The nine-time South-West Conference champion Newtown High School girls’ lacrosse team has long feasted on SWC foes and had its battles/playoff tune-ups with tough nonconference teams. Things are changing a little, and that’s just fine with Coach Maura Fletcher.
Newtown, after six undefeated-against-SWC-teams seasons, lost its second to a conference rival in as many campaigns when host Brookfield defeated the Nighthawks 9-7 on May 1. New Fairfield is the only other SWC team to figure out how to overcome Newtown in recent memory, but the Nighthawks avenged last year’s setback with a win over the Rebels early this spring.
Coming off an April 29 setback to Wilton, a tough FCIAC team, the loss to Brookfield marked the team’s second straight loss this spring. Up next were anticipated-to-be-difficult games against Hall of West Hartford and Cheshire.
The Hawks answered the bell, pulling out a 10-8 win over Hall on May 2 and a 12-8 victory over Cheshire on May 5 — both at Blue & Gold Stadium.
While the program has experienced tremendous success, players come and go, and each group has its own identity. Had the two-game mini losing streak turned into a three-game slide, things might have gotten tough for the players, Fletcher believes. After all, wins are sort of expected the way things have gone.
“I think the win against Hall was really uplifting for them,” she said.
In the win over Hall, Carley Ferris netted six goals, Kristie Vos Winkel had two goals and two assists, and Meaghan Brophy set up three goals. Goaltender Kyle Dandrea made nine stops.
Against Cheshire, Newtown turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 halftime lead and, after trading goals early in the second half and holding a 7-5 lead, reeled off five of the next six net-finders to put the game out of reach.
Brophy had five goals and an assist, Julia Shurgrue had two goals and four assists, and Vos Winkel scored three times. After Hall pulled to within 7-5 in the early-mid stages of the second half, Newtown got some breathing room with three goals in a span of 44 seconds. Shurgrue, Brophy, and Vos Winkel all scored in succession to make it 10-5 with 15:13 showing on the scoreboard clock. Emily Maher answered a Cheshire goal with one of her own, and Brophy made it 12-6 to all but seal it with 6:17 to play.
“It’s a good team effort — good for our morale,” said defender Cassie Ekstrom, adding that draw controls and getting to 50-50 balls were key for Newtown in the win over Cheshire.
Ekstrom led the Hawks with four interceptions and added two of the team’s eight takeaways. Anna Northrop also had a couple of takeaways.
“We came together. When all of us work hard and work together for every second of the game it really shows,” senior Lindsay Jagoe said.
Both Hall and Cheshire came into their games with Newtown holding top-six in the state status, and both defeated Newtown a year ago.
“It’s really an accomplishment. They are such good teams,” Jagoe said.
In both games, Fletcher thought, Newtown performed better than in the setback to Brookfield.
“We had a lot more patience with the ball offensively,” said Fletcher, adding that a combination of miscues and Brookfield’s strong play resulted in the loss. “We made mistakes but they capitalized.”
Newtown has had more problems with SWC teams in recent years than in the past. Even some of the wins have been in competitive contests, which wasn’t the case a handful-plus years ago. This year, for example, the Hawks beat New Fairfield 11-8. Last year, they beat New Milford by just three scores. Fletcher likes that her team is challenged in conference, in addition to being tested in those out-of-conference games she schedules as a way to prepare her group for the state tournament.
“It’s great. I’d rather we lose games every season and have tough, competitive games than the reverse as we had years ago,” Fletcher said.
The in-conference gap may be closing a little, but Newtown remains the team to beat. The Hawks defeated host Pomperaug of Southbury 14-2 on May 6. The Nighthawks improved to 9-3 overall and 4-1 in SWC play with four games remaining.