Goalkeeper Comforted Rival During Game And Injured Captain Netted Clinching Goal In Semifinals
Even when things get competitive there is a place for sportsmanship, and there are always great examples of perseverance in sports. Plenty of both were on display with the Newtown High School’s girls’ soccer team and its three seniors this season, especially in what turned out to be the final win of their high school careers.
During Newtown’s South-West Conference North Division semifinal-round penalty kick victory over host Pomperaug of Southbury on November 12, starting Nighthawk goalkeeper Julianna Stavola saw her counterpart, Teigan Robie, visibly upset. After a tense 100 minutes of soccer, including 20 minutes of overtime, the game was still 1-1 and had to be decided in a goalkeeper’s worse nightmare: penalty kicks. After Newtown built a lead in the best-of-five round of kicks, Stavola still had work to do, yet she took the time to put her focus and winning on hold to console Robie, one of the freshmen forced into this varsity playoff setting due to the team’s coronavirus quarantining protocol.
“She’s a freshman so I wanted to take her under my wing a little,” said Stavola, who recognized Robie from a tournament in which both goalkeepers had played.
“It’s scary,” Stavola said of being involved in game-deciding penalty kicks. “It’s a lot to handle. I try to make it fun.”
Stavola said she will joke with opposing goalkeepers and even the referees in an effort to keep the mood light when a game comes down to PKs. She tried to make Robie feel better about the kicks that got past her, explaining that there is more luck than skill involved.
“You pick a side and hope you get it,” Stavola added.
Stavola picked right (well, she dove left) and got to one of Pomperaug’s PKs, laying out to make a save in the third round. One goal later, scored by Newtown’s Emma Magazu, and the Nighthawks had won the round of kicks 4-1 and celebrated advancing to the championship game (won 2-0 by New Milford on November 14).
“She’s just been such a nice kid from the start. I knew her effort and her grit was special,” Newtown Coach Marc Kenney said of Stavola, adding that his goalkeeper’s passion for the game was further exemplified during this moment.
Chris Adami, whose daughter Rachel Adami is another of those Pomperaug freshmen who played that night, sent an e-mail to Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli and Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco commending Stavola’s actions, and also submitted a letter to the editor.
The parent described Stavola’s acts in the e-mail as “one of the most selfless and truly touching moments I have ever seen in sports or anywhere else for that matter,” adding that Stavola put her arm around Robie and comforted her.
“This young girl put winning aside and took that opportunity to help someone she competed against all night. She should be commended for teaching me and hopefully many others what is truly important. The world would be a much better place if everyone showed that same type of compassion and outstanding character,” Chris Adami wrote in his e-mail.
“The support from my teammates, the sidelines, parents, and friends was incredible and then to have the Newtown keeper be so encouraging was awesome. It showed me that even though we were competing against each other, she respected us and the game we love,” Robie wrote in an e-mail response to The Bee.
Magazu suffered a leg injury the first week of this slightly abbreviated season and had to sit out the rest of the campaign so for her to come off the bench and contribute to a key victory was quite memorable.
“Obviously, I was upset I wasn’t able to play but, in the end, to pull it out as a team it was a great win for the program,” Magazu said.
After supporting her teammates and cheering for every goal, save, and slide tackle from the bench all season long, Magazu was the recipient of high-fives and hugs for her own on-field success story.
“For me, it was the highlight of all of this,” said Kenney, who went into the tournament with plans to use Magazu as the team’s fourth shooter if a game ended up going to PKs.
Newtown’s other senior, goalkeeper Alyssa Bailey was a good sport in the playoffs, understanding of Stavola taking the lead role after the tandem split time, each playing a half of games throughout the season. Kenney describes his keepers not as starter and backup but as being starter A and starter B.
“She’s one of the most improved player I’ve ever coached,” Kenney said of Bailey.
Some of the success both Stavola and Bailey had in making saves throughout the season can be attributed to each other since they share a position and work together on and off the field.
“I think the chemistry’s been amazing,” Stavola said.
Goalkeepers specialize in taking scoring chances away from opponents, but Bailey said one of her biggest takeaways is the great friendships she established with teammates during her high school career.
Kenney has coached each of the seniors on the varsity team since they were freshmen. They reached conference championship games all four years of their career — winning back-to-back titles as sophomores and juniors.
“I’m so proud of them and what they did for this program,” Kenney said.