1991: A SUPERBLY UNEXPECTED YEAR
• The Wreckers tune up with an easy pre-season match against Fairfield Prep (the traditional 5-team scrimmage at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor Locks has been ruled an unwitting violation of CIAC rules). The team opens with 2 difficult matches; both result in 2-0 wins. The first, against Ridgefield, begins with a bang: Sophomore Anson Ashby cracks a volley off the crossbar. It soon becomes a ho-hum affair, and Mike Chaney (penalty kick) and Cameron Keeler secure the win. Less than 48 hours later, on a Saturday morning in Newtown, the Wreckers rip the Indians. Ashby sets up his first tally with a stutter-step move; then junior Steve Russell, a transfer from Indiana, deflects a shot off a defender’s leg that Andrew Clement one-times in.
• After feasting on feeble foes they take on tough, 3-1-1 Fairfield. Ricardo Ceballos and Ashby strike first, and the rest of the team plays inspired ball until Mustang back Pete Wright breaks his leg contesting a loose ball with Steve Uydess. The 40-minute delay causes both squads to lose focus.
• The away match against 6-0 Danbury is played in hot, humid weather. But that does not cause either division leader (after a year, the Westporters are back in the East) from waging an 80-minute battle befitting their high standards and standings. The hosts score first, when Sean Gartland loops in a header off a corner kick. Ten minutes later the Wreckers, down for the first time all year, retaliate. Chaney, playing his best game in a Staples uniform, follows his own shot that skitters under the keeper, forcing the ball into the net. The rest of the game is brutal, at both ends of the field Then, 31 seconds from overtime, a corner kick bounces crazily for what seems an eternity. Players whiff, shank or boot it. Finally Gartland reaches it, and pokes it in on the near post.
• Down but not out, missing the commanding Jeff Forbes (shoulder injury) and with other players less than 100 percent, Staples travels to Darien 48 hours later. The Wreckers grow stronger as the game progresses, but finishing woes nearly negate a fine effort. Uydess, Brian Stern and Mike Weiss key the overtime periods. Coach Jeff Lea sends Weiss all the way forward to begin the second 10-minute OT; he also tells sophomore sweeper Tim Caffrey to push up. The gambles pay off. A mere 3 minutes from time Chaney sends Weiss upfield. He turns the corner and smacks a cross. Russell waits patiently and fires. The ball heads wide – but Caffrey comes through to pound it home.
• The next match, a 1-0 win over Westhill, gives Lea his 200th career victory. The schedule winds down and the Wreckers sit pretty atop the East, when they travel to New Canaan. The home side scores first, against the flow of play, on a dinky shot. But in a familiar pattern Forbes pushes forward, Weiss follows, and unleashes a long, Steve Baumann-like throw. Forbes flicks it on; it bounds through the Ram defense, and is booted in for an own goal. Thirteen minutes later Stern races up the sidelines and bangs a cross to Forbes, again far up at the 6. The ball skitters past 3 defenders, and he nails it in. Favorable comparisons are made with the previous year’s excellent squad.
• The final regular season match is at Wilton. The Warriors have handed Danbury their only defeat of the year, 3-2 in overtime, and always play Staples well. Despite missing 2 starters, this year is no exception. Forbes commands both ends of the field, and the Wreckers outshoot Wilton 25-9. But their shots fly high, wide or directly at the keeper. Eric Quarfordt, who had beaten Danbury with his first varsity goal, is again the Warriors’ hero. He finishes a smart inside run by banging in his second tally from 12 yards out. Just 5 minutes remaining in the second overtime.
• Wilton’s high-fiving, pig-piling celebration barely ends when the Wreckers retaliate. In the 98th minute Uydess unleashes a long throw from the deep right side. The ball is headed and banged out several times, then lands at Uydess’ foot beyond the 18. The tri-captain’s side-volley allows no time to react. The line drive roars 5 feet high into the side panel. For the fourth time in 6 games, the winner comes from a defender. For the second time in 3 tries, the Westporters have rallied from behind.
• The semifinal is against Fairfield, making their first-ever FCIAC appearance after shutting out Wilton 3-0 in the final regular season match. The Wreckers’ playoff experience shows in the second half as they pour in 4 unanswered goals. Forbes, unmarked, heads in Weiss’ corner kick; Chaney chips the keeper off a fine pass from Ceballos; Ceballos scores himself, then Chris Conaway nets his first varsity goal, on a penalty kick.
• The finals, against Danbury in front of 1800 boisterous Halloween night fans, is a typical FCIAC championship at Wilton: played too fast, but quite intense. It is, in fact, a spectator’s delight – and Hatter fans cheer first. Gartland once again tallies, this time after zipping through the right side of the defense at the 5:10 mark.
• The game goes end to end, and the Wreckers grow stronger. Nearly every Stapleite has a career game, but the back 4 of Caffrey, Weiss, bone-crunching tackler Uydess and Forbes (whose dominating presence earns him Co-Most Valuable Player honors) are the night’s story. The tying goal comes 13 minutes from time. One of Weiss’ many Cruise missile throw-ins is missed by the keeper; the ball skids off Forbes’ head, and 6-1 sweeper Caffrey heads it home.
• Staples has the run of play in the first 10-minute overtime, barely missing on Forbes’ tough-angle shot off the post and Russell’s 1-second-too-late header. The co-championship, when it comes, is not anticlimactic or disappointing, as previous ones have been. Both squads know they gave it their all. For the ’91 Wreckers, who entered the season with many question marks, "FCIAC Championship #20" carries a sweet ring.
• Ranked fifth in the LL tourney, but emotionally drained from the FCIAC title game — physically battered too (Stern does not even dress) — the Wreckers are ripe for an upset by 8-8, 28th-rated Rockville. When poor marking and missed tackles help the upstater score in the 15th minute, veteran hillside observers recall 1975, when another lower-ranked Rockville side handed the Wreckers their 1st home defeat in 9 years, 1-0.
• This time, the goal serves as a wakeup call. One minute later Forbes pounces on a header pass from Ashby, and equalizes. Five minutes before halftime Chaney left-foots a low shot into the corner. Then, 45 seconds before intermission Ashby shucks and jives through the penalty area, and finishes inside the post. The fourth goal, in the 58th minute, is equally pretty: Cebellas to Ashby to late-season junior varsity call-up Raymond Steffen to Chaney and back to Ceballos, for a side volley into the side corner.
