68 seniors, juniors and sophomores – 2 more than last year’s record-setting numbers – work hard at Wakeman Field on the 1st morning of 4 days of double sessions. 2007’s very young team has morphed into 2008’s relatively young squad – and the downward spiral of the previous year weighs heavily on their minds.

They prepare for a new start with a convincing scrimmage win over Trumbull (the team that eliminated Staples in round 1 of the state tournament the year before); for the 2nd straight year, Greg Gudis – now a sophomore — gets the 1st goal. Wethersfield brings the Wreckers down to earth, but a gaggle of chanting, singing super-fans presage an exciting fall for spectators, at least.

Staples is outworked by Guilford at Calvin Leete School, and the Westporters go 1-1-1 at the annual Wethersfield jamboree. Throughout pre-season, Staples is hampered by an unusual number of injuries – nearly all the starters, at some point.

Regular season

But the attitude is superb, and Harding provides an easy mark on opening day. Loeffler Field looks better than it had in decades, and once tri-captain Alex Hoberman scores in the 10th minute, the 9-0 rout is on.

The red-hot rivalry between Staples and Westhill has lessened a bit – the two teams did not meet in last year’s regular season, and new coach Joe Del Torto has eased the highly charged sideline atmosphere, but Saturday morning still provides an excellent matchup. Goals by junior Mike White, senior Jairo Alvarado and junior Alan Reiter (a spectacular diving header) power the Wreckers to a 3-0 win; keeper and tri-captain Adam Liu’s spectacular 1-handed save just before halftime is a major key to victory.

A much-improved Darien side falls 4-0; feisty Brien McMahon goes down 1-0, on a squibbler by Gudis. Staples’ defensive unit of senior tri-captain Frankie Rende, junior Jack Hennessy and sophomore Frankie Bergonzi, fronted by Reiter and sophomore Brendan Lesch, gain confidence (and play more tightly) by the minute.

The blue-and-whites down Danbury 5-0, then head to Fairfield Ludlowe’s Taft Field for their 1st night match of the year. In the 35th minute Lesch’s tackles at midfield, and junior Andrew McNair’s stupendous cross find White, making his 1st appearance in a week following a concussion. He receives the ball with his back to the goal, chests it down, turns and fires. Ludlowe cranks it up in the final 40 minutes but Staples perseveres. The 1-0 victory – and still unscored-upon sheet – give the Wreckers renewed confidence.

That confidence is bolstered on Saturday, September 27. A week of horrific weather breaks, and 200 alumni pack The Hill for Staples’ 50th celebration. There is a Friday gathering at Bobby Q’s rooftop; a breakfast, lunch, alumni game and wine-tasting at Dan Donovan’s swanky home, but the centerpiece is the morning match against Stamford. Senior Rem Woodhull starts things off, charging forward and sending the Black Knight defense nearly to Jinny Parker Field, before scoring just 48 seconds after the opening whistle.

That is only the start. In the 25th minute White’s 25-yarder rips into the back netting. Quickly White scores again; then Gudis, Reiter (penalty kick) and junior Matteo Marzoli tally. It is 6-0 by halftime, and though there is no further scoring, the reserves (including keepers Liu and Sanders McNair, in tandem up front), put on a show that delights and thrills the enormous crowd. A 75th-minute penalty that could have ended Staples’ scoreless streak flies high and wide; 3 minutes later, junior keeper Michael McCarthy preserves the shutout with 2 fine sliding saves. All is right – very, very right – in this historic 50th year of Staples soccer.

Of course, highs in sports highs cannot last forever. Five days later Norwalk arrives at Loeffler Field brimming with confidence. They are 5-2-0, but the Wreckers – suiting up all 24 healthy players for the 1st time all fall – have the early run of play. They do not score, however, and early in the 2nd half Andres Torres wins a cough-up ball, cruises in on goal alone and scores. The 614-minute clean sheet is sullied.

Staples reacts in a manner befitting its history. They ramp up the attack, and Andrew McNair (2), Bergonzi, Reiter and Marzoli all fire hard shots. The Bears withstand the onslaught, and win 1-0. Staples coaches Dan Woog and Kurt Dasbach prepare their side for a schedule filled with matches every bit as tough as this one.

Two days later Southwest Conference power Brookfield travels to Westport for a 1st-ever meeting with Staples. Woog has scheduled the match to give his squad a 16th regular season game – and, if they win, a boost in the state tournament seedings. The Bobcats are 7-1-1, though, and coming on the heels of Staples’ Norwalk loss, the game assumes must-win proportions.

The young Westporters start out as if they have something to prove. Just 1 minute in Andrew McNair drives White’s diagonal cross home with his head. Staples’ confidence surges, and they take the attack to the upstaters. It is a rocking match, and it takes another 67 minutes before the hosts get their next goal, an alert rebound by sophomore Sean Gallagher off a Reiter blast. White adds a penalty kick, and the 3-0 shutout puts the blue-and-whites back on track.

The Wilton match sees 2 lineup changes – junior Mikey Fitzgerald takes over Lesch’s central back spot (back injury), and McCarthy makes his 1st-ever start in goal (Liu is sick), but the result is the same: a 3-0 victory. New Canaan is next to fall, 2-0 at night in Staples’ inaugural game at Dunning Stadium.

An enormous crowd fills The Hill following the Homecoming Day pep rally for a huge match: 9-1-0 Staples against 9-0-1 Ridgefield. The Tigers – defending FCIAC champs – demolished the Wreckers 5-0 last year, with all the goals coming in the final 20 minutes. Payback is sweet. White, Alvarado and Reiter stake Staples to a 3-0 halftime lead; Gudis and Woodhull add 2nd-half strikes for a resounding 5-0 victory. Woog praises the balanced scoring and assisting, team defense, and remarkable grittiness and chemistry of his young squad.

Greenwich comes to town for WSA Day. Hundreds of young Wreckers-to-be, along with Staples’ ever-growing legion of Superfans, watch a strong 2nd 40 minutes. Tied 0-0, Gudis hits an easy shot at the Card keeper. But he takes his eye off it, and the ball slithers through. Tri-captain Alex Hoberman assists on a much prettier 2nd goal, setting up Alvarado nicely for a tap-in. Liu – tested more than he has been all year – preserves yet another shutout thanks to stellar positioning, sure hands and a positive voice.

Staples’ 1st trip to St. Joseph’s new turf field features Gallagher replacing Reiter (sick) at midfield, and sophomore Steven Denowitz taking over for Rende (also sick) in the back. Both acquit themselves quite well. McNair, Marzoli, Gudis and Alvarado all score – but the Cadets become only the 2nd team all year to tally on Staples, after a defender slips and Luis Santos runs through.

Fairfield Warde falls 2-0; Central goes down by the same count, and just like that Staples – 14-1-0 in the FCIAC (15-1-0 overall) has won the Ralph King Cup, for the best league record, for the 2nd time in 3 years, and 3rd since its inauguration in 2000. The players are confident, the team happy, and as the weather suddenly turns cold, the Wreckers set their sights on the 1st 8-team tournament in FCIAC history.


FCIAC tournament

The league quarterfinals bring Darien to Loeffler Field. The Wreckers have long forgotten their 3-0 victory in the 3rd match of the year – but the Blue Wave have not. Sporting new, long-sleeved black jerseys, they begin play determined to prove to their top-seeded hosts that they themselves are better than their 8th ranking. But in the 14th minute Staples strikes. Gudis runs onto Reiter’s chip into the box, and the Westporters seem on their way to another win.

However, 2 minutes later Niclas Rasmussen pounces on an uncleared ball to draw his side level. Seven minutes after that the Wave become the 1st team to score twice against the Wreckers. A shot caroms off the bar; Alden Frelinghuysen bangs the rebound home. For the 1st time all year, the blue-and-whites trail in the 1st half. With 12 seconds before intermission, a tussle in Staples’ goalmouth leads to yellow cards to keeper Liu (the 1st of his career, at any level) and defender Bergonzi – plus a red card to a Darien forward. McCarthy races onto the field as the new keeper, and faces an immediate corner kick. In an even more intense goalmouth scrum, he smothers shot after shot, ending his squad’s poorest half of the year.

Exuding quiet confidence, the Wreckers equalize in the 59th minute. Gudis drops a corner dangerously by the near post, and Fitzgerald – a defender – slams it home. Three minutes later White drives into the corner, then the box, and is taken down. Reiter steps up for the penalty kick – but as he shoots, Darien’s coaches scream that they have not replaced their yellow-carded player. Their gamesmanship fails, as Reiter changes his spot and scores cleanly a 2nd time. Staples is not through. With 20 minutes to play they find their groove. Alvarado adds an insurance tally, and the Wreckers move into the semifinals.

That game, against Norwalk at Fairfield Ludlowe, features the same warmup as 2 years ago: in the dark, on the grass field behind the middle school. Greenwich beats Fairfield Warde on a free kick with just 3 seconds to play in the opening game, and Staples takes the turf. Everyone knows – though no one says it – that they are out to avenge their only loss of the season.

The 1st half is dead even. McNair is out with a knee injury, but Gallagher steps up well. The Bears counterattack dangerously, and the Westporters must improvise when two defenders are shown yellow cards just before halftime. Sophomore Jake Krosse fills in nicely, and Liu makes 2 huge saves.

In the 2nd half the defenders move up, Lesch goes outside, and Norwalk’s seams are exposed. Fifteen minutes in Lesch takes a punt from the Bear keeper off his chest. He bulls his way forward, keeps possession and poise, cuts inside, and sears a 20-yard shot that almost tears the back netting. Energized – and encouraged by a raucous singing and chanting crowd, the Wreckers press the attack. One minute after Lesch’s strike, Alvarado plays a great ball through to White. The striker turns 3 defenders around, uses a back-heel to free himself, then laces a diagonal ball across the goalmouth. Alvarado races forward to tuck it in. Two minutes later Marzoli slices a free kick into the box. Lesch heads it from the far post back into play; White punches through and finishes strongly. The 3-goal outburst stuns Norwalk, and elevates the Wreckers into their 2nd FCIAC final in 3 years.

