season play with a 7-0 mark. The team outscored opponents by a whopping 32-2 margin en route to the unbeaten campaign.
The Thunder compete with district rivals from towns as close as Westport and Darien and as far away as Brookfield. Norwalk has already played Bethel and came out on top, 4-0, in the regular season, thus begging the question, should a win in the pinnacle game be expected?
Norwalk head coach Jeff Ortolano isn't about to make any predictions.
"We take it game by game," he said. "Every game's a step up the ladder and (Sunday's) the final step."
Ortolano believes that if his team plays well it has a good chance of coming out on top. "If the girls play their style and continue playing to their capabilities I think everything will work out," he added.
The head coach said he believes this is Norwalk's first girls team to reach the State Cup final, and noted that the Thunder would be the city's first State Cup winner if his team ends up on top.
Norwalk has developed success from its solid teamwork with players sharing the ball to set up scoring opportunities and leaning on strong defensive play to shut down opposing squads. A secret to the success of the girls under pressure has been the fact that there's frankly, no pressure. In fact, the girls didn't know they were battling for a district title under after the game when the coaches told them they had earned one of the top spots.
Coached by Ortolano and assisted by Robert Fosina, Christopher Mattera and managed by Holly Doyle, the Thunder is made up of offensive standouts Stephany Escalante, Jazmine Fred, Katie Goldsmith, Tara Hufnagel, Cierra Kitt, Peyton McNamara, Julia Sferlazza and Sophia Tarasidis; and defensive players Emily DeNunzio, Ashleigh Doyle, Mikayla Fosina, Olivia Leone, Chloe Ortolano and Lea Panagiotidis.
The team was established three years ago and has come a long way thanks to the hard work and dedication of players and parents. The team plays in the fall and spring and, in addition to competing within the district, travels to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Jersey to face the best competition it can find. Norwalk has dominated the opposition within league play, posting a 51-0 record over three years.
"These girls have worked extremely hard day in and day out," Robert Fosina said. "The heart that they have, the effort that they put into every single game, every single practice, is just special."
"They play at a very high level. It's a very, very special group of girls," Ortolano added.