• The next 2 games are workmanlike 2-0 wins. The first, home against Bristol Eastern, is notable solely for the two goals. In the 35th minute Ceballos steals the ball off a defender’s foot, flicks it over keeper Shawn Kelly’s hands, runs around him, then picks up his own ball and hammers a shot. The insurance tally comes 5 seconds before halftime, when Ashby – his back to the net – pops a lunging, bicycle kick-type shot over the wide-ranging keeper.
• The quarterfinal, against East Hartford at Wallingford’s Sheehan High, belongs to keeper Zack Randel. He keeps his side in contention early, via range, power and leadership. Randel then relaxes when Forbes – bad shoulder and all – enters in the second half, and lifts Staples. The first goal comes at 67:46, when Russell shoves in a wicked cross from Ceballos. The second, late, is Ceballos’, off an Ashby shot.
• That lifts the Wreckers into their second semifinal since 1982. They need a great effort to top 17-0-1, first-ranked E.O. Smith-Storrs — #4 in the national rankings. They get it, though only a small crowd sees it at Farmington’s Tunxis Meade Field to on Tuesday, Nov. 12 (the game is postponed 24 hours, from Veteran’s Day, due to foul weather). All eyes are on the Panthers’ highly touted trio of Steve Chirgwin, Ron Moskowitz and John Lowe, but the first goal – 53 seconds in – comes when freshman sweeper Cliff Moskowitz drives a free kick from the center circle. Tom Greaser leaps high to skim in.
• Staples refuses to yield. The first half is played in 5-minute, pendulum-like chunks of domination. In the 33rd minute the pendulum swings Smith’s way; they score again. A defender loses his footing on the wet grass, and Greaser tucks in an easy shot. The Westporters come right back, shocking the upstaters 94 seconds later to slice the margin in half. Weiss plays the ball to Forbes; Ashby power-heads it to the center of the box, and Chaney shanks a shot. But the ball lands in front of Caffrey, and the sophomore knocks in a difficult shot for his third crucial goal of the year.
• The second half is all Staples. They move in for the kill, applying more pressure than Smith has seen all fall. They earn 8 corner kicks, and all but 1 are dangerous. Caffrey heads one off the crossbar, Forbes puts another just past the net, and a third is headed off the line. But the best comes later. Uydess launches a 50-yard run with just 15 seconds to go. Reaching the edge of the penalty area, he unleashes a great shot low and to the far post. But keeper Joe O’Connell extends his hand, tipping it away. A mass of players converges. One Stapleite overruns the ball; another stumbles, and a third cannot get inside his defender. Time stands still, but the clock ticks on.
• Finally, with 5 seconds to play a Panther clears the ball to midfield, and Staples’ season is over. It has been a great one. The Wrecker magic vanishes at the end, but that is okay. The ’91 team has had a magical fall anyway.
• Smith goes on to win the state title 1-0 over Danbury (the Hatters miss Gartland, who broke his leg in the semifinals), and end the season ranked second in the nation.
• Staples’ 20 games are the most ever in a season (the 1981 team also played 20).
• Coach Jay Zambelli’s junior varsity is 10-0-0. That means that all the juniors and seniors on jayvee who also played freshman ball have never lost a Staples game. Coach Dan Woog’s freshmen are 9-3.
• Guest speaker at the annual banquet is Brown University coach Trevor Adair.
• Other players not previously mentioned include Todd Champagne, Tom Cirino, Andy Eliot, John Guadagno, Marc Levitt, Andrew Marchand, David Nayor, Jason Stever, Eric Volckmann and Sam Walker. Marchand goes on to become a sportswriter for the New York Post.
TRI-CAPTAINS: Mike Chaney, Brian Stern, Steve Uydess
COACH: Jeff Lea
1992: RECORDS FALL
• The cover of the Westport News fall sports preview features an intriguing shot of co-captains Dave Nayor and Jason Stever, and keeper Zack Randel, shot from ground level. They look huge (they are big in real life, too), as does the ball in front of them. But photos don’t win soccer games. Goals do — and the Wreckers snag 6 in an unselfish, quick-passing opening-day shutout over New Canaan. Three come in the first 12 minutes. Raymond Steffen left foots an 18-yard rocket, off an alert quick free kick from Steve Russell. Fabiano Lourenco, a junior from Brazil spending the semester with his cousin (Nick Trebat), and Bryan Urioste score twice each, Ricardo Ceballos once. Every goal is a beauty.
• Two days later, again at home, they stun their fans and themselves, blowing a lead and allowing 3 second-half scores in a 3-1 loss to Wilton. It is the Wreckers’ most 1-sided defeat since the final game of 1989. They get back on track against Central, 1 of 3 Bridgeport teams joining the FCIAC (games this year count for state, but not league, statistics). Russell, Ceballos, Steffen and Devin Smiley score; smiles return. They smile after the next match too, in Fairfield, but it takes longer. The Wreckers outplay the Mustangs but have zilch to show for it until 3 minutes from the end of overtime. Andrew Clement receives a throw. He turns, pushes forward, hears assistant coach Brian Sullivan yell "Shoot!" – and shoots. The ball arcs over keeper Rafael Gonzalez, and into the side netting. The win proves key to Staples’ surging confidence.
• They need it in the next match against Trumbull, another regulation scoreless draw. In OT the fitter, sharper Wreckers prevail, tallying 3 times on shots by Smiley, Ceballos and Lourenco. They drop Danbury from the ranks of the undefeated on Anson Ashby’s 2 tallies, continue to win, and roar undefeated into their toughest battles yet: Ridgefield and Greenwich, back to back, on the road.
• The 8-2 Tigers, give the Wreckers their best test of the year, in the season’s most exciting, skillful game yet. Russell and Todd Champagne nail down midfield, while Eric Volckmann shuts down high-scoring Ryan Borst. But Ridgefield tallies first, on a shot made slippery by a cold drizzle. Eight minutes later Champagne runs onto Ashby’s pass, and rips a line drive that ticks off a defender. It is the junior’s first varsity goal. In the 57th minute Russell meets Steffen’s chip back door, scoring from 15 yards out across the grain. The Wreckers pull away when Ceballos drags Lourenco’s pass to the right and beats the keeper, but the Tigers stay close on a rebound shot after Randel saves off the crossbar. The 3-2 score stands through 6 tense final minutes.