Hundreds of Superfans – all wearing white – pack Norwalk’s Testa Field for the title match against defending champ Greenwich. The Cards throw their foes off their game, and get a 1st-half goal that rewards their domination. But – as they showed 48 hours earlier – this is a special Staples side.

In the 2nd half they tighten up defensively, win 50-50 balls, pass to feet and work the corners. Greenwich retreats, and in the 53rd minute Gudis laces a corner to defender Bergonzi, who moves himself up to make something happen. He finds Lesch, who power-heads past the keeper from close range.

Just like the semis, the Wreckers strike again, almost instantly. Hoberman streaks down the right side, and finds Gudis. His rocket from the right rips into the far right side for a stunning lead. And, also just like Norwalk, the blue-and-whites move in for the kill. Marzoli takes a feed from Reiter, and finishes a well-timed run for the insurance score.

As the clock ticks down hundreds of fans surround the field; at the final buzzer they joyfully storm the pitch. Staples’ 25th FCIAC title – 3rd of the decade, but 1st outright since 1996 – causes the most spectacular celebration in the school’s 50-year history.


State tournament

The opening state tourney match for the 3rd-seeded Stapleites echoes so many other 1st-round games over the year: flat, dull, listless. Even the presence of 1 of the largest crowds in Hill history fails to inspire the Wreckers. For the 5th straight match, they enter halftime without the lead.

The 2nd half is better. In the 65th minute White picks off a poor outlet, and hits Gudis. The striker immediately sends White through, alone, into the box. He nearly falls, but patiently beats the onrushing keeper. Seven minutes later, Reiter adds a penalty kick. The final minutes are wild. Newington’s coach draws his 2nd yellow card, and is ejected. There are several other cards, amid scuffles. Despite the late excitement, it is an eminently forgettable game.

The Round of 16 match, Staples’ 1st-ever meeting against Pomperaug, is no more memorable. Gallagher’s goal just before halftime is all the Wreckers need. But partisans on the Hill wonder if their idols’ mojo has gone for good. They needn’t have worried. A 5-goal explosion – from Gudis (2), Alvarado, Nick Kljusev  and Marzoli – not only buries vaunted, 11th-seeded E.O. Smith (and earns praise from veteran University of Connecticut coach Joe Morrone, there to watch his freshman grandson play), but reassures the ever-growing mass of fans that the Wreckers still have it.

“It” is tested severely in the class “LL” semifinals, against 2nd-ranked, 19-0-1, #7-in-the-nation Glastonbury. The site is New Britain’s Willowbrook Park – the scene 2 years earlier of a stunning golden-goal state final loss to Simsbury – and though the Tomahawks show a typical physically strong, quick team, the Wreckers feel up to the task.

Glastonbury’s starting lineup of 8 seniors and 3 juniors (Staples shows 3 seniors, 4 juniors and 4 sophomores) is the most potent foe the Wreckers have faced yet. Play ebbs and flows. White and Gudis threaten up top; Hoberman bangs a shot off the crossbar, and the Wreckers feel confident during the scoreless halftime.

They feel even more confident 13 minutes later, when Lesch finishes Bergonzi’s long throw-in with a hard shot past keeper Adam LaPlaca. For the next 15 minutes, the surging Wreckers control play. With 21 minutes to go White glances a shot off the outside of the far post. Marzoli is saved, and Gudis comes close again.

Suddenly, just like 2 years ago, the opposition draws level.  It comes with just 8:51 to go, from Trevor Constantine off a cross from the corner. The goal marks the 1st time all year – 23 games – that Staples give up an equalizer. The strike galvanizes the upstaters – who last year fell in the finals to Ridgefield – and with only 1:03 showing on the clock, Giuseppe Panaja connects on a 25-yard blast.

The Wreckers immediately attack, and earn a corner kick. Liu races forward to help – but the corner skids wide.  It is as devastating an end to the season as any in Staples’ storied 50-year past. The Wreckers set a 50-year record for wins (21), and surrender only 7 goals. But on the long, numb and silent bus ride home, all they think about are those final 2 scores. “That’s natural,” Woog says. “Tomorrow they’ll feel horrible, and that’s natural too. But soon they’ll realize all they’ve accomplished – and all the hearts and souls they touched, in Staples and around Westport – and they’ll start to feel better. If anyone asks what happened, they should say, ‘Life happened. Soccer happened.’ And when, some time down the road, they’ll win a game like this – and they will – it will make that victory even sweeter.”

Quick kicks

The 2008 team sets, ties or nears a number of records, including: beating every FCIAC team they played at least once; fewest rained-out games or practices (0); most sophomores on varsity (8); 2nd most sophomore starters (4 – the ’94 team had 5); most home games (14); most state tournament home games (3); most games played in a season (23 – tie with ’06 team); most FCIAC tournament games (3); most shutouts (18); 2nd best goals for/against differential (71/7 = 64, behind 92/16 = 76, ’92 team); most wins (21– previous record was 18-0-2 in ’81 and 18-2-3 in ’06); best turnaround (from 7-7-2 to 21-2-0);1st 50-year celebration in Staples soccer history…

At the annual banquet, at the Norwalk Inn, Adam Liu receives the Block “S” as Most Valuable Player; Jairo Alvarado is named Block “S” Most Improved. Sanders McNair earns the Alumni Award; Neil Brickley ’71 receives the Jeff Lea Award for meritorious service by an adult, and Aaron Liu gets the Stephen Martin Award. Junior Alan Reiter is named to the All-State team, while Santiago Cuartas, Nick Cion and Gabe Schindler are honored as All-FCIAC junior varsity players…

Ross McGibney ’06 coaches the junior varsity to a 10-3-0 record. Chris O’Dell ’96 leads the freshmen to within 32 seconds of an unscored-upon season. Trumbull ties that match 1-1, leaving the frosh with a still-stellar 10-0-2 mark….

The Top of the Hill Team – Staples’ new booster club – pays for sharp new adidas uniforms, high-def video equipment, a surprise feast for spectators at the 1st state tournament game, and 2 buses for Superfans to the state semifinals…

Sanders McNair heads up a successful “Kick for Nick” drive, collecting used soccer balls to be distributed to Iraqi children by American soldiers. “Nick” was Nick Madaras, a former Wilton High School soccer player killed in action in Iraq….


Farmington – the 5th seed – upends Glastonbury for the state title, 2-1.

RECORD:  21-2-0

TRI-CAPTAINS: Alex Hoberman, Adam Liu, Frankie Rende

COACH:  Dan Woog


The coaching staff — including new goalkeeper coach Tom Henske, who won 3 NCAA Division I national championships after succeeding Tony Meola at the University of Virginia — get quickly to work. The bar is set high — “win the final match of the year” — but with 8 starters returning from a squad that set a 50-year record for victories, complacency (even cockiness) is a worry.

Preseason includes a lackluster scrimmage against Trumbull; a better effort with Wethersfield (highlighted by junior Brendan Lesch’s spectacular bicycle kick, an instant YouTube sensation thanks to new videographer Sam Bender); a 0-0 draw by Staples’ reserves against Naugatuck’s 1st team; a 1-0 win over Glastonbury, and a 2-0-1 mark at the annual Wethersfield jamboree.

But looming over everything is the death — 10 days before tryouts begin — of Preston Hirten ’07. The junior collapsed on the 1st day of his own preseason, at the University of Mary Washington, and could not be revived. Many Wreckers played with and against Preston — and been sparked by his passion — during Watermelon Cup and pick-up games all summer long. From the “15” lined at the base of The Hill, to special patches worn on the back of their jerseys, to the new tradition of making sure #15 will be worn by a worthy player (Frankie Bergonzi retains the number this season), Staples vows to keep Preston’s memory alive.

Regular season

The season begins in typically ragged fashion, home against Westhill. Tally #1 comes 10 minutes in, off the foot of junior Greg Gudis — his 3rd 1st-goal-of-the-season in 3 years. Quad-captain Mike White scores through the keeper’s legs, and fellow captain Andrew McNair finds defender Mikey Fitzgerald for a hard header to round out the 3-0 victory.

Fitzgerald gets his 2nd tally in the next game, off a long throw from junior Mikey Scott; Staples wins 3-0 at Harding’s always-difficult Hedges Field. James Hickok becomes the 1st freshman keeper ever to start — replacing Michael McCarthy (illness) — and responds with several tough saves in a 5-0 win at Darien. Five separate Wreckers score in the 1st half hour.

Brien McMahon falls next, 2-0. The 1st goal comes in the 13th minute — the longest it has taken the blue-and-whites to score all year. A night match at Danbury gives Staples its stiffest test yet. Gudis’s corner kick is headed in by Lesch, in the 31st minute; 20 minutes later Gudis launches a 40-yard blast that soars over the keeper’s outstretched hands. Henry Ipina gets the 1st goal against the Wreckers this year, breaking a 388-minute scoreless streak. Thankfully, it’s a beauty. Staples responds by battening the hatches defensively, and wins 2-1.

After a 4-game road trip, the Westporters return to almost-unfamiliar Loeffler Field. Again they score at the 10-minute mark; again they are victorious, this time 4-0.

Stamford becomes the 1st team to take the lead against Staples, on the Knights’ short, narrow field — and they keep the lead through halftime (things might have been different had not quad-captain Jack Hennessy, racing forward from his sweeper spot, been called offside while dribbling). The game changes dramatically in the 2nd half. Fitzgerald equalizes with his head off Sean Gallagher’s cross; Lesch heel-flicks White’s wicked ball home, and quad-captain Alan Reiter slams in Lesch’s rebound.

