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SWC Champs Again! Howard Sisters Combine On Winning Goal As Fifth-Seeded Nighthawks Prevail In Overtime



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REDDING — They're champs for the second year in a row. Back to back thanks to a sister to sister scoring combination, Newtown High School's girls' soccer team captured the South-West Conference championship with a 2-1 double overtime victory over Notre Dame-Fairfield, at neutral site Joel Barlow, on a cold November 6 night.

Senior Sydney Howard kicked home a cross from her sister, freshman Skylar Howard, with 6:08 remaining in the second ten-minute OT period, sparking a celebration to end conference play along with Notre Dame's hopes of its first SWC triumph in its first appearance in the title game.

The way in which the Nighthawks clinched the banner was both fitting and surprising — in more ways than one. The game was tied after regulation, just as seven others involving the Nighthawks were during the regular slate, including a 1-1 deadlock with Notre Dame. And Newtown was a favorite coming into the season having retained most of its starters from last year's championship squad.

Newtown was seeded fifth and Notre Dame second in the tournament and, with all of the returning upperclassmen on the field it was a first-year high school student athlete who stepped up to lift the Nighthawks to the on-paper upset triumph. Skylar Howard, in fact, spent the season on the freshmen and junior varsity rosters before a postseason call-up due to her ability to get the ball into the middle from the wing, Nighthawk Coach Marc Kenney said.

This fall marked the first time the Howard sisters played in a game together and the first time they combined on a scoring play in a game certainly was timely.

"I'm sure our parents are proud and I'm proud of her," Sydney Howard said.

After Notre Dame held a slight edge in opportunities during the first half, Newtown dominated the second half of play and struck first. Defender Hannah Daly, who takes Newtown's corner kicks, had a corner opportunity from the left side and sent the ball toward the goal. It deflected off a Notre Dame player and barely across the goal line for a 1-0 Nighthawk lead with 26:31 left.

The Lancers tied the game on a Toni Domingos penalty kick tally with 20:20 showing on the scoreboard clock.

Easily the best chance the rest of the way in regulation came with just over one minute left when Howard used her speed to get to the right corner and crossed into the 18-yard box, but the Nighthawks couldn't capitalize. There were not many opportunities in OT until the one that produced the winner. If the game remained even for the duration of the second overtime it would have gone to penalty kicks.

"It was a very, very tough battle. I was very nervous about PKs," said Sydney Howard, adding that it felt good to end things in game play. "Back to back champs. It doesn't get any better than that."

Defender Ally McCarthy, whose job was to shut down the top players on opposing teams throughout the tourney, earned Most Valuable Player honors.

Newtown lost only once this season but struggled to score and settled for all of those ties. The team caught fire at just the right time.

"We're like lightning in a bottle. We willed our way to win," Kenney said. "I think we just found our way. We really turned it on the last couple of weeks."

The Nighthawks celebrate winning their second straight SWC championship following a 2-1 overtime win over Notre Dame, in Redding, on November 6. (Bee Photos, Hutchison)
The Hawks celebrate their triumph.
Sydney Howard netted the decisive goal in the championship game.
Colleen Phaneuf boots the ball up field.
Riley Powers tries to save the ball along the sideline.
The Hawks celebrate their first goal of the night.
Karsen Pirone, left, slide tackles as she looks for a takeaway.
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