• An enormous crowd sees visiting Staples surge to a 3-0 lead over Greenwich on Steffen’s diving header, Caffrey’s shot and Ceballos’ outside-of-the-foot bender. The Cards notch an important goal 1:37 before halftime on Matt Shattuck’s penalty kick. The confident Wreckers get it back 1:17 after intermission, when Ashby 1-times Stever’s long ball into the lower corner. Starting just 1:07 later, though, Greenwich whips their fans into a frenzy with a 3-goal comeback. The tying goal is Shattuck’s second penalty of the day, 8 minutes from time. The Cards then control play through the 20-minute overtime. The Wreckers are chastened. The final 2 matches are never in doubt – they humble Harding 14-0, then trounce Trinity Catholic 7-1 in a game cut 14 minutes short due to darkness – but they know surrendering 3 goals in a half, as they did to Wilton and Greenwich, is no formula for post-season success.
• Staples catches fire in the semifinal against Ridgefield after the Tigers score, 13 minutes into the second half. But Ridgefield augments their 5-man backfield with 2 more defenders and repels a series of last-gasp Staples chances. The Tigers advance to the FCIAC finals against Danbury. For the first time since 1988 – and only the sixth since the tourney began in 1961 – the Wreckers spectate.
• The semifinal loss marks the turning point of the season. The ’92 team – already the most potent Staples squad in history, having obliterated the 1990 record of 69 goals during the Harding game – returns to work. The 7th-ranked Westporters never give #26 Norwich Free Academy – fresh off a 2-hour bus ride, after SATs that morning – a chance to unwind. Ashby, Ceballos and Lourenco pump in 3 goals in the first 18 minutes; Ashby and Clement score before halftime, and the rout is on. Ceballos and Volckmann add second half tallies, and the Wreckers are the highest-scoring school in the 30-team LLs.
• Southington, #10, comes to town 14-2-1, identical to Staples, but a good-sized Veterans Day crowd watches the home side eat them for lunch. Russell splits 2 defenders with a dribble; Ashby knocks in the rebound. Smiley’s long throw is flicked on by Ashby; Clement chests it, turns and scores. Russell nets another first-half goal. A brief skirmish results in 2 yellow cards for each side, but takes all the fire out of the Blue Knights. Urioste ices the game 5 seconds after coming on.
• That sets up a return date with E.O. Smith-Storrs. The Panthers arrive at North Haven’s Sachem Field riding a 38-game unbeaten streak. They are ranked seventh in the nation – and have lost only 2 players from the side that knocked the Wreckers out of the previous year’s semifinal. Staples, however, believes Smith can be beaten, and the players focus intensely on the quarterfinals the instant they qualify for it.
• The opening minutes set the stage, as the Wreckers contain the dangerous trio of Matt Raynor, Steve Chirgwin and Tom Greaser better than any club all year. Volckmann and Lourenco rise to the challenge in the middle of the field; Nayor, Stever and Caffrey do the same in back, and the match becomes a nail-biting struggle. Staples strikes early. Volckmann heads forward to Russell, who heads along to Ashby. He slices a seeing-eye pass through two backs as Champagne overlaps perfectly, before powering a shot into the far left corner.
• The game before, Smith was down to Hartford Public until 12 seconds remained. This time they equalize in the 30th minute. Greaser jumps on a misclear, and feeds Raynor. The Panthers open the second half with 3 quick corners, but Staples regains momentum. They pride themselves on fitness; the harder they run, the more Smith sags. The Westporters come agonizingly close several times. Finally, with less than 2 minutes to play, Caffrey lofts a long free kick. Ashby controls just outside the box, then chips to the right over the onrushing defenders. Russell fires a shot that Cliff Moskowitz tries to clear. It caroms off the post. Ceballos roars through a crowd to finish into the net, in true highlight fashion. The final 1:51 consists of Staples banging balls out of the back, buying time. They celebrate with the biggest pig pile seen by Westport fans in a decade.
• Next up is another undefeated team: 17-0-2 Guilford. The weather is cold but pleasant at Woodbury’s Nonnewaug High. For the second straight game Staples topples an unbeaten squad, and shuts down a national team pool player. The game is less epic than Smith – the Wreckers are physically and emotionally drained – but they pull out a well-earned 1-0 victory. Offensive hero Urioste gets the winner at 29:55 (the exact time Smith tied the match the previous game), after Nayor lays a free kick toward the box. Russell chips it along; Ashby is slide tackled from behind while attempting to shoot. The loose ball skitters right. Urioste and the keeper converge. The senior striker, who has seen limited duty since returning from a broken hand, and entered the match 2 minutes before, gets there first, touching it in.
• The game grows increasingly physical. Randel is key, catching high or punching wide most of the Indians’ 10 corner kicks. His 2 hairiest moments come in the second half. In the 60th minute he lands hard on his shoulder, after one-hand-tipping a header ticketed for goal. In great pain, he continues to play well. The Wreckers are elated, but exhausted, when the match ends. On the bus ride home they do not celebrate their first return to the state finals in 10 years. Instead, they sleep.
• They regain their strength, and head into the finals against Simsbury with renewed vigor and confidence. The 17th-ranked Trojans are also giant-killers (beating undefeated Xavier-Cheshire and Shelton), but the Wreckers are pumped. They know a host of alumni will cheer them on at Farmington’s Tunxis Meade field, in the first night title match ever. They know too that exactly 10 years earlier – on Nov. 20, 1982 – another Staples squad won the school’s 10th (and most recent) state crown. They did it against Simsbury – and assistant coach Sullivan was on that team.
• For the first 25 minutes, the game belongs to the Wreckers. The up-and-back work of Steffen and Champagne, plus intricate passing by Ceballos, Ashby and Russell, stuns the Trojans. Staples is so aggressive, in fact, that they commit 3 offsides and waste 2 free kicks. Suddenly, though, the tenor shifts. Steffen and Champagne are substituted for, and Simsbury breathes easier. They win their first 50-50 balls, and are soon winning the match. Mark Darbyshire heads a pass along, then races forward to receive a fine return feed from Daryl Lynch, the coach’s son. Unmarked, he heads the cross high and hard into the far corner.
• "To be frank, we were scared to death for most of the first half," defender Seth Moyer later tells the Hartford Courant. But the tally gives them hope. Momentum shifts. In the second half Simsbury is the hot team. Early in the second half Moyer races onto a loose ball to crank a 35-yard shot over a mass of players. It is eerily reminiscent of Rob Stone’s game-winning goal in the final 10 years before – and Stone is among the many alumni this night cheering his Staples descendants on.
