CANTON, Nov. 1 – It’s not often that Canton High boys soccer coach Bill Phelps can relax in the final week of the regular season. Playing in the tough North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC) can be a challenge for a small school such as Canton with traditionally strong schools such as Avon, Suffield, Ellington and Granby.
Wins can be hard to come by. Somers has won three of the last four Class S championships. A year ago, Somers captured another Class S title, Suffield beat Granby for the Class M championship and Avon was second in Class L.
However this year, the Warriors qualified for the Class S tournament with a week to go after a stunning 4-2 victory over Avon at Bowdoin Field. It was the first time in 10 years that Canton had beaten the Falcons.
The Warriors (9-7, 9-7 NCCC) closed out the regular season with three games against Windsor Locks, Somers and Granby but they had the luxury of preparing for the state tournament knowing they didn’t have to run the table to earn a tournament berth.
Canton surged in the final weeks of the season. At one point, the Warriors were 2-4 after dropping one-goal decisions to Ellington, Suffield and Stafford. But Canton won six of their next seven, including the big win over an Avon team that was 10-1-1 at the time and in the hunt for the league championship.
“We’re playing really well and we’re beginning to hit on all cylinders now,” Phelps said. “I put a challenge to them. I told them that Avon is a very good team but if you keep them in check, you can play with them.”
How do you keep a team like Avon in check?
It starts with good goaltending. Goalie Tyler Lang made some big saves early to gain confidence. The Warrior defense stepped up and played their men tight. Stopper Keith Loureiro and sweeper Nate Gallagher played outstanding games along with center midfielder Ben Corbett. Defender Evan Church was tenacious.
“We were patient and forced them to make mistakes,” Phelps said.
And Canton continues to get good goal scoring from Jim Spatcher and Alex Davey. Over a five-game run, Spatcher has scored 12 goals, including three against Avon, three against Sport Medicine Science Academy and four against Coventry. Davey had seven goals in the same five-game run.
It has taken Spatcher a while to get used to his Canton teammates. He has spent much of his soccer career playing on premier teams where nearly every player has the same level of ability. At the high school level, there can be a wide variety of skill levels on a single team.
“It’s a huge difference,” Phelps said. Even an outstanding player like Spatcher has to find and learn what his role is to make the team succeed.
Against Avon, Canton scored 30 seconds into the game on a Spatcher goal. The contest was tied 1-1 at halftime before Canton leaped ahead with another early goal. They added two more for a 4-2 victory.
Playing at cozy Bowdoin Field didn’t hurt either. Bowdoin Field, which was carved out of the Canton woods in 1959, is a narrow soccer field, only 64 yards wide. Many traditional soccer fields are 70 to 75 feet wide, including Avon’s spacious Fisher Meadows complex, which may be one of the best fields in the league.
“I love playing at Bowdoin,” Phelps said. “It’s a home field advantage for us. They like to spread the ball across the field. Avon is one of the best ball control teams in the state. We choked them up a bit.”
The two-goal margin of victory was the largest for Canton in the long series that began in 1969. The Warrriors also won a pair of 4-2 decisions in 1978 and 1985. Canton had gone 0-11-4 against Avon since its last win in 2002.
The Warriors finished the regular season with a 9-7 record after beating Windsor Locks, 5-4 and dropping decisions to Somers, 5-1, and Granby, 3-1. The Warriors finished seventh in the NCCC.
For Canton, the Class S tournament begins on Thursday, Nov. 8. Toughened up by challenging games in the NCCC, Canton could go far. In 1995, Canton went 8-3-5 in the regular season before running the table in Class S to win a state championship.
2012 NCCC boys soccer final standings
Suffield 15-1, Elllington 12-2-2, Avon 12-3-1, Somers 11-5, Granby 9-4-3, East Granby 9-6-1, Canton 9-7, Bolton 8-6-2, Stafford 7-8-1, Windsor Locks 6-9-1, Enfield 4-11-1, East Windsor 2-13-1, Coventry 1-15, SMSA 0-15-1
Teams get 2 points for each win and 1 point for a tie