Which leads to a much-anticipated night match at Norwalk’s Testa Field. Since last year the Bears have been touted as Staples’ main FCIAC rivals, and they command 1st half. But keeper McCarthy and defenders Fitzgerald, Gallagher, Hennessy and Bergonzi keep the scoreline clear. Three minutes into the 2nd half Fitzgerald stubs in a poor Norwalk clearance — but a minute later the hosts draw level. Staples quickly regains control, particularly at midfield. Lesch and Reiter tuck in, springing Scott, White, McNair and Gudis forward. In the 73rd minute Reiter’s penalty kick — the Westporters’ 1st of the year — gives his side the lead, and ultimately the game. The Bears moves more men forward; Staples stands fast, and captures an important nail-biter. It is, they hope, an omen: Testa Field is the site of the FCIAC finals, in less than a month.

For the 2nd year in a row, the Wreckers schedule a 16th game — the maximum in the regular season — against SWC powerhouse Brookfield. This time the northerners host; it is a huge game for them, and they and their many fans make the most of it. The Bobcats leap into the lead 2 minutes in, against the unfocused Stapleites. Brookfield’s throw-in as dangerous as Scott’s, and their direct, physical style throws the Wreckers off their game. Four minutes before halftime, the home side strikes again. Lesch nearly scores early in the 2nd half, but keeper Matt Bonn punches the near-certain goal away. AJ Stueck makes it — astonishingly — 3-0, and though White’s late tally brings the score to a more-respectable 3-1, Staples is smoked.

They get back on track at home 2 days after that, 3-0 over New Canaan, then earn the same result 2 days later against Wilton. That brings them to Tiger Hollow, for a Friday night encounter with once-beaten Ridgefield. It will be Staples’ 3rd game in 5 days, 4th in 7 — and they’re missing Reiter (college visit). With Matteo Marzoli playing strongly in the captain’s place, the Wreckers are as on as they were off at Brookfield. Marzoli’s well-timed pass to a streaking Scott beats the Tiger’s offside trap just 7 minutes in. With the offense surging forward and the defense shrinking the field, the Wreckers are in charge. In the 76th minute Jake Krosse slices a ball through that is banged in for an own goal. It’s a happy bus ride home — a stark contrast to 6 days earlier (and 2 years before, a 5-0 meltdown that several current seniors and juniors remember well).

For the 2nd straight match, Staples faces a foe with only 1 loss — away. This time it is 8-1-2 Greenwich. Looking to avenge last year’s 3-1 FCIAC fina defeatl, the Cards come out blazing. With a harsh sun directly in his eyes, McCarthy has the most active half of his varsity career. He makes 6 saves — many extremely difficult — and helps his team absorb strong pressure. Against the run of play, Staples leads at halftime: In the 24th minute Lesch back-heads Marzoli’s seeing-eye 50-yard free kick into the net. In the 2nd half Reiter sparks his squad. White dekes and jukes for the 2nd goal. Hennessy contributes a near-miraculous clearance off the line, then Reiter smacks Gudis’s rebound home for a 3-0 victory.

St. Joseph falls 9-0; 3 seniors (Fitzgerald, White and Reiter) score in a 3-0 Senior Day shutout of Fairfield Warde, and a 14-0-0 (14-1-0) squad heads to soggy Kennedy Stadium for the regular season finale against 9-2-3 Central. FCIAC observers tout the Hilltoppers highly, but the Wreckers never receive the message. After Central’s Senior Day (and a classy moment of silence for Preston Hirten), all-stater Reco McLaren rips through the defense a mere 3:28 in. The blue-and-whites regroup but — just as in Brookfield — the hosts score a 2nd goal moments before halftime. It is McLaren again, lacing a shot that skips through. The final score is 2-0, and though Staples’ bid for a perfect FCIAC season falls short, they earn the Ralph King Cup (best league record) for the 2nd consecutive time, 3rd in 4 years, and 4th since the award was established in 2000. Immediately, the Wreckers look ahead to the post-season.

FCIAC tournament

Westhill was the 1st game of the regular season, and now of the 8-team FCIAC tournament. Earlier in the month the Vikings forfeited 2 games (illegal player), but still manage the last seed. Staples starts out into the wind on muddy, slippery Loeffler Field, but quickly find their rhythm. Lesch’s power-header, White’s tap-in and Gudis’s goal give the Wreckers a 3-0 halftime lead; Fitzgerald’s side volley and Gudis’s strike make the quarterfinal score 5-0.

The semifinal — at friendly Fairfield Ludlowe — pits Staples against familiar Greenwich. The match begins torridly, and continues for 80 minutes. The Wreckers press, but the Cards counter dangerously. In the 62nd minute Scott takes an uncharacteristic short throw. McNair plays it quickly back to the junior; Scott drives forward, beats his defender, and crosses to Fitzgerald. The defender times his trap-beating run perfectly. He heads it hard with his newly faux-hawked hair, then leads a wild celebration. Staples continues to attack well, and only great defense and a post deny Scott and White, respectively. Steven Denowitz comes on to nail down the 1-0 win, and for the 2nd straight year — and 3rd in 4 — the Westporters are in the FCIAC final. Their foe: Ridgefield, 3-0 victors over Central in the other semi.

As often happens, the start is delayed long past 7 p.m. by the girls championship. When the match finally begins, it is frenetic. That suits the quick-passing, fast-running, excellent-on-turf Stapleites just fine. They strikes at 8:43, when Fitzgerald plays a quick free kick to White. The forward wheels, deals and finds a wide-open Gudis, who left-foots the ball in — a goal straight out of the team’s popular “Shoot the Moon” exercise. Seven minutes later Scott makes it 2-0.

Defenders Bergonzi, Fitzgerald, Gallagher and Hennessy, plus midfielders Lesch and Reiter, consistently deny Harvard-bound striker Connor McCarthy the ball. Still, 44 seconds before halftime, the Tigers halve their deficit on a rebound following an excellent save.

That jolts the Wreckers out of any complaceny. They begin the 2nd half as fiercely as the 1st, this time with no letup. Not even a saved penalty kick deters them. Lesch heads in a Gudis corner kick; Lesch topps that a few minutes later with a spectacular diving header off White’s cross that later becomes 1 one of MSG Varsity’s 7 “Goal of the Year” candidates — for the entire tri-state region.

Staples’ Superfans — an enormous portion of the crowd of nearly 2,000 — get ready to rush the field, repeating last year’s FCIAC championship. A PA announcement — and a vicious-looking police dog — scuttle those plans. Instead, at the final whistle the Wrecker team rushes to the stands. The 26th FCIAC title — and 1st back-to-back crown since 1990-91 (the last consecutive outright titles were 1979-80-81) — belongs to them, and their fans. It is sweet — but much more lies ahead.

State tournament

Traditionally, Staples opens the state “LL” tournament flat. This year there are 6 days between the FCIAC final and the opening tourney match — plenty of time to come down from the league championship high. But training sessions are unfocused. Conard — the 8-6-2, 28th seed — faces the Wreckers for the 1st time since 1972. No one knows what to expect.

In the 14th minute White heads a ball over the line; a defender bikes it out, but center official Jesus Zornoza rules it a goal. White knees in his 2nd tally in the 36th minute; 2 minutes later he is taken down in the box, and Reiter converts the PK. In the 2nd half Denowitz — the newly-Mohawked defender — gets his 1st goal ever, upping the lead to 4-0. The Chieftains get a late score, but Staples is already preparing for the Round of 16.

That means Newtown. The Nighthawks are 3-0 over Staples in state tournament play — including a 7-1, Marcus Tracy-led semifinal pasting in 2004 — but this time the northerners come to Loeffler Field. The grass is slippery, but Staples controls the opening half. They combine nicely, attack well into the red zone, and earn corner kicks. Lesch sends White through in the 31st minute; then Marzoli heads in McNair’s cross for his 1st goal of the season, and a solid 2-0 halftime lead.

But Newtown has different ideas. Adam Buccino makes it 2-1 in the 53rd minute. In the 70th minute Hennessy clears a ball off the line. Three minutes later, his side is not as fortunate. Josh Engler converts a dumped ball, and suddenly it’s a tie game.

Staples comes alive. Scott and Lesch just miss. But the Nighthawks absorb the pressure, and the Wreckers head to their 1st overtime since the 2006 final against Simsbury. They create chance after chance in the 2 10-minute periods — several of the spectacular variety — but keeper Zach Dlouhy is equal to the task. Next up: penalty kicks.

Just like the 2006 quarterfinals and semis — both wins — the Westporters kick 1st. As in those games, Staples’ keeper shoots. McCarthy is 1st; he scores. So does Newtown.

White’s attempt is saved; when the Nighthawks convert, they lead 2-1 after 2.

Marzoli nails his try; when Newtown’s shot clanks off the post, it’s 2-2 after 3.

Gudis strikes true; McCarthy gets a hand on Evan Kennedy’s blast, but cannot redirect it.

Reiter nails his chance perfectly. The final Nighthawk kicker approaches the ball — and watches it sail onto the Jinny Parker field hockey field.

Staples erupts in celebration — while knowing they have dodged a bullet aimed straight at their head. The next day they admit to being “rattled,” and coach Dan Woog spends time talking about the “near-death” situation. He tells them this is not life-or-death — only high school soccer — but urges his players to savor every remaining moment of the state tournament. And do whatever they can to not come so close to elimination again.

The quarterfinal opponent — Amity — has also just survived PKs. The Trojans share the same regular season record as the Wreckers; based on a coin flip they’re #4, Staples #5, so the Wreckers travel to Woodbridge. The game is postponed 2 days by rain. That gives the blue-and-whites time to unrattle; it also muddies Amity’s large, wide field. But the Wreckers like big spaces, and they use it well.