• Moyer clears Ashby’s shot off the line, and with it the Wreckers’ title hopes. Simsbury ices the match with 3:09 remaining on a header, while Staples is pushing forward. It is a sad ending to an exceptional season. The Westporters’ most offensive team ever (93 goals) and fine defense (13 shutouts) has entertained many fans. They look ahead to ’93, when 5 starters will return. Simsbury, too, expects 5 back.
• For the first time since ninth graders arrive at Staples, there is no freshman team (low numbers). Dan Woog coaches the junior varsity: 14 sophomores and 7 freshmen. The 8-2-2 season includes a thrilling, season-ending, come-from-behind win at Greenwich.
• Volckmann, Russell, Ashby and Caffrey are all-FCIAC selections; Randel is named All-East. Volckmann is the lone Wrecker named to the Senior Bowl squad, played at the University of Connecticut.
• Staples’ 21 games are the most in Staples history; it is also the first time they play 5 state tournament games. The 17 wins are the most since 1981. The loss to Simsbury is Staples’ first tournament final defeat since 1968. All 3 of their state tournament final defeats have been shutouts.
• Other players not previously mentioned include Matt Bernier, Brian Burns, Elmar GrosseRuse and Travis Wilson.
• Urioste, Smily and Wilson spent their first 3 seasons on undefeated freshman and junior varsity squads. They end their Staples soccer careers with a total of 3 losses.
CO-CAPTAINS: Dave Nayor, Jason Stever
COACH: Jeff Lea
1993: DEFENSE, GOALS AND GLORY
• For the second straight year the Westport News fall sports preview cover highlights boys soccer: A 2-page wraparound photo features a gang of smiling boys running toward the camera. A new rule change prohibits passing back to the keeper. And the Wreckers open with a record-setting 14-0 rout of Harding. Todd Champagne registers the first goal, 1 minute after the opening whistle. Coach Jeff Lea removes 2 players from the field, creating a 9-on-11, but still Staples scores. A player confesses, "This wasn’t fun. They seemed like nice guys. I feel bad for them." The second game is not fun either: 11-0 over Trinity Catholic. The first score in that match comes even quicker: Raymond Steffen rebounds Mike Sakellis’ shot in the first 27 seconds.
• New Canaan is only slightly more challenging: 5-0, on Anson Ashby’s hat trick. There are 3 head goals, by Ashby, Sakellis and Andrew Clement. After 3 games, the Wreckers have netted a stunning 30 goals, and surrendered 0. Wilton proves the first real test. Without Brooks Jessup (ill), Champagne (groin pull), Steffen (quadricep injury) and Brian Burns (bad ankle), the Wreckers head to overtime. Swedish exchange student Martin Carlstedt lofts his first corner kick 10 yards from goal. Tim Caffrey, up from sweeper, goes back door, placing a perfect header into the side panel 1:17 into the first OT. Lea is pleased with his squad’s "gut check" performance.
• Central dents the shutout streak, ending 403:44 of scoreless ball, but the Wreckers win another 1-sided match 6-1. After outdistancing a young Fairfield side 4-0, Trumbull stuns Staples. A goal 7:43 in stands up for the final 71:17, and the Golden Eagles hand the high-flying Wreckers (who do not adapt to their hosts’ boomball tactics, and commit 12 offsides) their first defeat.
• Two days later they roar back from 2 deficits, finally outlasting Stamford on the Knight’s small, rough field. Ashby gets the first equalizer, Caffrey the second, but it takes half an hour longer, in overtime, for Staples to win. Ashby outmuscles the sweeper and beats the keeper; he helps add an insurance tally by juggling twice through tight marking, then launching a crossfield volley that Sakellis races onto and slots home. The Stamford game also marks the emergence of Chris O’Dell as a key player. The junior defender shows strongly and confidently in the second half. His air and ground play helps solidify a good team into a great one.
• First comes a 4-1 Columbus Day thumping by Danbury. It is the worst regular-season loss since 1978 – but, like that one against Westhill, turns into a season-turning match. Oddly, the Wreckers dominate much of the early going. But a 25th-minute penalty kick gives the Hatters the lead. They pad it 4 minutes later, off a misplayed cross. Ashby slices the margin in half, but two late goals seal the loss. Staples seems somber, yet curiously defiant, on the bus ride home. They plan on a rematch down the road.
• The Wreckers right themselves 3-1 over Westhill, then gut out a 1-0 victory in Darien on sophomore Jon Hendrickson’s 11th-minute strike. Ashby bulls his way into the net to down Norwalk 1-0. The battle of 9-2 teams for the Eastern Division crown does not live up to expectations. In the 28th minute O’Dell power-heads forward. A defender, ready to clear, panics as Ashby races at him, and misheads the ball backwards. Ashby touches forward once, then finishes with authority. Seven minutes after intermission Clement drives a header underneath the bar for a 2-0 win.
• The final regular season foe is undefeated (tied only by Danbury) Greenwich. Staples is out to avenge last season’s shocking 4-4 tie. A large hillside crowd sees the Wreckers at their best. The nip-and-tuck first half gives way to a second half featuring exceptional possession, deft 1-touch passing and dangerous crossing. Matt Bernier shuts down 22-goal scorer Matt Shattuck; Burns gives away 6 inches but nothing else to Jeff Gregor (10 goals in his last 7 matches). The one tally comes from midfield. Andy Albert works a throw-in and 2-pass combination with Champagne, who carries deep to the right corner and drives a chest-high cross through the box. Steffen, racing in from the far side, launches himself fully horizontal at the ball. He meets it dead-on, driving it into the back netting with the power and precision of a training tape.
• Greenwich is set to return 72 hours later for the semifinals. But bad weather postpones the match by a day, and the Westporters lose their emotional edge. Despite outplaying their guests the entire first half, Staples cannot score. Card coach Ralph Vitale reads his boys the halftime riot act, referring to his "mysterious, disappearing midfield," and they return rejuvenated. For the final 40 minutes they regain the buzzsaw attack they had up to the first Staples match. Eleven minutes in Shattuck drills a penalty kick; 11 minutes after that Claudio Barrientos seizes on momentary confusion in the back to make it 2-0, and 8 minutes from time Shattuck laces a gorgeous shot for the 3-0 win.
