NEWINGTON - The 2019 season ended bitterly for the Berlin girls soccer team, bowing out of the Class M state tournament due to a disqualification after beating Joel Barlow in the first round. But the team quickly turned its focus to 2020, knowing it had a group well-suited for a redemption tour with a potential final act in a state championship.
"In all my years, this is the most talented group of players I have ever been around,” Redcoats head coach Alex Joslyn said before the season. “It is a shame we will not have a normal season, as I am beyond confident this would have been a state contender,”
Hopes of a normal season were thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic, which ended winter sports early, shut down spring sports entirely and caused the fall season to be pushed back by nearly a month. Now, the season will end early, Nov. 22 to be exact, and there will be no typical state tournament. Instead, individual conferences will work with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference to determine what kind of playoff format is feasible. Regardless of what the sides come up with, Berlin won’t have its long-awaited chance to stake its claim as the best in the state, something the program hasn’t done since 1998.
“When I first got the job, this is the season I was looking forward to because we had a feeling that we could do some damage,” Joslyn said. “I would put this group up with anyone in the state, and I truly believe that. Obviously, the Glastonburys and the Southingtons, those are great teams, but I feel like we can hang with them.”
Joslyn took over the team after the 2017 season, when Berlin had just reached a state final before losing 3-0 to Granby Memorial. Last year, he saw a young and confident team weather a number of injuries to still pick up a state tournament win before it was eliminated due to a technicality involving a Berlin player practicing with a club team. But this year, the Redcoats returned two all-conference players in Kylie Jefferson and Jenna Zup, and brought back All-State talent Ashley Wenzel, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. The stars were aligning for the Redcoats in terms of personnel, but the timing didn’t agree.
“I feel like this team could have gone really far in the tournament,” Zup said. “But we have to do what we have to d, and make the most of whatever kind of postseason we’re going to have.”
While there is disappointment that Berlin’s season won’t have a chance of ending in a traditional state final match, the uncertainty of the season as a whole leaves the Redcoats still appreciative that any season is happening at all. Missing out on a typical postseason hurts, especially for a team with these kind of expectations, but it beats the alternative, which seemed like a troubling possibility during the summer months, when the prospect of a fall season remained unsettled.
“We have to take the positives,” Joslyn said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a season and to still be playing. We feel terrible for football and what they’re going through, but like I told the girls, no matter how many games we play or what the season looks like, we’re going to go out there and win and send our seniors out on as high a note as we can, especially after all they’ve given to us these past four years.”
Zup, Wenzel and Carly Grega, the team’s lone goal scorer in Tuesday’s win over Newington, represent a strong senior core that was expected to lead the team to a historic finish, but now, those soon-to-be graduates serve as the primary source of motivation for a team that had to change what exactly it was playing for, as did every other championship hopeful.
“It’s just to leave it all on the field,” Grega said of the team’s goals for a unique 2020. “If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for our seniors because this is our last time here.”
It’s not what Berlin was expecting to play for heading into the season, but at this point, the team will take whatever it can get, even if that means playing through a monsoon like it did against Newington on Tuesday. Considering the season never felt like a certainty, an early-season game in the rain feels like a state championship.
“It definitely stinks, but as long as we get to play and do what we love, then we’re all happy,” Wenzel said. “We’re still able to play together, so we’re just going to enjoy it while it lasts.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com