Just 3 minutes in, White launches Gudis’s short corner into the area. It bounces around and in, for a stunning early lead. In the 24th minute Fitzgerald finishes a scrum in the box. Amity keeper Stephen Sasso keeps his team in the game with several superb saves. On the other end of the field Fitzgerald, Hennesy, Bergonzi and Gallagher are superb. No one slips through.

The 2nd half is the opposite of Newtown. Twelve minutes after intermission Gudis wins a loose ball near midfield, then tears 60 yards upfield on a classsic breakaway. He keeps the ball and his cool, draws Sasso out, and finishes calmly. With the Trojans getting chippy — they receive 2 red cards in the final minutes — reserves Krosse, Dylan Evans, Court Lake and Alex Tonsberg show their stuff well.

Of the 2 semifinal games, Staples-Glastonbury is the marquee matchup. The Tomahawks — the same side that set Staples packing in last year’s semis — are 19-0-1. They’re ranked #1 in New England, 4th in the country. The contest — on West Haven High’s turf — promises to be a great one.

It is. Glastonbury opens with their trademark relentless pressure. Staples goes forward too, in a 1st half that’s a physical, nail-biting game of cat and mouse.

Four minutes before halftime Gudis strips his defender of the ball in the corner, then turns and rips a tough-angle 20-yard shot. It chips keeper Adam LaPlaca, caroms off the far post, and clanks in. It is a remarkable goal — but the lead lasts all of 54 seconds. The Tomahawks score on a William Belden shot that knocks in off a defender. “Goals follow goals!” keeper coach Henske yells — a mantra he’s preached all year.

He’s right, of course. Forty-one seconds after the equalizer, Fitzgerald heads Scott’s long throw off the post. The wild half concludes with McCarthy saving well just 10 seconds before intermission.

Nine minutes into the 2nd half, Fitzgerald finds a loose ball off Scott’s throw, and ups Staples’ lead to 3-1. But Glastonbury has its own throw-in weapon — Robert Stauble — and he gives the Wreckers a taste of their own medicine. In the 59th minute his rocket bounces around and in. Once again it’s a 1-goal match.

Staples continues to learn. They defend better on each of Stauble’s many throws. They push up well, plug gaps, and put Glastonbury on the defensive. Still, the Tomahawks keep coming. Marzoli clears a ball off the line; McCarthy saves, and the defenders rise to meet every test. Unlike last year, the Wreckers absorb the pressure and mount counters. White manages the game superbly, running into corners and possessing. With 4 minutes left, he nearly scores.

The seconds tick down — agonizingly, because the clock is stopped with 2 minutes to go, and official time is kept on the field — but Staples locks the door. They avenge last year’s defeat. Just as in 2006 — Preston Hirten’s year — they head to the state finals.

The Wreckers shoot for their 12th state championship in 17 attempts against a New Milford side making its 1st-ever championship appearance. The Green Wave stormed back from a 2-0 semifinal deficit against a veteran Guilford squad, scoring 4 times in 30 minutes to win 4-2. In a vastly different way from Glastonbury, this too is a very intriguing pairing.

The scouting report on New Milford is clear: Contain dangerous Brazilian midfielder Miguel Carneiro. Defend well against long throws. Play Staples’ game, and force the Wave to adapt. Every Wrecker is ready to do it — and have a great time doing so.

A whiteout crowd fills 3 large sections of Ridgefield’s handsome Tiger Hollow on a mild Saturday November 21 afternoon. New Milford fills 2 — and they’re stunned when, just 2:15 after the opening whistle, Scott took a long throw, Lesch outleaps the tall defense, and heads past keeper Jack Holub. Staples has scored early often this year — but never this quickly. And not against a state finalist, known for stingy defense.

Four minutes later, they strike again. Scott’s corner kick finds Brendan Lesch. His volley is blocked, but bounces to Mike White. He pounces, for a truly stunning 2-0 edge.

The Westporters keep pressuring. White’s speed, Gudis’s ball-winning, Scott’s yeomanlike work on the left flank, and McNair — playing his best match in a Staples uniform — thrill the crowd.

Lesch combines creativity with toughness. Reiter builds on his dynamic Glastonbury semifinal performance by covering enormous swaths of territory, finding seams with his passes, and holding on deftly to create space for himself and teammates. Marzoli comes on to provide elegant distribution, and solid marking.

Behind them Fitzgerald commands the air, and goes forward authoritatively. Outside backs Gallagher and Bergonzi are twin iron curtains.  Few Wavers slip through. When 1 does, Hennessy annihilates the threat. Keeper McCarthy is battling an illness — but no one knows it. He boxes when he needs to, catches when he can, and is so steady with his positioning, saves and outlets that New Milford never mounts a dangerous shot on net.

At halftime, the Wreckers know they will not let New Milford back in the game. Three minutes after play resumes, Bergonzi laces a cross.  Gudis hauls it in, shoots — and Scott nails the bobble.

Less than 3 minutes later, it’s 4-0. Lesch’s shot is blocked. Effortlessly he gets a foot on the ball again, and lofts a shot over the keeper, from 20 yards out. The junior opened the season with a breathtaking bicycle kick; he bookends with an equally remarkable strike.

Denowitz spells Fitzgerald on defense; Krosse comes on to wreak havoc on the side. As the match winds down Justin Hawrysh, Nate Greenberg, Jason Bennett and Nick Cion join fellow seniors McCarthy, Hennessy, Fitzgerald, Reiter, McNair and White on the field.

When the final whistle blows — signaling Staples’ 12th state championship, and 1st since 1993 — all 11 seniors on the team are playing.  It is a fitting tribute to the Wreckers’ fine legacy — to all the players who came before, who helped get this team to the title; to Albie Loeffler, the program’s founder who died 2 months earlier, 1 day shy of his 94th birthday; and to the importance of commitment to a team and a goal, over a long period of time.

It also sends a strong message: 11 seniors graduate from this championship team. But 14 underclassmen return in 2010 — including 5 starters.

The junior varsity and freshman teams are both undefeated. Those players — and dozens of even younger Westporters — sit in the stands. They see and feel Staples soccer magic. They vow to be part of such a game next year, 2 years, 5 or 10 years from now.

Quick kicks

The win is the most lopsided ever in the 61-year history of the state finals (in the largest schools’ division)….

Staples’ 22 wins breaks the record of 21 — set just last year. The Wreckers finish the year ranked #6 in the US, and #1 in New England — their highest finishes ever in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll….

Of Staples’ 12 state championship teams, only 3 have also won an FCIAC title outright: 1971, ’72 and ’09….

The Wreckers have now won state crowns in 5 straight decades: the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s….

Lesch and Reiter earn All-New England honors….

At the afternoon banquet at the Norwalk Inn, Jack Hennessy wins the Block “S” as Most Valuable Player; Mikey Fitzgerald gets the Block “S” as Most Improved, Michael McCarthy receives the Alumni Award, and Amy Lamb is presented with the Jeff Lea Award. Ben Root and Steven Smith are All-FCIAC JV players, while Sam Koenig is named the Stephen Martin Award winner…

Stuart (1978) and Michael McCarthy become the 1st father-son team to win Staples soccer state championships….

WWPT-FM streams the Newtown, Glastonbury and New Milford games, to appreciative audiences worldwide….

A crowd of 3,000 fills Tiger Hollow for the final….

Brookfield — 1 of 2 teams to defeat Staples this year — wins the “L” championship, 3-2 over New Canaan….

Other members of the state championship squad not previously mentioned include Jake Malowitz, Connor Walsh and Luke Yeager….

With the junior varsity of coach Ross McGibney going 13-0-1, and coach Chris O’Dell’s freshmen undefeated at 11-0-0, the varsity has the “worst” record of any Staples squad this year….

RECORD:  22-2-0

QUAD-CAPTAINS: Jack Hennessy, Andrew McNair, Alan Reiter, Mike White

COACH:  Dan Woog

2010:  THREE-PEAT!

The stakes are high in the 1st season of the new decade.  But a seasoned squad — 7 players have been with the Wreckers for 3 varsity years; 4 for a phenomenal 4 — say they’re equal to the task.

Pre-season includes a run at Wilton (for the 1st time since the Warriors entered the FCIAC in 1971, the teams do not meet in the regular season); the traditional scrimmage with Wethersfield (moved by Hurricane Earl to Wakeman, it is a lackluster affair); the new tradition at Glastonbury (with Naugatuck), and the old traditional Wethersfield 9/11 tournament.

Greg Gudis nets the 1st goal of pre-season — another tradition — but the Westporters look unimpressive in most outings. The players say they’re not worried; the real matches have not begun.

Regular season

Gudis — who else? — opens the scoring at Fairfield Warde ( his 4th season-opening goal in 4 years), but Guthrie Carpenter equalizes 4:05 into the 2nd half. Jolted awake, central defender Steve Denowitz skip-heads in Mikey Scott’s long throw, but the Mustangs give Staples trouble to the end. It’s the 1st time Staples allows an opening-game since 1999.

The next match is on Trumbull’s turf, but the skies are so dark the lights go on. The Eagles are on too. They score in the 12th, 18th and 25th minutes — all on defensive lapses — and though defender Frankie Bergonzi heads in Scott’s throw in the 28th minute, the 3-1 loss jars Staples.

Just as jolting is the next game: a 1-0 defeat to Central in the home opener. Edir da Graca tallies early in the 2nd half; suddenly the Wreckers are 1-2.

