WETHERSFIELD - Wethersfield’s soccer star Jimmy Slayton said that all he ever wanted was a chance to compete for a high school state championship.
The senior goaltender and his teammates got their chance, but fell short of being crowned state champions, losing an overtime match to Avon at Saturday’s Class L title match played at Middletown High School.
The title loss ended an otherwise fantastic season for the boys of Wethersfield. A 13-2-1 regular season earned the team a first-round bye to start the tournament. The team then beat Pomperaug in the second round and took down Berlin in the semifinal round to reach the quarterfinals where they defeated Bethel 3-1 last Wednesday night under the bright lights of Municipal Stadium in Waterbury.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for all four years of high school soccer,” Slayton said after a quarterfinals victory. “This is great group of guys. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Bethel, not to be confused with the small native town in Alaska, was a formidable opponent.
“This was a team that we hadn’t seen at all and we had only heard a couple of things about them. They are a very good team,” Wethersfield’s head coach Rob Jachym said. “I’ve known Tony [Fernandes, Bethel’s head coach' alt='sports corner' title='sports corner'>
from back in the day. He’s a very good coach and we didn’t expect anything but a good game and that’s what we got tonight.”
Sophomore forward Brendan Barry provided the Eagles an early cushion and senior Chris Shimwell added another goal on a header, doubling Wethersfield’s lead at the half.
The Wildcats of Bethel were very aggressive throughout the second half and cut the deficit in half when Nicholas Osebio drilled a shot to the left bottom corner of the net in the 69th minute of the match.
Bethel’s momentum was short-lived as Eagles junior Lukas Szymecki put the game on ice when he scored with 2:57 remaining. Szymecki’s goal relieved the hoards of hometown supporters that made the trip to the open-air stadium on a brisk fall evening.
“It’s a great feeling. When you come this far, you’re here for a reason. We’ve worked hard all season and we’ve done a lot of good things, but it matters what you do today,” Jachym said following the team’s 19th victory of the season, “When you get to this point we’re not barking from the sidelines. The boys should be pretty prepared for what is at stake and they played with confidence tonight.”
Slayton was instrumental in the Eagles success and may have been the most confident player on the field this season. The goaltender could be heard communicating with his teammates for the entire 80 minutes of match play.
“I’m a very vocal person. I realize that it’s not just me as a player, but the position itself demands a lot of communication and organization,” said Slayton, who will be playing for the University of Hartford next season. “I have to be on top of these guys. They want me to talk to them and I have to do my job just like everyone else on the field.”
Slayton was not without help. He is the first to credit the incredible defensive assistance that aided in the team’s 17 shutouts this season.
“These guys have been awesome for me all year. The number of shutouts we have and the low number of goals we’ve allowed is a team effort,” added Slayton. “These guys are a huge part of our success. They deserve so much credit. They’ve taken away a lot of stress. I only have to face three or four shots a game and that is huge. They do an awesome job.”
Slayton added that it was important for the team to be physically, mentally, and emotionally ready as the team entered their first title appearance since defeating East Lyme to capture the 2008 state championship.
The Eagles came into the title game rolling, having won their previous 14 games and seemed primed to dethrone the Falcons of Avon, who were the Class L co-champions, along with Branford, a season ago.
Avon had muddled their way through an 11-5 regular season, but caught fire when the tournament started, defeating previously undefeated teams University/Prince and Daniel Hand to reach the finals.
Wethersfield struck first in the championship game when Szymecki converted a penalty kick, but Avon scored less than a minute later and then scored in each of the two overtimes to secure a 3-1 victory.
It wasn’t the way that they team envisioned the season ending, but it was a season that Slayton and his teammates will not soon forget. The coached best summed up Slayton following the quarterfinals victory over Bethel.
“I guess the best way to say it is that Jimmy had lived up to all the hype . He’s made some saves that gave us momentum. Sometimes you get momentum from a goal and other times you get it from a save and he has been doing that all season,” Jachym said about his goalie. “He’s one of our top players and we expect a lot from him. He’s showed up big this season when it counted.”
Jachym and his coaching staff will lose Slayton and fourteen other seniors to graduation, but will have a solid returning cast, led by Szymecki and Barry, entering the 2016 season.
Questions or comments? Email email@example.com or follow on Twitter @RareReminderJH