If being a great player is defined by the ability to perform at your highest level when the lights get turned up bright and the stage is as wide as an ocean, then count Olivia Hompe among the members.
The standout junior was definitely at her best Saturday afternoon in the Class M championship game, scoring nine goals while assisting on one other as top-seeded New Canaan left no doubt about their standing as the best team in the state with a 17-9 victory over third-seeded Wilton in a battle of FCIAC powerhouses at Bunnell High School in Stratford.
Hompe got off to a fast start, scoring four of her team’s first five goals to help the Rams build a 8-4 halftime lead. Hompe scored five more in the second as the Rams took a 15-5 lead and cruised to their second state title in three years.
“She was spectacular today,” said New Canaan head coach Kristin Woods, who played high school lacrosse at Wilton. “She was on fire from the start and you definitely don’t want to mess with Olivia when she gets fired up.”
It looked like the Warriors (17-5) were going to get the same type of effort out of their best player as junior Casey Pearsall scored Wilton’s first two goals in a back-and-forth battle with Hompe.
But the Rams, who finished with a 20-1 overall record, shut Pearsall down as they built their big 10-goal lead behind the defense of junior Brianna McEwan, holding Pearsall without another goal until 4:38 left in the second half.
Wilton head coach Meredith Adamicki was expecting that from New Canaan, a solid defensive team. The Warriors just didn’t do what Adamicki was expecting from her own side.
“We really wanted other people on our attack to step up,” she said. “We just didn’t have enough opportunities and I think they were feeling a little pressure. So they forced it because they’re young players.”
Equally important to the victory was senior Sarah Mannelly, who poured in four goals and won the first five faceoffs of the second half as New Canaan turned an 8-4 halftime lead into a 12-4 advantage with four unanswered tallies. The speedy Mannelly also teamed with Hompe to lead New Canaan’s lethal transition attack, which had Wilton’s defense running backwards for most of the afternoon.
Hompe scored a number of her goals on long runs out of the defensive zone after forcing turnovers herself.
“We were a little nervous over the first five or six minutes,” Woods said. “But I think we settled down and played our best 50 minutes of lacrosse today.”
New Canaan’s fantastic movement and solid 1-on-1 play up front by players like Lily Citrin (one goal) and freshman Isabel Taben (two goals) is what enabled Hompe to have such a big day. The Rams cleared the runway and Hompe took off.
“It was really a good team effort on offense,” Hompe said. “It not about all of our attackers scoring. It’s really all about them cutting and moving that allows everyone else to put the ball in the net.”
New Canaan’s game plan to shut down Wilton’s top two players worked to perfection.
As senior Annie Horstmeyer and junior Abigail Sawabini held the other big gun of the Warriors, junior Tegan Helms, to just one goal — which didn’t come until 8:47 left in the second half when it was already 15-5.
Pearsall finished with four goals and one assist, but went 45 minutes of game time without scoring.
“Our defense is the strongest part of this team,” Hompe said. “They were the biggest factor today.”
Wilton decided to play strong team defense instead of face-guarding either Hompe with a single player. The Warriors started out with Sam Blicht guarding Mannelly, but decided to switch off into a zone defense.
“Our defense has worked really well as a team all year and we felt like we were getting away from that,” Adamicki said. “We went ahead and tried to force Olivia to her left hand as much as we could. But we were lacking some defensive chemistry and we were missing slides.”
New Canaan fell to the pressure of trying to construct a perfect season, losing to Darien in the FCIAC semifinals after winning 17 straight games. But the Rams managed to turn a negative into a state title, using the loss as motivation to win Class M.
“That was the best thing to happen to us,” Woods said. “That loss to New Canaan really got us refocused and got us back to basics.”
Once New Canaan got revenge against the Blue Wave in the quarterfinals, posting a 9-6 win at Dunning Field, the Rams knew they were destined to wear the gold medals on championship Saturday.
“I knew from the first day of practice that this was going to be a special season,” Hompe said. “You could tell by the group of girls we had. After we beat Darien in the quarters in states that it was up to us, and if we played our best we could beat anyone.”
McEwan added a goal on offense to go with her strong defense for the Rams, who finished with a 32-20 edge in shots.
Shannon Quinlan scored three times for Wilton, which won 16 of 28 faceoffs on the day. Katherine Vincent finished with one goal and one assist while goalie Vanessa Pagano made seven saves.
New Canaan goalie Liz O’Sullivan posted the victory with eight saves.