BERLIN - By the time the Newington and Berlin girls soccer teams prepared to face off in the first round of the Central Connecticut Conference’s Region D tournament, there was little left to do in terms of scouting.
After all, when the game kicked off on Monday afternoon at Sage Park, it marked the fourth time the two teams played each other in a span of six weeks.
“You go back and watch the first three games and find what you did well,” Berlin head coach Alex Joslyn said of his prep work for Monday’s game against an all-too familiar opponent. “But at the end of the day, the teams just know each other so well and it comes down to who wants it more and who is going to make less mistakes.”
Newington made the least mistakes in a 5-1 victory on Monday, lifting the team to the championship round and the Redcoats to the consolation match. The game completed an entertaining chapter in a friendly rivalry that showed promise when the teams first faced each other in the season opener, which ended in a scoreless tie.
“The first time we played each other back in October, it felt like a state tournament game,” Joslyn said. “It’s two evenly matched teams. The score [Monday] doesn’t really represent that, but these are two evenly matched teams and it was fun to do this four times. But hopefully next year we don’t have to do this.”
Joslyn hopes for lesser head-to-head meetings in 2021, only because it would mean a return to normal in the high school soccer world and beyond. The regionalized scheduling in 2020 due to covid-19 restrictions led to the four-part series of this rivalry matchup, one that didn’t even exist a year ago. The two schools are close in proximity but are in different classes of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, and with the CIAC altering the fall season to help prevent the potential spread of covid-19, these two teams got to see plenty of each other on the pitch.
By the end of chapter four, both teams were grateful for the quality of competition each squad offered.
“It’s a good rivalry,” Newington head coach Adam Wilkinson said. “But there is a healthy respect in this rivalry. Alex and I know each other, and a bunch of the players know each other, so there is a healthy respect. There’s no real nastiness about. It’s just a hard-fought and good contest.”
Monday’s outcome served as an outlier, or rather, the second half of Monday’s game did. Prior to a final 40 minutes dominated by Newington, where all six goals of the game were scored, the two teams had played a total of 140 minutes against each other, and had combined to score just two goals. After the scoreless tie on opening day, both teams traded 1-0 wins before battling to a scoreless tie at the half on Monday. Newington erupted on the offensive end in the second half to advance, but once the game was over, like the games before it, players on both sides shared a mutual respect.
“It’s been fun,” Joslyn said. “Adam and I go back and I know a lot of the girls go back a long way playing together on youth teams growing up.”
The first three matchups of this rivalry took place in a span of three weeks, and the four total matchups between the same opponent will likely remain the most frequent head-to-head meetings in a single season for either program, assuming the 2021 season brings a return to normal. For both teams, the unique experience was an opportunity to build a friendly rivalry from the ground up, all in a span of six weeks.
“It’s crazy playing them a fourth time, but Berlin is a great competitor,” Newington senior Emily Chojnicki said. “It’s not a violent game, we’re just playing to compete. At the end of the day, we’re best friends with them. We push each other and foul each other, but we’re all friendly. That’s why we love playing them.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org