• Cheshire, winner of 8 of their first 10 games this year, arrives at Staples mired in a losing streak, with an injured keeper. Midfield work by Carlstedt, Champagne, Clement and Steffen pace Staples’ 3-1 victory. The first goal comes at 9:53; Caffrey outjumps 3 defenders to head in Champagne’s corner kick. The visitors equalize 3 minutes later, but then the Wreckers pick up the tempo. The go-ahead goal is exactly the same as the first. Three minutes later Champagne finishes off Carlstedt’s feed.
• Hartford Public forfeits its 2-1 win over crosstown rival Weaver for using an overage player, so the Wreckers host a lesser team – on paper, that is. Despite their #24 ranking and 8-4-5 record, the Beavers are tall, quick and well-skilled. They are also foul-prone. Their fast, attractive brand of ball is diminished by their tendency to kick players from behind, or after the whistle. They are shown 4 yellow cards and 4 reds (Burns’ yellow is Staples’ sole blemish), and referees Phil Liebrock and Tim Marcoux terminate the match with 2:20 to play.
• The keys to the Wrecker win are composure and intensity. Retaliation is rare; players focus strongly, adapting well to the game’s speedy pace and chippy atmosphere. Lea makes an important tactical move: switching double-teamed, often-hacked Ashby back to midfield and moving Clement up front. Soon Ashby wins a tackle, and feeds Clement a well-timed pass. The lanky senior snags it in stride, races in alone and outfoxes the keeper with a strong near-post shot. Three minutes later Caffrey’s long free kick finds Clement; he fires low, again near post.
• Amity Regional-Woodbridge, #17 and 14-3 after knocking off undefeated Holy Cross-Waterbury in penalty kicks, takes Staples to overtime at New Canaan’s Connor Field. The easterners set a furious pace; the game ebbs and flows in 5-minute spurts. But with Caffrey and keeper Peter Castiglia contributing strong plays, the game remains deadlocked.
• In OT Amity tires. As the first 10 minutes tick down Champagne lofts a high free kick. Caffrey, running to the top of the 18, flicks over a defender’s head to Clement; with his back to the goal he 1-times to Sakellis. He passes on to Caffrey, who swings and misses – but the ball carries on to Ashby. He stops it, pushes it ahead, then knocks it through the chaos into the wide-open right corner. The pig pile in front of the net is filled with Wreckers who know they have not played their best game – but live to fight another day.
• Staples returns to Connor Field to face old friend Danbury. Once again the match goes to extra time; instantly it earns a spot alongside 2 other Connor classics, the ’78 championship win against Greenwich and the ’82 title over Ridgefield. Words have been heard all week from Hatter players, some of whom are premier club teammates of Stapleites. As the Wreckers cross the field before the game Danbury taunts: "4-1!" "Oooh, we’re so intimidated" – but keep their mouths shut. Except for a 20-minute stretch before halftime, the game belongs to Staples.
• The first goal throws the Hatters off stride. Champagne bends a free kick around the wall’s left side. Clement runs through, takes it out of the air, and with exceptional timing 1-touches a shot low and hard into the left corner. For the next 15 minutes the Westporters attack relentlessly, but at 28:57 Danbury draws level. J.P. Sousa’s corner kick is misheaded, and Danny Patton pounces from close range.
• After intermission Staples pens the Hatters in for long stretches. Ashby drops back into midfield, and takes command. Hendrickson, Sakellis and Nick Trebat wreak havoc up front. Caffrey clears 1 ball off the line; seconds later Castiglia makes a diving stop, then Sousa sneaks through but snuffs wide. From then on it is all Staples. Heading into their second straight overtime, the Wreckers exude confidence.
• They prove themselves right 3 minutes into the first OT. A brilliant series of 1- and 2-touch passes involving both Steffen and Sakellis twice, then over to Ashby and Champagne, ends with the ball delivered to Hendrickson’s foot. His back is three-quarters to the goal, on the far right side near the edge of the penalty area. With exquisite calm he loops the ball sideways, across his body and over the goalmouth. Keeper Steve Blaney takes 2 tentative steps, then freezes. The ball bounces once, beyond him and over the line, then nestles softly in back of the net. Eleven Wreckers raise jubilant hands; a dozen more race off the bench and onto the field. For the second straight year, and the 13th time since 1962, they head to the finals. Staples soccer magic lives.
• The final is an overpowering 3-1 defeat of seventh-ranked, 18-2 E.O. Smith-Storrs at North Haven’s Sachem Field. The win, on Saturday, Nov. 20, ties a national record for state soccer titles (11), sets a school record for wins in a season (18), rekindles memories of past Wrecker crowns, and binds a new generation of players with fabled heroes of old.
• Six seniors return from the previous year’s hard state final loss. They and their teammates accomplish this win with an exciting blend of take-no-prisoners defense, creative offense, and poised, intelligent play. They solve the tricky crosswind, along with twin Panther threats. Bernier shadows Tom Greaser all over the field, while Burns repeatedly forces Mike Dillman to dribble to the sidelines. In 80 minutes, the 2 strikers combine for just 1 shot.
• Caffrey is his commanding self at sweeper. Outside back O’Dell shuts down dangerous Mike Neal, while behind them Castiglia plays his best game of the season. At midfield Champagne races far and wide, picking off balls and initiating counterattacks. Carlstedt is rock-steady, while Clement and Steffen give Smith fits up and down the flanks.
• The first strike comes 4 minutes after the opening whistle. Caffrey heads Champagne’s corner kick forward; Ashby heads it off the bar, and Steffen powers it in from 2. Twenty-three seconds before intermission, Staples strikes again. Though Champagne’s free kick is cleared, Trebat finds it and slots it through a crowd, into the right corner.
• Staples never lets up, and nets the third goal 10 minutes from time. Ashby flicks Caffrey’s chip over keeper Tom Casarella. Clement, racing through, hits it further along, and Steffen follows up to make sure it crosses the line. Neal wrecks the shutout with 2 minutes to go, but it makes little difference. Losing coach John Blomstrann says, "We got totally outplayed," and he is right. That is why – 11 years to the day after winning their last state championship – Staples is back on top.
• Staples is the first Connecticut soccer team to win championships in 4 different decades. The Wreckers end the year ranked number one in the Hartford Courant coaches poll, the first time in the poll’s 8-year history they finish on top.