Fairfield Ludlowe is gut-check time — and both Denowitz and Greg Gudis are out. But tri-captain Sean Gallagher plays for the 1st time following a hip injury, and his voice, speed and touch energize his team and the large home crowd. Fellow captain Brendan Lesch, Jake Krosse and junior Norwegian transfer Lars Aanestad also help. A 3-0 victory evens the season mark — but the blue-and-whites backslide a bit at Stamford. They win 4-2, but must battle back from a 2-1 deficit. Gudis gets the equalizer and insurance tally; Court Lake’s blast, off Scott’s throw, is the game-winner.

History is made on Friday, Oct. 1. With Loeffler Field unplayable after a day of torrential rain, the Wreckers move their 1st match since 1958 off their home pitch. The stakes are huge: Norwalk is undefeated, ranked #1 in Connecticut. Winds howl to 50 mph; intermittent rain adds to the fun.

The Bears have the 1st half wind, but Gallagher, Bergonzi, Lesch, Jake Malowitz and (making his 1st start) junior Ben Root shut down high-scoring Andres Torres and Jake Zuniga. Sophomore Lorenz Esposito — also starting for the 1st time — provides another spark. Just 2:40 into the 2nd half Scott — aided by ballboys using towels to wipe the balls — launches a patented long throw. Junior Max Hoberman pounces in the box, and powers a shot home. Root and Gudis nearly add more goals; sophomore keeper James Hickok saves huge on a high ball; the Wreckers manage the game, and emerge with a potentially season-changing 1-0 victory.

The highlight of Danbury (3-0) is junior Steve Smith outracing a defender to score his 1st varsity goal.  Without 4 starters, Staples shuts out undermanned Harding 6-0.

Then comes Westhill. Playing for the 1st time ever on the soft, quick, long and narrow turf in front of the school, the Wreckers get caught up in a very fast contest. Several mistakes culminate in an early Viking score. Gudis’s well-timed cross sends Lesch through 9 minutes later, and he heads home to equalize.

Staples misses several chances, while Hickok comes through with 2 key tip saves. At halftime keeper coach Tom Henske leads the challenge to the squad. They respond with a much tougher 2nd 40 minutes. Full-field action continues, though with few telling shots. The match ends 1-1, for the Westporters’ 1st draw since 2007.  Surprisingly, 4 2nd-half yellow cards are shown to Staples.

Krosse, Lake and Esposito shine in a 3-0 shutout of Brien McMahon. Staples’ 1st game against Trinity Catholic since 2006 ends 7-1. That’s no surprise — but a 5-0 shutout of visiting Brookfield is. It’s another very windy day, but the Wreckers don’t care. They treat a large Saturday crowd to a 5th-minute goal (Scott); a 12th-minute strike (Esposito’s 30-yard rip); an even prettier rocket by Krosse 1 minute later, plus 2nd half tallies by Smith and Alex Tonsberg.

Greenwich comes to town tied with Staples for 2nd place in the league. The match is scoreless, though Staples dominates. Midway through the 2nd half a harmless-looking shot by Gudis trickles through the keeper’s hands. That opens the floodgates. Gudis makes it 2-0 off a 30-yard smash, and Hoberman touches in for the 3-0 final.

Gudis’s penalty decides a forgettable 1-0 game against St. Joseph. Gudis, Krosse, Lake and Esposito have great goals in a surprising 4-0 defeat of Ridgefield. The regular season ends with another 1st: a match at Bassick’s Went Field. In the rain, mist and fog hard by I-95 and the train tracks, Staples wins 4-1. They finish the regular season 13-2-1.

FCIAC tournament 

The league tournament opens with a home game against Trumbull — the team that beat Staples 3-1 badly in game 2 of the regular season Since 2003, the Wreckers have been 0-3-3 versus the Eagles. A large crowd — straight from the Homecoming pep rally — fills Loeffler Field. Staples chooses the strong wind, and the 1st half seesaws back and forth.

The 2nd half — into the wind — is challenging. Gallagher clears a near-goal off the line. Taylor McNair just misses — and with 2:15 to go, Trumbull’s Keith Bond breaks free. Out of nowhere, Hickok makes a leaping, textbook save. Quite possible, it is a season-saving stop too.

The tenacious play continues through overtime. Two minutes into the 2nd OT Gudis jukes 3 players, is forced outside, drives endline and almost out of bounds, then slams a shoulder high ball. Lesch twists his body to redirect a header past everyone. It is a stunning goal, from start to finish — but Trumbull won’t quit. With 2 minutes left Hickok rises high to corral a ball in heavy traffic. The Wreckers then manage the clock; it is a satisfying end to an edifying match, with an electrifying goal.

The semifinal at Fairfield Ludlowe is against Wilton — 1-0 upset winners over Greenwich in the quarters. Though controlling play, Staples can’t score. Suddenly Scott — who missed the last 2 games (32 stitches in his forehead after a training collision with Root) — unleashes a throw. The hard-working midfielder entered the game 5 minutes earlier. Lesch flicks on; Bergonzi — in exactly the right spot — heads home. Just 32 seconds remain before halftime. In the 2nd half Lesch dekes in Bergonzi’s great diagonal for the insurance goal.

The victory vaults the Wreckers into their 3rd straight final — and 4th in the past 5 years. They meet Fairfield Warde for the now-traditional 7 p.m. match at Norwalk’s Testa Field.

The Mustangs — losers only 3 times this year– are on a roll. In the FCIAC tournament they’ve avenged previous losses to Ridgefield and New Canaan; they expect Staples to be next. The Wreckers, though, are 14-0-1 since starting the fall 1-2. They’re psyched. The last time the blue-and-whites 3-peated was 1979-81 (actually, dating back to 1977, that was a 5-peat).

The 1st half is back and forth. Malowitz’s 23rd-minute goal line clearance keeps the scoreline clean. Hickok’s save is countered by Mustang keeper Dylan Strachen, who punches Smith’s free kick out.

Staples stuns Warde 26 seconds after  halftime. Hickok outlets to midfield. Lesch heads forward to Gudis. The striker-turned-midfielder gathers the ball 40 yards out, races directly to goal, then powers in a low shot.

The Mustangs not only don’t fold — they come back 72 seconds later. Taylor Rosenblum’s rebounds delivers the emphatic message: This is a game.

In the 53rd minute Scott takes a rare short throw. Krosse’s subsequent shot is fumbled. Lake is there, but can’t connect. Lesch somehow finds the bouncing ball; he turns, fires and scores. It’s one more big goal for the big-time player.

Still, Warde fights back. Gallagher, Bergonzi, Denowitz, Malowitz and Lake repel numerous forays. But Hickok is the man of the match. The sophomore keeper saves several times — none more importantly than a punch save on Kevin Petroccio with 3 minutes left. Moving backward on a long, curving ball that beats him over the top, Hickok knocks it off the crossbar. A minute later, he saves high. A few seconds after that — dramatically — the Wreckers race joyfully across the field to their fans. For the 27th time in 49 years, they’re FCIAC champs.

State tournament

Fifty-mph gusts, snow, ice pellets and hail force a 24-hour postponement of the LL opener. In crisp, sunny but very windy weather, the #5 Wreckers dispatch West Haven. In the 15th minute Gudis blasts Krosse’s free kick over the keeper; a mere 35 seconds later Scott’s throw-in is mis-headed into the net by a Blue Devil back. Eight minutes after that, Denowitz power-heads Scott’s throw home. Every Wrecker plays — including Terence Gibbons, called up from JV for post-season play.

Round 2 brings #12 Guilford to town. The weather is gorgeous; the crowd enormous. The Indians put Staples under the gun. Hickok is hot, and in the 30th minute Esposito draws a penalty kick. But the shot flies wide, and the match stays deadlocked.

Denowitz clears off the line; Hickok saves again, and in the 65th minute Lake earns a corner kick. Smith bends an inswinger to the box. With the sun in everyone’s eyes, chaos ensues. The ball is knocked in by a defender. But Guilford won’t die.

They draw level with 21 minutes to play. The action flows up and down the field — and into extra time. Finally, Staples plays balls to feet; finally, they play their game. Near the end of the 1st OT Scott takes a long throw. Gudis scoops it up, and finishes.

Guilford keeps coming. With 5 minutes to play Gudis is injured. The Indians ramp it up even more. Hickok saves twice in the waning moments — both in crowds. The Wreckers now ride out the clock. They remember well last year’s 2nd round game:  They’d blown a 2-0 lead to Newtown, then rallied for a PK victory. That match set them on the path to the state championship.

Gudis’ injury — a slight tibia fracture — proves season-ending. Esposito goes up top; Lesch — hobbled by a severely sprained ankle since the 2nd FCIAC game — slides back into midfield with Krosse.  The alignment works; Staples plays good, quick-passing soccer from the opening whistle.  Midway through the half Bergonzi slams in — with his head — Krosse’s corner kick.

In the 2nd half the Trojans move stellar sweeper Blake Mercer up. The Wreckers trained for this yesterday. Smith and Aanestad take the reins offensively; Root stepps in defensively; Hickok makes a fingertip save, and Lesch leads the squad in managing the game.

Like 2009, the semifinals is at night, on the West Haven High turf. The foe is Hall. The West Hartford side has upset #1 EO Smith 4-1, then tied Cheshire with 17 seconds remaining before winning a heart-stopper, 2-1 in OT.

But Staples starts the match on fire. The defense they’ve honed all year clicks from the opening whistle. Hickok leads from the back; all over the field, players win balls and deny Hall space to play. Gallagher, Bergonzi, Malowitz, Lake and Denowitz go forward with speed. Scott is a tornado on the left; Hoberman wreaks havoc on the right. Lesch and Krosse work together like pistons; Esposito adds offensive punch.

The 1st goal comes in the 18th minute: Denowitz heads in Gallagher’s long free kick. Hall hits the crossbar; Hickok saves low. Less than 2 minutes before halftime, Lake’s low shot gives the Wreckers breathing room. At halftime, the talk is of not letting Hall back in the game.

