One step beyond: Ellington determined to break finals drought once and for all

Nov. 19—The Ellington High boys soccer team has played in the state championship game four times since 2016, and each time, the Knights have stood dejected on the sidelines with their second-place medals around their necks as their opponents have hoisted the title plaque at midfield.

The 2022 team is determined to exorcise those demons today when it squares off with No. 7 seed Weston at 1:30 p.m. in the Class M championship game at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford.

"That narrative is definitely something that's been hanging over these kids' heads," Ellington coach Pat Gosselin said. "It's not something we're avoiding. It's definitely something that we're well aware of. It's easy to try to ignore the elephant in the room but we've addressed it and had conversations about it. This team wants this. This team set this as a goal right at the beginning of the season. It's not a goal we've been scared of. Now the kids have a great opportunity. They're excited for the challenge."

Ellington (19-1-0), the top seed in the bracket, will be seeking its sixth title in its 14th title game appearance. Last year, the Knights advanced to the championship game for the third time in four years but lost 3-1 to Stonington. They lost to Brookfield (1-0) in 2016, to Plainville (1-0) in 2018, and to Stonington (1-0) in 2019. The 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic.

Ellington hasn't won a title since 2014 when it beat Tolland 1-0.

"We're all happy to be back in there with another shot at a championship," Ellington senior Nathan Beturne said. "We have unfinished business that we need to take care of."

Weston (16-3-0) will be seeking its first outright title in its first championship game appearance since 2005. The Trojans lost to East Granby in 1970 and were declared co-champions with East Catholic in 2005.

The Knights won its first 14 games before losing 3-1 to NFA on Oct. 22. They rebounded with a victory over Somers to close out the regular season and blanked Plainville 2-0 in the first round of the state tournament.

Ellington then beat a pair of NCCC rivals—Granby (5-0) in the second round and Suffield (2-1) in the quarterfinals—to reach the final four and outlasted Tolland 2-1 (4-3 PKs) in the midst of a snowstorm to make a second straight trip to Hartford for championship weekend.

Weston has seen its hopes dashed prior to the semifinal round in each of the past few seasons, and it nearly happened again in 2022, as the Trojans went to double-overtime against Rocky Hill in the quarterfinals. But they were able to clear that hurdle with a 3-2 victory and snap their long championship game drought with a 6-3 victory over Cromwell in the semifinals.

"They definitely have some really good players, but the thing that I was most impressed with is how well they work the ball through from the back and how strong they play together as a team," Gosselin said. "We're definitely worried about (senior Spencer) Quinn, we've heard that he's a really dangerous player. But preparing for their individual talent is one thing, you can do things to disrupt that, but preparing for a really good team that attacks together and plays good soccer, that's a different challenge. They're a confident team right now after scoring all those goals in the tournament, so we'll have to be ready."

The Knights' offense is paced by senior Owen Hoffman — who has scored a program single-season record 33 goals, breaking Chris Harned's mark (31) from 1971 — Kevin Desrocher, Ryan Dieterle, and Beturne. Desrocher, a senior, leads the team in assists, while classmate Beturne has 10 goals.

Elllington's defense — anchored by junior Caden Branon and seniors Evan Robbins and Evan Morrow on the back line and Leavitt in goal — has posted shutouts in 15 of its 18 victories this season.

"One of the things we're really proud of is how strong our defense has been," Gosselin said. "They're not scoring goals, so they're not going to get their names in the paper very often, but they're a really solid defense. We've really been chasing clean sheets and they've done a great job with that."

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