• Former physics teacher Nick Georgis is at the game – as he has been for all 11 state championships.
• Interestingly, neither of the LL finalists is a LL school. The Wreckers are an L school electing to play up; Smith, an M school with no football team, does the same.
• Ashby, Caffrey and Champagne are selected as All-FCIAC players, and for the Senior Bowl at the University of Connecticut. Steffen and Burns are named to the All-Eastern Division squad.
• Burns and Bernier finish their 4-year Staples career on the field for only 3 losses — and all occur this year. They participated on unbeaten freshman and junior varsity teams, and did not play in the ’92 varsity defeats.
• Ashby’s father, Kit, roomed with President Bill Clinton when both were students at Georgetown University. The President sends his personal congratulations to Lea and the team following their state title win.
• Coach Dan Woog’s junior varsity goes 9-4, finishing with a stunning 2-1 victory over Greenwich on a Tyler Mitchell goal with 1:05 remaining. Peter Maric is the first freshman elected co-captain of a Staples junior varsity soccer team.
• Jem Sollinger, former Staples and Union College captain, is the guest speaker at the banquet, held at the Inn at Longshore.
• Other players not previously mentioned include Randy Horton, Dean Landis, Rich Levy, Mike Millman, Brendon O’Brien, Peter Royce and Drew Robbins. Sophomores Rich Donoghue and Eric Steffen, and freshmen Wes Martino and Tyler Mitchell, are called up for FCIAC and state tournament play.
CO-CAPTAINS: Todd Champagne, Tim Caffrey
COACH: Jeff Lea
1994: FAIRFIELD, DANBURY AND…AMITY?
• With 8 senior starters gone, the Wreckers’ usual refrain – "We don’t rebuild, we reload" – sounds a bit wistful. But they break quickly out of the box, against New Canaan. Nick Trebat notches the first goal of the year, a 30th-minute 40-yard rocket that dips over the keeper and under the bar. The second score comes via 2 sophomores. Brad Tursi puts a free kick quickly in play, and Ed Spooner knocks in his square pass. The final tally is an own goal. One of the weakest Ridgefield sides in years falls 5-0 on two scores by Trebat, a marvelous 1-touch by Mike Sakellis, and solo goals by Tursi and Jon Hendrickson.
• Brien McMahon head coach Ralph King has announced his retirement at the end of this season. The Westporters say goodbye to his fired-up team with a 2-1 win. Trebat finishes off a fine end-to-end counterattack; after the Senators equalize Spooner picks up a Rich Levy feed, beats his defender and angles a shot from a dead run.
• Fairfield feels this is their year. The Wreckers, missing sparkplug Trebat (bruised kidney), also miss 3 easy first-half chances. Declan Curtin outraces a defender and powers a brilliant 18-yard shot that catches the far post, then skims in on the ground. But the visitors cannot hold the lead. Eight minutes later Hendrickson plays a long diagonal ball from the left, over the flat backs. Sophomore Tyler Mitchell and Levy run on; keeper Jason Takacs, momentarily distracted, misplays it, and Levy bangs from 6. Finally, in overtime, the Wreckers convert 1 of their many opportunities. Hendrickson’s outswinging corner kick sails over a defender’s head. Mitchell, poised on the far side, strokes it back against the grain and into the net.
• Trebat nets the only goal for his slow-starting side on the rough Wilton field, a 30-yard shot that rockets into the far panel. Stellar defense by Levy, Chris O’Dell, Drew Robbins, Brooks Jessup and keeper Peter Castiglia secure the win, which lifts Staples to 7-0.
• The Danbury match is a war. After 100 minutes of play, in front of one of the largest Westport crowds in years, bodies slump on the sideline, surrounded by ice, tape and crutches. The Hatters, ranked second in Connecticut and 15th nationally (the Wreckers are first and fourth, respectively) win by a slim 1-0 margin. Danbury’s defense withstands 10 first-half shots. Staples is keyed by their own defense, and the hard work of Mitchell, Trebat and Sakellis. Tursi goes down with a thigh bruise, Peter Maric with a head knock. Mitchell’s hamstring pull costs the Wreckers explosive sideline runs, long throws and superb vision. Unheralded John Kaltenstein is the Hatter hero. His header, off Dan Patton’s cross, catches Staples moving the wrong way, early in the final 10-minute overtime.
• A large Columbus Day morning crowd witnesses Staples’ first forfeit win ever. Harding fails to show, claiming too many injuries (cynics wonder about the fight in their previous match, resulting in several ejections). Against Stamford, 2 goals by Sakellis and 1 by Maric stake the Wreckers to a 3-0 lead. But the Knights get 2 back, and with 4 minutes left coach Jeff Lea returns his starters to the field. In the waning seconds Sakellis runs onto Mike Dobbs’ long clear. His genuine hat trick (3 in a row) ices the win. Another too-close-for-comfort victory follows. Central scores first at Kennedy Stadium, and it takes tallies by O’Dell (a header off Hendrickson’s rippling corner kick) and Trebat (off a great 1-time pass from Sakellis) to snag the "W."
• Trinity Catholic, 2-9, becomes the team to score the most goals on the state’s third-ranked team, in Staples’ 6-3 victory. The Crusaders actually score first, then tie the match 3-3 before late goals from Andy Albert, Trebat and Robbins secure victory. The Wreckers’ lapses catch up with them 4 days later, when Claudio Barrientos’ 15-yard, third-minute shot holds up for a 1-0 Greenwich win.
• The Wreckers, wildcard #1, play at Danbury on Halloween afternoon. The Hatters, riding a season-long 15-game winning streak and third in the nation, dictate early play. Their big backs defend hard and bang balls forward, but their offense never clicks. After 30 minutes Staples takes command. Three minutes past halftime Hendrickson drives a corner kick across the goal mouth. Levy, waiting patiently on the far right side, lets it run, then blasts a pass back across the middle. Robbins connects, for his second goal of the year. Trebat and Sakellis light up the second half, and 8 minutes from time put Danbury away. Trebat pounces on a corner kick like a snake, 1-timing a brilliant shot home.
• In the finals they meet fellow wildcard Fairfield. This is their first-ever FCIAC championship – and Staples’ 26th. The Mustangs’ screaming and shouting entices the large Wilton High School crowd. Psyched sky-high, they score in the 13th minute against the run of play. A miscleared ball lands at Stefan Porco’s feet, 30 yards from net. He feeds the dangerous Curtin on the far right side. The tough-angle shot bounces weirdly into the net. Curtin makes no friends with his triumphant run directly past the Wrecker bench.
