Some opinions, tidbits and meanderings from the CIAC soccer tournaments ...
A point of contention that will be difficult to repair has "surfaced." Let my put down the base coat before painting the picture.
The Rocky Hill boys played their final eight games -- six regular-season and two tourney tilts -- on the new artificial turf that is proliferating around the nation, known as FieldTurf.
FieldTurf has been a Godsend at three local high schools -- Rocky Hill, Berlin and Wethersfield -- but gives the game a different feel than natural grass (or in many cases in late November, dirt and mud). The ball skips off the rubberized surface, something that takes some getting used to; something that two or three practice sessions will not rectify. Add a little moisture, whether it be a light rain or evening dew, and the ball really takes off.
The Rocky Hill boys, being so used to the new surface, looked like they were wearing ankle weights at the start of their game against Ellington on a grass field at the latter school that was worn down but far from the worst I've seen. Nevertheless, Ellington, which did not play on turf at all in the NCCC, was at home in more than one way.
Hill coach Carl Lombardo talked about it after the game, and I didn't consider his commentary to be laced with sour grapes, especially when Ellington coach Ray Gurnon corroborated Lombardo's thoughts. Gurnon was concerned that he may face FieldTurf in the next round, something that did not come about. Ellington is playing fellow NCCC school Suffield, which also doesn't see turf, on the natural grass at Plainville.
Here's the other end of the spectrum. Avon, yet another NCCC team (pretty good conference, huh?), pauid a quarterfinal visit to Wethersfield Monday and took a 5-0 beating. While I did not talk to Avon coach Patrick Mulligan, I have to figure that the Falcons found Wethersfield's turf quite unfriendly.
So what's the CIAC to do? It's not as easy as one might think to consider where two quarterfinalists played most of their games, then find a suitable location. It isn't every athletic director and staff, like Rocky Hill's Brian Fell, Farmington's Jack Phelan, Plainville's John Zadnik and their people, who give of themsleves and offer their fields as neutral sites.
But quarterfinals are still being played at the home of the higher seed anyway, something which perhaps should change if more athletic directors and schools would step forward and volunteer.
Other personal observations ...
Congrats to the Plainville girls, who put together a fabulous year under one of the sport's great teachers -- Leszek Wrona.
Wrona felt blessed to be able to coach a girl possessing the athletic talent of Des Pina, but there's no doubt he's saddened that she's primarily a basketball player. His love for soccer and his players goes very deep, and he knows Des could have played any sport in college she may have chosen, but she loves hoops.
Pina will play basketball at Fairfield, and believe me she won't be sitting on the bench. Fans have another season to watch her play the point for Lisa Mandeville's Blue Devils, and if you think that isn't worth the price of admission and the chance to buy one (or two) of those enticing Plainville foot-longs grilled up by the athletic backers, you haven't lived. ...
Speaking of great players, how about the run that Berlin's Blair Ferry made in the tournament (7 goals, 5 assists!). And she's only a sophomore. When Pina leaves, the cupboard won't be empty as far as great local female athletes are concerned. Ms. Ferry is powerful, smart and savvy, and opposing defenses are going to want to know her whereabouts for two seasons to come. ...
The CIAC has gone to three-person referring crews for the tournament with a primary official running the center and linesmen on either side. I don't pretend to be intelligent enough to criticize, but I've heard more than one soccer person's opinion. Most say that the CIAC should either stay with the two-person system used all season, or go to three all season. The inconsistency probably doesn't do anything to enhance play.
So many of the whistles in soccer are spontaneous judgment calls that the refs have taken a beating among fans. I think they deserve a little more respect. Consider where we'd be without them, and if there is anybody in the audience who hasn't made any mistakes lately, the line forms at the right. I suspect it will be rather short.
Come on out and root the kids on. I know it may be chilly but put on the layers, tote a hot beverage, wear two pairs of socks and give these wonderful kids the support they so richly deserve. ...
An aside to junior Liz Middleton, the gallant goal-scorer for Bacon Academy who went down early in the game against Farmington Tuesday night. I sure hope everything will be alright and she'll be back. The same goes for all the kids who sustain bumps, bruises and worse in these rough-and-tumble contests with everything on the line.