East Lyme – It was a first for the Fitch High School field hockey team, reaching the Eastern Connecticut Conference Championship game on Thursday night with a definitive 3-0 victory over East Lyme, what junior Ashleigh Holmes would later call “the best feeling ever.”
There was also the somewhat twisty path the Falcons took for their first championship appearance. They got a new turf pitch in 2020, christened it with a win on October 5 last year, and then were closed for the year when a COVID-19 outbreak forced the school to enter in a period of distance learning which coincided with the ECC tournament.
Since then, the Falcons have improved exponentially to use the faster pace of the turf to their advantage, to communicate and gain confidence.
“Fitch did an amazing job today,” East Lyme coach Kristy Behbehani said. “They dominated the game. They executed in the corners. They played a lot better than every other game (against East Lyme this season).”
“Just the honor of having the opportunity,” said Fitch coach Diane Kolnaski, to make the final of a tournament that started in 2016. “You’ve worked so hard for so many years to develop a program, to get them to believe believe in each other to play the best game they have. And now they’ve beaten a team (East Lyme) twice now that they could never beat. “
Third seed Fitch (11-4-2) will face reigning tournament champion Stonington (15-2) in the final at 5:30 p.m. Thursday after Stonington knocked out No. 4 Waterford 3-0 in the other half. Tuesday’s final.
Holmes scored twice and Oonagh Zimblemann added a goal for Fitch, who scored all three from the penalty spot, crushing East Lyme with 12 corners and 16 shots.
The Falcons were leading 1-0 at halftime, scoring their first goal with 10 minutes and 14 seconds left in the second quarter when Zimblemann scored on an assist from Anna Servidio to cap what was a streak of eight Fitch corners. consecutive, as they dotted the East Lyme goalkeeper Jaci Felix (13 saves).
It was still 1-0 when time expired in the third quarter, but Fitch took advantage after securing an untimed penalty corner at the end of the third, with senior forward Bridget O’Leary taking the initial shot which was saved by Felix and Holmes clean up the rebound for a 2-0 lead. Holmes scored on another rebound on an O’Leary shot with 4:35 left for the final margin.
“They’re all double-teaming Bridget and all of a sudden I’m on the post,” said Holmes, who is 5-foot-2. “Certainly no one sees me.”
O’Leary said the Falcons have learned to work together – “I feel like we communicate telepathically,” she said.
Fitch was 1-2 at the start of the season, including a 5-1 loss to Stonington on September 16, then went on a seven-game undefeated streak. The Falcons lost to East Lyme 2-1 on October 16, but faced the Vikings back-to-back and beat them 2-1 in the second meeting on October 19.
“We knew we had to communicate and work together as a team,” said O’Leary of facing East Lyme for the third time. “We had to come in with a winning mentality. We had to attack our concessions, see the games. Confidence is a big thing. We learned to move the ball forward and make someone run towards it.
“(The turf) is so much better for us now. We used to practice on the outfield of our baseball field. Then when we came to play on the turf we got gassed. good together now. “
Abriel Carey made three saves to earn the shutout.
“It’s a hell of a good feeling,” Kolnaski said. “It was their best effort yet (this season), seeing the open space, knowing they can access it. I’m so proud to see they could do it.”