• As in the previous Fairfield match, Staples soon equalizes. This time it takes a mere 151 seconds. Hendrickson bends a direct kick around the right side of the wall that skitters in off the far past; keeper Takacs never moves. The match heats up, and in the second half – paced by defender Jessup, midfielder Hendrickson and striker Trebat – the Wreckers take command. But the Mustang backs, led by Most Valuable Player Chris Cindric, meet the task. Two 10-minute overtimes feature Castiglia’s huge stuff of Brendan McDermott’s low shot, and Takacs’ squat-save on Hendrickson, but no goals. Staples’ seventh shared championship is FCIAC title #21. Fairfield needs 20 more to reach that mark.
• Ranked seventh, the Wreckers face Weaver-Hartford in a match with none of the previous year’s shenanigans. Levy’s 13th-minute blast is the deciding factor, and ensures a rematch with Fairfield.
• For the third time, the Mustangs score first. They hand their girlfriends roses on the Staples hill, then tally 52 seconds in, on their first foray past midfield. Curtin’s unmarked rocket throws the Wreckers off stride, but in the 35th minute they draw level. O’Dell launches a throw-in from halfway up the hill, by the field hockey field. The ball bounces dangerously in the box, then skips high. Trebat outleaps a gaggle of defenders, hangs in the air and power-heads a shot into the upper corner.
• Fairfield, frustrated, fouls brutally (and receives 2 yellow cards). Levy provides Staples’ spark at midfield. With 2:22 remaining, Hendrickson barrels upfield through 5 players. The fifth trips him in the box. One Mustang, conceding victory before the penalty kick, shakes hands with O’Dell. But Hendrickson’s shot slams off the crossbar, Tursi’s header flies wide, and the game remains tied.
• Trebat leads Staples in prayer before overtime. Both teams have solid chances; both keepers come up huge. Cindric, the FCIAC finals’ Most Valuable Player, again becomes MVP — this time for Staples. Dobbs clears long from the back. Cindric lunges, misses, then watches in horror as Trebat races from nowhere. The ball bounces off his thigh; he plays it forward, then finishes perfectly to the far post.
• That picture perfect goal is the last of the season. Amity Regional-Woodbridge – the team Anson Ashby eliminated in the final 16 seconds of sudden death overtime exactly one year earlier – shuts out Staples 2-0, at Redding’s Joel Barlow Field. The Wreckers’ 16-8 edge in shots, and 6-2 corner kick advantage, go for naught. Their year-long inability to finish catches up with them, and another marvelous season ends too early.
• Former Staples and University of Connecticut star (and professional player) Tim Hunter serves as Lea’s volunteer assistant coach.
• Staples should not have played in the FCIAC West. Brien McMahon has more students. But the Senators are in the smaller-sized East – and win the division.
• Trebat, Hendrickson and Dobbs earn All-FCIAC honors.
• Jon Walker (Staples ’88) speaks at the annual banquet, at Continental Manor in Norwalk. Retiring McMahon coach King is an honored guest.
• E.O Smith-Storrs’ 11th state championship (1-0 over Danbury) draws them even with the Wreckers for state titles. However, several Panther crowns came in Class M. Proctor (Vt.) High leads the nation with 13 state championships.
• Coach Dan Woog’s junior varsity finishes 9-0-2, the first time a jayvee squad with freshman goes undefeated.
• Other players not previously mentioned include Rich Donoghue, Randy Horton, Dean Landis, Mike Millman, Hector Montoya, Brendon O’Brien and Eric Steffen.
CO-CAPTAINS: Chris O’Dell, Mike Sakellis
COACH: Jeff Lea
1995: BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT
• Pre-season includes a 3-3 draw with Bethel (coached by Staples ’69 graduate Ray Flanigan). The regular season opens with a 3-0 decision over Darien. The first goal is nice – a deft free kick from Tyler Mitchell – while the third is noteworthy. Bobby Guadagno, the first freshman ever to play a regular season match for Staples, becomes the first ninth grader to score when he finishes a fine run down the left side with a keeper-beater to the near post. Minutes later Kyle Martino enters the match, and joins him in the history books.
• Three days later it is 3-0 again, over New Canaan. Veteran soccer watchers in the large Saturday morning crowd are awed by the 21st-minute goal. Brendan Cass takes one of his team’s 10 corner kicks. Mitchell, 25 yards out, calls off his teammates, then uncoils like a snake. His right leg laces a perfect volley into the far corner.
• But the Wreckers flunk their first real test two days later. A lack of poise dooms them against new archrival Fairfield. They force the ball inside on the Mustangs’ wide, lush field; they hold the ball relentlessly, refusing to pass off – and they do not hold a lead. They get the first goal, in the 22nd minute, when Jon Hendrickson bends a free kick around the wall and Brad Tursi slams Josh Bergmark’s save in. But 2:03 later Curtin equalizes after a failed clear. Four minutes later Curtin nets the game winner, off similar defensive confusion. In 5 games over 2 years, Curtin is the only Fairfield player to score on Staples – but he does it 5 times. The Wreckers are hurt further when keeper Wes Martino is showed a yellow for dissent. Raiford Cockfield fills in ably, but the visitors never regroup.
• Rain leads to an unusual 9-day midseason layoff. The beginning of 3 games in 48 hours is a scruffy 4-1 win at Trumbull. The win is marred when a Staples player sees Martino come on the field and asks, "What’s he doing here?" The freshman proves what he is doing a few minutes later, corralling a long ball from Tursi and coolly netting his first varsity goal. The Wreckers look better the next day, outshooting Brien McMahon 38-2 and outscoring them 4-0, then fight exhaustion and beat Bassick 3-0 at bumpy, glass-ridden Seaside Park. Fueled by a pasta dinner hosted by restaurateur Dave DeRosa, they demolish Norwalk 8-0.
• They could use those goals in the next 2 outings. Twice within 48 hours they face quality opponents; twice they start out strongly, then self-destruct. First comes Danbury, on Columbus Day. The Hatters strike 3 times in the first half, en route to a 3-1 win. Five days later, on Saturday morning, Wilton takes them 1-0. Just as perplexing and disappointing as the first back-to-back defeats since the last 2 games of 1988 are several yellow cards for dissent.