They don’t. Lesch stands up his defender, turns, touches and left-foots a rope into the far right corner. With 23 minutes to play Hall cuts the margin to 3-1 — but that’s as close as they get.

Two minutes later, Krosse, Smith and Root set up Esposito’s blast. McNair sends Lesch through, to calmly chip the keeper. Three minutes later, Dylan Hoy assists Smith. Hoy then feeds AJ Green, for a highlight-reel rocket. Hall gets 1 back, but Tonsberg nails another goal — off another Hoy assist. When the dust settles, Staples has 5 goals in less than 27 minutes, 4 in the final 12. The score is an unthinkable 8-2 — and the Wreckers head for their 2nd consecutive state final (3rd in the past 5).

The match is set for Waterbury’s Municipal Field. The foe is #6 Farmington — so Staples wears their home whites. The northerners came from behind to edge Bridgeport Central 2-1 in the semis. But the Indians have been one of the top teams in Connecticut all year long. Soccer fans anticipate a great matchup.

They get a good — but not great — game on the narrow turf. Staples has a slight edge in the 1st half. Gallagher, Bergonzi, Malowitz, Denowitz and Lake hold dangerous Yale-bound Kevin Michalak at bay. But in the 30th minute, against the run of play, Michalak hits Adrian Kukula from the right side. Several defensive misplays allow the ball to be slotted nicely inside the post.

In the 2nd half, Esposito nearly sneaks one in. Keeper  Austin Peluso saves Scott. Then, in the 62nd minute, Krosse launches a free kick from the left. It rebounds just past the top of the box, where the left-footed Lake slams in a goal — with his right.

The Wreckers attack with relish. But Farmington earns a free kick off a counter. Beyond the box, dead on, Michalak slices a Premiership strike. It sails over the wall, into the far left corner — a 1st-class goal. Less than 15 mintues remain.

Staples immediately goes to 3 forwards. But the Indians are equal to the task. They meet every foray, creating enough chances of their own to keep the Wrecker defense honest. It’s a crazy final 15 minutes — and when it ends, Staples surrenders the state title to a team that has earned it.

Quick kicks

20-3-1 marks the 3rd consecutive time Staples reaches 20 wins in a season — after never doing so the previous 49 years of the school’s history….

A record 4 seniors commit to college before the season began:  Bergonzi (Colgate), Gallagher (Navy), Gudis (Columbia) and Lesch (Notre Dame)….

Lesch is named an NSCAA All-American — Staples’ 1st since Kyle Martino in 1998.  He is also voted MVP of the FCIAC finals….

At the banquet at the Norwalk Inn, Gallagher is voted Block “S” MVP, while Lake is named Block “S” Most Improved. Denowitz and Connor Walsh share the Alumni Award; the 2006 team is honored with the Jeff Lea Award, and Connor Weiler receives the Steven Martin Award….

WWPT-FM broadcasts many matches, streaming them live internationally….

Shane Kennedy ’72 spends a week with the squad in October, helping the keepers and inspiring everyone with his unique personality….

Team members not mentioned previously include Ryan Armour, Harry Birch, Dylan Evans, Will Meinke and Felipe Troncoso….

RECORD:  20-3-1

TRI-CAPTAINS: Frankie Bergonzi, Sean Gallagher, Brendan Lesch

COACH:  Dan Woog



For the 1st time in memory, pre-season is interrupted by a hurricane. Irene forces the postponement of the 2nd day of tryouts, but other teams fare far worse. Wilton and Ridgefield, for example, lose an entire week.


The power outages and school closings force cancellation of the 1st scrimmage, versus Newtown. The new opener, against Wethersfield, features a 2-0 1st period, 1-1 middle period, and 1-2 score in the 3rd – the Eagles’ go-ahead strike coming in the waning seconds. James Hickok makes 3 point-blank saves. The Wreckers do not know this scenario will play itself out throughout the regular season.


Against Bunnell – Class L finalists, with 4 players already committed to college – Staples ties 2-2. Jake Malowitz serves across for an own goal, and Jay Kaplan hammers home.


At the traditional Wethersfield jamboree the blue-and-whites beat Fermi-Enfield 2-0; top Wethersfield 2-0 on a long ball by Steve Smith and a close-range shot from Avon Old Farms transfer David Hoffman with 1.6 seconds left; then tie Kingswood-Oxford. Phil Foisie scores 1st; the upstaters level near the end, off a long throw.


Glastonbury agrees to come south a day after their season opener – 2 days before Staples’ 1st FCIAC match. The Tomahawks roar to a 4-1 lead. The Wreckers chip the lead to 4-3, but for much of the match are outplayed by a better, faster, stronger side.


Regular Season


The regular season is also postponed by the hurricane. St. Joseph becomes the opener. There is yet another delay – one official was not assigned, forcing a hurried call to Joe D’Ascania – and, half an hour late, the opening kickoff takes place at Indian Ledge. In the 34th minute Dylan Hoy’s free kick bounces around the box. Recent substitution Terence Gibbons heads it home. Hickok punch-saves in the 70th minute. After all that waiting, the Wreckers finally have a game, and a win.


Central High is devastated by a new Bridgeport eligibility rule involving classroom grades. A shell of their former self, they’re demolished 7-0, on 2 goals by Lorenz Esposito and Hoffman, and 1 each from Smith, Ethan Bradeen and Kaplan.


Kristine Lilly Field is the site of an epic battle. Staples’ defense of Taylor McNair, Jake Malowitz, Alex Tonsberg, Ben Root and Harry Birch keep the scoreline clean. Hickok saves brilliantly – twice – in the 73rd minute. Finally – with just 5:36 to go – Gibbons side-volleys home a goal. Almost immediately, McNair clears a ball off the line. The final 3 minutes are even more intense, but huge saves by Hickok and Malowitz preserve the victory.


Trinity Catholic shows 7-1 sophomore Paschal Chukwu. His header goal off a long throw excites the crowd, but tallies by Hoffman (2), Hoy, Gibbons and Kyle Hoberman seal the 5-1 win.


Root’s strike against Ridgefield galvanizes his side. With Smith and Kyle Hoberman playing particularly well, Staples manages the match the rest of the way.


A week of foul weather almost moves the Norwalk game to Wakeman for the 2nd year in a row. But Parks & Rec gets Loeffler Field into great shape. The crowd on The Hill is huge; the match-up is legendary. There is even live TV – for the 1st time ever – thanks to Staples’ Media Lab.


Hickok’s sliding save keeps the 1st half scoreless. Suddenly Hoffman plays a ball over a defender’s head. Hoy picks it up in stride and finishes perfectly. Just 8 seconds remain on the clock.


Norwalk emerges from the break on fire. Birch makes a spectacular goal-line save 1 minute in. Then things really head up. Max Hoberman beats his man, laces a pass that’s parried away, but Hoy pounces on the rebound. It’s Staples, 2-0.


Just as suddenly – 27 seconds later – it’s 2-1. Staples misses 3 nearly open chances. With 5:33 to go, Hickok is called for a penalty kick. He gets a hand on Nic Zuniga’s PK, but the ball bounces up and behind him. Norwalk celebrates the 2-2 tie; the Wreckers are stunned.


After 2 big games in 3 days – and no training, due to Rosh Hashana, Staples might be expected to let down against Brien McMahon. They do. It takes a great effort from Dylan Evans – taking a ball in the face, then battering forward, cutting inside, finally unleashing a no-angle shot – to end one more dramatic match. This time, just 1:25 remains.


Next up: nemesis Trumbull. The clash between 6-0-1 Staples and 6-1-0 Trumbull draws an enormous Hill crowd. Smith fires low for a 1-0 lead. Both squads penetrate. The blue-and-white defense holds – highlighted by Birch’s 71st-minute goal-line save – but then Yale-bound Keith Bond rips a cross for Liam O’Sullivan to head in for the equalizer. The clock shows 1:23 to go.


The Columbus Day match at Greenwich’s football stadium is preceded by a Deadmau5 concert, which many players on both teams attend. The Cards seem least bothered, as Pieter Zenner stakes them to a 2-0 lead. But that wakes up the Wreckers. Tonsberg quickly halves the deficit; then Smith’s 35-yard free kick skips through a horde of defenders. A strong 2nd half pays off when Hoy knocks in his own rebound.


Darien – the 7-1-2 surprise of the league – then hosts Staples. The Wavers’early (and nifty) half-volley off a free kick finds net. The Wreckers prepare to rebound, as they had 3 days earlier in Greenwich. But they don’t. Darien is equal to the task, strong in the air and tenacious on the attack. The 2nd half includes plenty of opportunities, but at the end the Wavers pick up what they proudly call one of their biggest wins in history.


The 1st-ever Alumni Day draws a large Saturday crowd – including George Scott. The goalkeeper on Staples’ 1st-ever team recalls the 1st-ever game: a 3-2 loss to Andrew Warde. Today’s opponent is Fairfield Warde. Their 6-man defense repels every Staples attack, and the game ends as it began: 0-0.


Two days later the other Fairfield squad comes to town. Birch’s header off Evans’ cross ends a 248-minute scoreless drought, propelling the Westporters to their best came of the season. Foisie and Will Meinke provide much-needed fresh legs at the end.


Westhill’s 6-5-2 record is deceiving. It includes 3 forfeited matches (ineligible player). Three 1st-half goals stun Staples. The Vikings’ desperate hunt for post-season berths continues strongly.


