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Magical run ends in finals

New Canaan outlasts Avon, 1-0 to capture Class L championship

A loss to New Canaan in the Class L championship game doesn’t dampen the achievements of the Avon High girls soccer team in 2009.

WATERBURY, Nov. 21 – It’s been a few years since the Avon High girls soccer team took some hits on the field.

For the previous three seasons, the Falcons had few challenges, winning 44 games, losing one and tying three in the NCCC, capturing two league championships and earning three straight semifinals berths in the CIAC tournament.

This year was different. With only four starters returning, a new identity needed to be forged. And it took some time. Suffield took advantage by sweeping a pair of games from Avon by a combined score of 7-0, including a 5-0 loss in the season opening contest. Injuries also challenged the Falcons.

Avon responded by continuing to work hard. “We stuck with everything all season long,” long-time coach Jim Murray said. “We had some adversity. But we kept moving forward and here we are in the finals.”

The Falcons won eight straight games to earn a spot in the Class L championship game against New Canaan. Avon earned its first berth in the finals since 2003 with four one-goal victories against defending champion Wilton, last year’s runnerup (Joel Barlow) and two teams that were undefeated entering the tournament (Berlin and RHAM).

However, there was no fairy tale finish in the championship game. No. 6 New Canaan used its skill and talent to limit Avon’s offensive chances in a 1-0 victory at Municipal Stadium.

New Canaan’s Caroline Murray slipped and lost the ball in the corner to Avon’s Lyndsey McNamara. But Murray scrambled to her feet, regained the ball from McNamara and turned quickly to fire a cross into the air toward the goal.

New Canaan senior Liz Bruno, one of the shorter players on the Ram squad, was open near the near post. She got her head on the ball and directed it into the net with 19:51 remaining for the game-winner. Avon’s freshman goalie Kaylan Conrad (11 saves) had no chance.

“Unfortunately, Caroline Murray got open and she had a nice cross,” Avon’s Murray said. “New Canaan was phenomenal in the air and we that coming in. We just couldn’t match them on that. Their headers and first touches (on the ball) were phenomenal. We played hard and gave it our best shot.”

New Canaan (19-1-3) outshot Avon by a 15-5 margin but the Falcons had a few opportunities.

With 23:46 remaining, Avon’s J.J. Gower raced after a loose ball and headed the ball toward the net. New Canaan’s sophomore goalie Holly Burwick deflected the ball, collided with Gower and fell to the turf. Lying on her side, she made a save on the shot from Katie Zambrano.

Burwick lay on the turf for a few minutes afterward to shake off the effects of a bruise or a charley horse from the collision.

Molly Brown had a nice shot into the box with 11:17 remaining but Burwick (5 saves) was able to gobble it up. With 4:37 remaining, Zambrano made a nice cross into the box for Gower, whose initial shot was deflected by Burwick. It went right back to Gower, whose shot sailed just over the top of the goal.

Burwick made another great save with 2:20 remaining on a shot from Sarah Gerali.

A reporter asked Murray what more could he expect from his team. “I can’t ask any more,” he said. “I’m so proud of them. We’re going to take a group photo with this trophy because it is like first place for us. We worked so hard to get here. Not many teams make it to the finals like we did. I’m so proud of the way we played.”

The reporter continued and asked what he said to his team after the final whistle. Murray paused. And his emotions bubbled to the surface.

“I’m very proud of the way they played,” he said, fighting back a tear and trying to keep his voice from breaking. “They’re a great group of girls. It was a great effort on their part.”

He smiled. It was time to get back with his team and get that photo.

Class L 1st round: Avon 3, Wilton 2
Class L 2nd round:  Avon 1, Joel Barlow 0
Class L quarterfinals: Avon 2, Berlin 1
Class L semifinals: Avon 2, RHAM 1
Class L championship: New Canaan 1, Avon 0

New Canaan 1, Avon 0
At Waterbury
Avon (16-4-1)                0 0 – 0
New Canaan (19-1-3)    0 1 – 1

Goals: Liz Bruno (NC); Assists: Caroline Murray (NC); Saves – Kaylan Conrad (A) 11, Holly Burwick (NC) 6; Shots – New Canaan 15-5

Avon in the finals
Class L
2009: New Canaan 1, Avon 0
Class M
2003: Avon 2, Joel Barlow 1
2002: Avon 2, Waterford 0
2001: Avon 1, Lauralton Hall 0, 2OT
2000: Suffield 1, Avon 0
Class S

1990: Elllington 2,  Avon 1

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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