• An 8-0 victory at Bassick provides hope, but then comes a difficult Friday afternoon in Stamford. As usual, Staples starts out in complete command. After 15 minutes Cass’ through ball finds Tursi making a fine flank run into the corner. He cuts it back, and Hendrickson connects. Eleven minutes later Mitchell banks in a penalty kick. Early in the second half the keeper loses Dobbs’ long ball in the sun, and Cass hustles through to finish a tough-angle shot.
• Then the roof caves in. Several Wreckers limp to the sidelines with nagging injuries, and an unnecessary foul gives Phil Segovia a PK. Suddenly Staples fades. In the 66th minute, stubbornly attacking up the middle of the narrow field, they cough up the ball. Segovia nets the rebound, after Martino’s point-blank save. For the third year in a row the Knights have come from behind to scare the Wreckers. This time, though, they keep going, and get the game-winner with less than 7 minutes left. Phil Raus slams an indirect kick from 6 yards into the packed defense. It caroms off a shin into the cage. Stamford, understandably, goes berserk.
• The final regular season match is Staples’ best of the year. Before a large crowd at Greenwich’s sun-dappled field, the Wreckers roar out of the gate. In the 22nd minute Mitchell zooms a throw to Cockfield, who heads down for Hendrickson to bang home. Then they defend with their lives. Midfielders Steffen, Tursi, Cass, Maric and Guadagno hang tough; behind them Cockfield, Spooner, Dobbs and Ted Gallant do yeoman’s work under intense pressure. Martino comes through too, with two clutch saves on Brandon Garringer. In the 70th minute coach Jeff Lea implores his troops to "give a little bit more" – and they do. Their high-fives after the match are tinged with the realization that, had they given a bit more all year, they might not be FCIAC playoff spectators for only the fifth time since 1961. But they seem ready for the state tournament.
• Ranked 12th in LL – though their enrollment is so low they are nearly an M school – the Wreckers meet Stamford for the first time ever in state play. The match mirrors the regular season. It is entertaining and offensive-minded, from start to finish. As before, Staples surges ahead 2-0. First Hendrickson races in and converts Dobbs’ long free kick; then Cass feeds Mitchell near the arc for a turnaround blast. As before, the Knights halve the deficit before intermission, when Keith Segovia rockets a loose ball from 25 yards out.
• This time, though, the Wreckers do not implode. Despite being saved on a penalty kick Staples surges forward, and in the 59th minute earns a second PK. Lea wastes no time telling Hendrickson to take it. A Stamford player taunts him for not scoring his previous kick. Hendrickson silences him with a blast to the opposite side. The Knights lose 2 players to yellow cards, but come back strongly. Raus’ gorgeous 30-yard free kick makes it 3-2 with 11:15 to play. From then on, though, it is all Staples.
• Next is Newington. The match, played in a downpour on the Indians’ football field quagmire, provides one of the most remarkable comebacks in Wrecker history – and one of the sorriest finishes. The fifth-ranked, 14-1-2 hosts are confident. But 25-goal scorer Enzo Faienza cannot find his footing in the mud, and Staples adapts quicker and better to the gruesome conditions. Still, Newington draws first blood. Martino guesses correctly on Faienza’s 31st-minute penalty kick approach, and bats the shot away. However, the Wreckers remain rooted in the box, and Faienza easily knocks in his own rebound.
• Staples retaliates barely 1 minute into the second half. Hendrickson nails a PK, his second in as many games. The rain intensifies; so does the battle. With 5 minutes left Spooner is shown his fourth yellow card of the season; Faienza is also booked. Maric moves back to defense, Kyle Martino comes on up front – and less than 30 seconds before what would have been the Wreckers’ first overtime of the year, they get a crucial break. A defender misplays a ball near the left sideline. Martino pounces on it, jukes 2 men, cruises goalward, waits 2 more beats to draw men from the middle, then slots a pass across. Donoghue overruns it slightly. He tries for a left-footed shot and slips, but manages to tap it to Tursi. The junior races on, and powers a 15-footer low to the far left. It is one of the sweetest — and definitely most important — of all 61 goals this year.
• But even in victory the Westporters cannot stay composed. As his teammates celebrate wildly, Hendrickson is shown a yellow card for taunting an opponent. He sits the final 16 seconds – and is ineligible for the quarterfinals.
• So the Wreckers enter the quarters at Wallingford’s Sheehan High against #4, 15-1-2 Glastonbury minus their leading scorer, as well as Mitchell, who pulled up lame in Newington. Even so the match between the longtime rivals – who tied 0-0 in a pre-season scrimmage in North Haven – is remarkably even. Donoghue and Guadagno start up front; with Martino, they pressure Glastonbury’s tall, experienced backs all day. Cockfield is courageous in back, sacrificing his body several times. Cass and Maric battle hard at central midfield, while Spooner, Gallant and Steffen (playing with a sprained ankle) win balls and initiate attacks outside.
• Late in the half, though, the upstaters gain control. Five minutes before intermission a shot from the far left corner deflects off a Wrecker, caroms up and bounces crazily in off the bottom of the crossbar. The Tomahawks guard their slim lead jealously. Wes Martino stops 5 point-blank shots, but the game ends just as a late-round state tourney match should: the team with a tiny bit more comes away with a micron-thin win.
• While a number of Staples players tour Europe in the summer (and battle back from deficits in 5 straight matches against top competition), Maric trains at Bolivia’s famed Tahuichi Soccer Academy.
• No clear-cut winner emerges in voting for Most Valuable Player, so Lea does not award that Block "S" at the Continental Manor banquet. Cockfield is named Most Improved. Former Staples and Duke University star Mark Noonan is guest speaker.
• Fred Cantor (Staples ’71, Yale ’75) spends the season with the Wreckers. A lawyer in New York, he is writing a book – The Autumn of Our Lives — comparing his Staples years with the present.
• Dan Woog retires as junior varsity coach, due to writing commitments. Derek Fisher, a 1991 graduate of Ridgefield High School, takes over. The jayvees finish 4-7, the first losing record for any Staples boys soccer team.
• Other varsity players not previously mentioned include Devin Arrington, Dan Cummings, Peter Diamond, Juan Esteva, Mike Petropulos and Shiv Taylor.
CO-CAPTAINS: Mike Dobbs, Eric Steffen
COACH: Jeff Lea