Now the Wreckers face a harsh reality: They might not qualify for the FCIAC tournament. Their task: Get back on track against a very solid New Canaan squad. Smith commands midfield. In the 16th minute Max Hoberman outruns his defender, and rips a shot near post. The sudden strike electrifies Staples. Birch, Root, McNair, Malowitz and Tonsberg stand tall defensively; Hickok wins the battle of keepers against All-State prospect Scott Levene, and the blue-and-whites gut out a 1-0 shutout. The win secures an FCIAC berth, and a shot at a 4th straight league title. It also ruins the Rams’ homecoming.


Danbury comes to town bearing an usual record: 6-2-6. Hoy taps in an easy goal; then, in the 66th minute Kaplan sends Joe Greenwald through for a 2-0 edge. But the Hatters halve the deficit 43 seconds later, then knock in a long throw to knot the score less than 5 minutes from time. Once again, the Wreckers have let an important victory slip away. (And now Danbury has a very improbable 7 ties.)


The regular season ends with Harding. All 10 seniors start. Gibbons gets the 1st goal – just 2:34 in — followed by Max Hoberman’s side volley, Hoffman’s header (10 seconds after reporting in), Hoy, Noah Bender and Jack Scott. The 2nd half saw 2 scores from Diego Alanis, and a late long-range blast from Meinke.


FCIAC Tournament


4th-seeded Staples hosts #5 Greenwich, just a couple of weeks after the Deadmau5 game and less than an hour after the Homecoming pep rally ends. The Wreckers’ pressure pays off at 9:59. Smith pounces on Max Hoberman’s rebound, ripping a left-footed shot. Holding a lead has been tough, but Staples’ defense is hot. The Cards apply plenty of 2nd half pressure, but the hosts manage the clock, and the game. Staples’ most consistent performance of the season could not come at a better time.


The FCIAC semifinals – postponed a day by a rare pre-Halloween snowstorm – is against #8 New Canaan. The Rams are coming off an upset win over Norwalk – the 2nd time in 2 years they’ve pulled off that feat – and are out to avenge their regular season loss. Staples starts at warp speed. Levene saves brilliantly in the 3rd minute on Hoffman’s header, but the Wreckers keep pushing. Root – who 24 hours earlier was sick – and Birch patrol the middle. Malowitz, McNair and Tonsberg keep the dangerous Jon-Luke Ferrandino and Steven Valente at bay.


It’s a back-and-forth match – all the way through overtime. Hickok equals Levene’s save in the 83rd minute. New Canaan seems to be playing for PKs. They get them.


Staples wins the toss, and shoots first – but misses. Hickok responds by saving his counterpart, Levene.


Max Hoberman nails his shot; New Canaan shoots high.


Root scores. So do the Rams.


Smith connects. So does New Canaan.


The 5th kick could win it for Staples – but the shot sails high. The Rams can tie it, sending the kicks to another round of 5. But Hickok saves strongly. The Wrecker celebration – after 100 grueling minutes – is well-deserved. They gutted out this one. And in just 48 hours, they’ll have a chance at a 4th straight FCIAC crown (and 5th in the last 6 years).


The opponent – Trumbull – has raced through its 1st 2 tournament games. In the final – at the same Fairfield Ludlowe field as the semis – Staples starts strongly. But they can’t finish – a problem all year – and despite working hard to keep dangerous Bond far from danger, he assists on Zach Chase’s 23rd-minute goal.


A Wrecker corner 4 minutes later almost sneaks through. There is another free kick; then 2 corners. Greenwald seems to poke the 2nd one in. Staples celebrates; Trumbull stops playing – but the ball is knocked back out, and the officials allow play to continue.


Just when the Wreckers had momentum, Trumbull tallied. It was O’Sullivan again – just 2:26 before halftime.


It takes Staples 15 minutes in the 2nd half to regain footing. Kyle Hoberman and Foisie add physical presence, but Trumbull is too much. They earn their 2nd FCIAC crown ever, and 1st outright. In 2006 they tied 0-0 – against Staples.


State tournament

Staples and Manchester have a long history in state tournament play. For the 3rd time this year – after the start of the regular season, and the FCIAC semifinals – weather delays trip up the schedule. The late October snowstorm wreaked havoc upstate, so the state tourney is pushed back several days.


When play finally gets underway – after a leisurely, keep-in-shape Election Day scrimmage in Wilton — #22 Manchester is not about to roll over against homestanding #11 Staples. Aaron Liu comes on early for the banged-up Tonsberg. Tonz returns soon in an offensive role. He provides a spark – but, as has happened all year, the Wreckers’ offense sputters.


20 seconds before halftime, Malowitz bangs a long ball off the crossbar. No one follows, and the match remains scoreless.


The 2nd half begins with great pressure. Foisie lends a solid, poised presence, while Kyle Hoberman’s long throws also help. The final 10 minutes are action-packed. McNair saves the Indians’ best opportunity, with 1:30 to go. For the 2nd time in 3 games, the Wreckers head to overtime.


In the 94th minute – just 7:45 from PKs – Smith gets the ball in the corner. He turns, holds, wheels again, and slots a ball across the goalmouth. Max Hoberman, 2 yards from goal, touches it home. Bradeen comes on to help lock down the win, and the Wreckers head to the Round of 16.


That match – at Farmington’s Tunxis Mead – is a replay of last year’s state final. The #6 Indians have also had trouble scoring this year. But they get the 1st goal – on a left-footed shot by Kyle Baker, midway through the opening period.


Max Hoberman’s long ball in the 39th minute appears to be caught by the keeper over the goal line. But the official waves play on.


A ferocious 2nd-half assault by Staples is met by Farmington. They repel every threat. They hang tight. And – just like the year before – the upstaters prevail by 1 goal.


“This game was a microcosm of our season,” head coach Dan Woog summarizes. “Of our 21 matches this year, 16 were decided by 1 goal, or were ties. Of our 12 1-goal games, we won 10 of them. It’s a tribute to our guys that they gutted so many games out – and that they fought to the end in this one.


“It’s always tough to lose. But if your team is any good at all, odds are high you’ll end your season with a loss. Only 1 team finishes as champion. Yet we always set our goals high. If you don’t shoot for the stars, you’ll never hit the moon.”


Quick kicks

Seth Sholes ’78 coached the junior varsity, with Brad Green ’07. They were a tremendous combo, leading the squad to an 11-2-0 record…


Chris O’Dell did his usual superb job with the freshmen. He and Julien Delepine racked up a 6-3-1 mark….


Taylor McNair organized a “Kick for Nick” drive that netted 150 used soccer balls. Taylor also was selected to deliver the Veteran’s Day address at Town Hall….


Block “S” awards went to Taylor McNair (Most Valuable Player) and Alex Tonsberg (Most Improved Player). Jake Malowitz earned the Alumni Award, while Dan Donovan ’81 and Mark Noonan ’82 received the Jeff Lea Award for meritorious adult contributions to Staples soccer. Jordan McNair was named the Stephen Martin Award freshman recipient….


Other varsity players not mentioned previously include Tucker Rizzi and Connor Weiler. JV players Sam Koenig, Walker Marsh and Ryan Moran earned varsity letters for their debuts against Harding….


For the 1st time in memory, the Wreckers were not awarded a penalty kick during a game all year.

RECORD: 13-4-4
CO-CAPTAINS:  James Hickok, Jake Malowitz
COACH: Dan Woog


It’s an unsettled off-season. US Soccer’s Development Academy institutes a rule forbidding its players from competing for their high schools. A few Wreckers choose the academy. After an uncertain summer, returning 2-year varsity keeper and co-captain James Hickok opts for Staples. But he nurses a back injury, and the goal situation remains unsure for a while.

Preseason includes a 0-0 draw (with keepers Ryan Petersen and Bobby Jacowleff seeing little action); a 3-0 win over Wethersfield; a 1-0 loss to highly ranked state contender Fairfield Prep (shots by co-captain Joe Greenwald and Greg Shikowitz bang off posts); a 2-0-1 record at the annual Wethersfield jamboree, and a 3-1 thrashing at the hands of Choate. That private school is added to Staples’ preseason schedule when – for the 2nd year in a row – the Wreckers’ season opener is postponed (coaching issues at Harding).

Regular season

Two days late, Staples opens at Ridgefield. Keeper coach Tom Henske is there – despite a broken leg suffered in a men’s game 4 days earlier – but his presence is not enough to motivate the squad. Andrew Travers tucks in Harry Birch’s long free kick for a 6th-minute lead, and Travers nearly strikes twice more. But 3 minutes after halftime the Tigers draw level, on a header off a long throw, and take the lead 4 minutes later as a ball skitters across the goalmouth. Staples leaves Tiger Hollow with their 1st loss in a season opener since – believe it or not – 1974.

They eke out a 1-0 home opener win against St. Joseph when sophomore defender Andrew Puchala heads in a ball during a goalmouth scramble. Against Central, junior Yousef Shahin debuts at outside back. Travers hits paydirt once, and just misses a few more times. Puchala and juniors Diego Alanis and Charlie Leonard tally 3 times in 3:27 to ice the 4-0 win.

Wilton arrives at Loeffler Field for a Saturday match, believing they’re state contenders. The Wreckers – hit with injuries – tweak their lineup. Sophomore Jordan McNair’s goal gives his side the lead, but the Warriors force Hickok into several big saves. Angered at his defense, the keeper curses. He is shown a yellow card; seconds after Petersen replaces him, he punches an indirect kick over the top. Harry Birch bends a 25-yard free kick on net, and the Wreckers play with confidence.

But Wilton’s rebound halves the goal in the 52nd minute, and now the Warriors take charge. An attempted back header under moderate pressure skips by a surprised Hickok; a wind gust blows the ball, slow motion, into the goal. The game seems headed to an improbable draw, when – with 2:11 to go – the guests make Staples pay for not stepping up defensively. A game-winning squibber leaves the Wreckers – and their large Alumni Day crowd – unsatisfied.

Junior Jack Scott moves back to defense at Brien McMahon. Travers’ clinical strike holds up for a 1-0 win, thanks to a fantastic punch save by Hickok, and Greg Shikowitz’s uncanny, never-say-die tackling at center back.

The highly anticipated night match at Norwalk lives up to expectations. After a couple of seasons ending in frustration, the senior-dominated Bears are sure this is their year. They’re 4-0, with 4 shutouts and a #1 state ranking. Staples – younger, and 3-2 – plans to counter the fast, crisp-passing, hard-running hosts. It works, for long stretches. Defenders Birch, Scott, Shahin and Puchala – plus man-marker Shikowitz – keep Norwalk far from goal. Hickok saves several times, including 2 of the diving, sliding variety. But the Bears are the real deal. With 13:27 to go, they score on a bang-bang play from the left. As Staples presses forward in the waning minutes, the insurance tally comes 6 minutes later.

The next game – also at night – is at Trumbull. The matchup of last year’s FCIAC finalists begins torridly. Staples controls, but there are few telling chances for either side. The game ends 0-0.

Greenwich is a must-win. They’re 6-1-1 – unbeaten since an opening day loss to Norwalk. Loeffler Field is muddy. Yet the hosts follow up on the previous day’s training (devoted entirely to shooting). Less than 3 minutes in, Shahin wins a ball in back. He feeds Greenwald, who races forward and beats the keeper with a 40-yard blast. Unfortunately, the ball caroms off the underside of the crossbar. Fortunately Alanis follows up, and bangs in the rebound. Galvanized, his squad takes control. Whenever the Cards counter, Hickok saves. The defense, plus freshman midfielder Joe Pravder (in his 1st start), Travers, Petersen, Connor Weiler and Sam Koenig augment Birch and Greenwald’s on-field game management, securing the win.

Highly-touted Darien offers little resistance at Wakeman Field (only Staples’ 2nd official game there; both matches were moved due to weather). Bradeen’s rebound, Greenwald’s long curling shot, Puchala’s finish and another Bradeen strike key a 4-1 victory.

Shikowitz and Alanis score in a 2-0 win at Fairfield Warde. Less than 24 hours later, Staples’ 4th game in 6 days finds them hosting Trinity Catholic. Greenwald, Birch and sophomore Nate Argosh score, but the story is Noah Bender. He tallies 3 straight times – a true hat trick – and adds a 4th later. That ties a Staples single-game scoring record, held by several players.

Harding falls, on 2 goals by Bender – giving him 6 in 50 minutes – and solo strikes by Matt Liebergall, Scott and Travers. Petersen adds 2 more.

The Wreckers play their 6th match in 9 days – and 2nd in 2 – at Fairfield Ludlowe. Though the 1st half is scoreless, Staples plays well. They pick it up after intermission, but squander several prime chances. The Falcons – seemingly content with a draw – urge each other to “take it slow.”Outshot 19-2 – and against the run of play – captain Tobias Gimand strikes. The lone score of the match comes with 1:05 to play. The win is the 1st ever in 38 matches for either the old Roger Ludlowe, or the newer Fairfield Ludlowe High. The way the Wreckers react to the loss may make or break their season.

Next up is Westhill, in Westport. The Vikings know a loss will eliminate them from FCIAC contention. Two minutes in, Greenwald’s back-to-the-goal, turn-and-fire shot could open the floodgates. But it doesn’t. Westhill equalizes 9 minutes later, on a very soft goal. The coaching staff laces into the Wreckers at halftime – and the blue-and-whites respond. When McNair feeds Bender in the 44th minute, it’s the 1st time all year the Wreckers come back after conceding a goal. They don’t stop there. Alanis buries a penalty kick, and 6 minutes from time freshman Pravder chips the keeper.

New Canaan comes to town with a 9-3-2 mark. They’re in 5th place in the FCIAC; 9-4-1 Staples is 7th. McNair scores, followed by Bender. It seems the rout is on. But the Rams halve the deficit in the 21st minute, after a giveaway. Birch leaves with an injury, and the action flows back and forth. A 40-yard, 64th-minute shot makes it 2-2. The evenly played match ends – frustratingly for Staples – deadlocked.

The final regular season match, at night in Danbury, is big. Very Big. Staples is 7th in the league standings, Danbury 8th. Both hope to avoid a first-round matchup with Norwalk. Greenwald blasts a shot off the outside post; Shikowitz, Bradeen, Puchala, Scott and Shahin keep the Hatters at bay. Hickok saves a near-breakaway at the top of the box. Just before halftime, Puchala roars forward for a corner. He slams it in, low and hard.

The lead lasts all of 40 seconds after halftime. Two deflections allow one more opponent back in a match. But Staples reacts ferociously. They attack with numbers, and knock the ball around purposefully. Still, Bender and Alanis’ shots are saved, and the clock winds down. A tie will retain 7th place – but will be spiritually devastating.

So the Wreckers press to win. With rain falling, Greenwald hits Bender upfield. He takes a quick touch, draws the keeper out – and scores the most emotional goal of the year. 58 seconds show on the clock. The bus ride home is joyous. The FCIAC and state tournaments loom. But so does an ominous weather report.

FCIAC tournament

The Danbury win – coupled with New Canaan’s 4-0 loss to Norwalk – lifts Staples into 6th place. They draw Greenwich. It’s the Wreckers’ 1st quarterfinal on the road in many years, but – based on the Hatter victory, and their 1-0 regular season win against the Cards – they’re confident.

The game starts roughly. Hickok is knocked in the head. Freshman Noah Schwaeber replaces him briefly (the hosts kick the ball out of bounds, allowing Hickok to return), and the co-captain makes a sliding save soon thereafter.

Staples gives Greenwich room to play, and they pounce in the 22nd minute. Shahin appears to be fouled but the call goes the other way, just outside the corner of the Westporters’ box. A perfect direct kick into the upper left stakes the hosts to a 1-0 lead.

Vowing to push forward in the 2nd half, the Wreckers have several good chances. But in the 54th minute – against the run of play – the Cards double their lead. The ball pops off Greenwald’s hard tackle to an opponent; they attack down the right, and a cross is finished well.

Staples responds with 2 corner kicks. Hickok saves nicely. Travers earns another corner.

Yet with 21 minutes to play, a fine tip save by Hickok ends with the ball on Pieter Zinner’s foot. Now Greenwich leads by 3. The Wreckers fight to the end, but despite a 4-1 edge in corners – and a nearly equal total in shots (16-14, Greenwich) – this is not Staples’ day.

State tournament

After playing 10 games in 18 days, a loss in the FCIAC quarterfinals – followed by Hurricane Sandy – means Staples is not scheduled for a match for the next 13 days. Then a freak snowstorm makes it 14.

After 2 idle weeks – including several post-storm days with no training at all – the Wreckers head to Norwich Free Academy. More rough luck: “winning” a coin toss has put them #17, not 18, and sent them nearly 2 hours east.

The Wildcats’ off-campus home is small, sloping, worn and windy. No matter. Staples is happy just to play again.

Birch runs the show, and his side is in charge from the start. Greenwald scores in the 12th minute; Birch buries a PK; McNair tallies, and a minute before intermission Argosh makes it 4-0.

Greenwald pots one in the 56th minute. The final strike is Bender;s. Schwaeber ensures the shutout with a great box save.

At 8:30 p.m. – following a long, traffic-filled bus ride home – coaches Dan Woog, Kurt Dasbach and Tom Henske hold a phone conference with several veteran playeres. The subject: how to thwart Norwalk, now just 20 hours away.

The 17-1-1 Bears – ranked #1 in the state – boast a trio of offensive threats, a formidable defense and a fast-paced, ball-control style of play.

During the call, Birch volunteers to move back. He’ll shore up the back line, and divide man-marking responsibilities with Shikowitz. Puchala, Bradeen, Scott and Shahin will adapt accordingly.

From the outset at chilly Testa Field on Saturday afternoon, the strategy works. Norwalk’s speed and talent are on full display. They’re the quickest, tightest team Staples sees all year, by far. But the Wreckerdefense keeps them from penetrating deeply. Behind them Hickok corrals high balls, and launches counters.

Midfielders McNair – Staples’ man of the match – Alanis and Greenwald; striker Bender, and reserves Argosh, Weiler, Koenig and Pravder keep the Bears’ back line honest.

It’s a scintillating, back-and-forth affair. Neither side finds an opening – until 16:55 remains. A low, hard shot from the right side breaks the deadlock. Wrecker partisans will argue for years whether it was offside.

No matter. Staples goes right back to work. McNair is out with an injury (Travers sits the entire game, with bronchitis). They throw everything they have at Norwalk. But the Bears are impenetrable. The 1-0 defeat is agonizing.

It’s a brutal way to end the season. (Fittingly, Norwalk goes on to edge Fairfield Prep for the state championship, the Bears’ 1st since 1966.) The Wreckers console themselves that – after an up-and-down season, in which they lost leads and too often failed to seal the deal – they left everything they had on the field.

And left that field with their heads held very, very high.

Quick kicks

Three days after Hurricane Sandy, 40 varsity, JV and freshman Wreckers spend several hours helping JV player Sebo Hood remove (literally) tons of sand from his Soundview Avenue yard. The Wreckers are named “Students of the Month” by Sunrise Rotary for their efforts…

Once again, Staples earns a National Soccer Coaches of America Academic All-America award, for a team GPA of at least 3.25….

The terrace sports a handsome new granite entrance sign, courtesy of the Gault company and designer John Rizzi….

Other varsity players not already mentioned include Patrick Beusse, Jon Denowitz, George Kokkalis and Michael Reid.

RECORD: 11-6-2

CO-CAPTAINS:  Joe Greenwald, James Hickok

COACH:  Dan Woog