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Honors pile up for Stonington field hockey team

STONINGTON — Stonington High’s field hockey team had a banner year — gaining its second state championship and earning postseason honors for the coach and seven players.

Tia LaFrance Boyce took top honors among the six seniors and one junior getting postseason awards.

LaFrance Boyce was voted by the state’s coaches to the Class S All-State first team. The top 17 vote-getters in each class (S, M, L) were designated first team, without regard to position. The next 17 made the second team.

LaFrance Boyce also was voted as one of three midfielders to the ECC All-Star first team by the coaches (an 11-player team of one goalie, one flex player, and three each midfielders, forwards and defenders). The next 11 ECC vote-getters earned honorable mention, without regard to position.

LaFrance Boyce played center midfield for the Bears. The senior scored two goals and was credited with five assists. Her contributions to the team extended far beyond scoring.

“Tia played in a high-profile spot for us,” Tucchio said. “She spreads from defense to offense. She controls the ball, played great defense for us and did a beautiful job distributing the ball.

“She has great skills and a very high game-IQ. If you watch closely, you can see Tia in control of what’s happening on the field.

“Tia tore her quadriceps pretty bad last year and got back to playing just in time for the state tournament. She worked hard for this year and won the center-mid spot right from the start. We knew she would be solid for us and she was — all season.”

Seniors Elizabeth Morrison and Meg O’Lari were voted to the Class S All-State second team. Morrison joined junior teammate Molly Crowley as forwards on the ECC All-Star first team.

O’Lari was voted ECC All-Star honorable mention, as were fellow seniors Emily Cassata and Sam Shroyer. Cassata also earned honors as a state scholar-athlete. Senior goalkeeper Annie Knizeski was awarded the sportsmanship award by the team’s coaches.

Jenna Tucchio was voted Class S coach of the year by her peers.

Morrison also made the Class S All-State second team last year, the only player in Tucchio’s 10 years to earn All-State honors as a junior. She again was an ECC All-Star first-teamer last year.

The center-forward ended her four years at Stonington in record-setting fashion. Morrison led the Bears this season in goals (24, with four hat-tricks) and assists (8). She now holds the school record for career goals (77) and career assists (32). She also holds the season goal-scoring record (28 in 2011) and remained tied with Hayden Riley and Randi Parrilla for most goals in a game (5 in 2011).

“Elizabeth has been scoring for us since she started as a freshman,” Tucchio said. “She flourished after that, breaking the school’s and then her own career scoring record. She has tremendous talent. She is so quick and her reflexes are amazing. She scores a lot on rebounds. Anything off the goalie’s pads, she’ll put into the cage.”

O’Lari is the third member of the “center core” of the team. Where Morrison centers the attack and LaFrance-Boyce centers the midfield, O’Lari is the center-back, anchoring the Bear defense.

O’Lari scored three goals and recorded one assist. The co-captain’s major strength was defense.

“Meg is our defensive stalwart,” Tucchio said. “She is one tough competitor and extremely consistent.

“Meg is kind of the glue that plays in the middle. She has great speed and tremendous skills. She was a constant force and played a great role (with goalie Knizeski) in us getting so many shutouts (14 in 20 games, including only one goal in four playoff games).”

Crowley was a force on offense, playing left wing and manning the left-post position when shooting on goal. The junior scored a career high 22 goals this season, second only to Morrison’s 24. She is second to Morrison in career goals (57) and has one more year to go.

Crowley averaged precisely one goal per game during the regular season (16 in 16 games).

She continued that pace in three of the playoff games and exploded with a hat-trick in the 4-0 semifinals. She scored six of the Bears’ nine playoff goals. Her goal in the finals was the only one of the game to win the state championship.

“There is no better one-two punch than Libby and Molly,” Tucchio said. “They had 46 between them this season.

“Molly has very soft hands but clings hard to the stick. She is very skilled and has great ball control.

“She has keen eyes for the net. She has great vision. She sees the whole cage and knows exactly where the ball is.”

Shroyer played right-midfield and also won ECC All-Star honorable mention last year. She played a special role as inserter on penalty corners. Shroyer scored one goal and was credited with four assists this year.

Cassata was a defender for the Bears and was not involved in scoring. It was her combination of play on the field and excellence in the classroom that earned her the team’s nomination and the state’s designation of state scholar-athlete.

The state criteria include milestones in academics (top 10 percent of the class, high GPA and standardized test scores and no Ds or Fs) and minimum performance athletically (varsity-level play, no red cards, etc.). Each school gets to name one senior player that meets those state criteria.

This year’s team finished 18-2, 13-1 ECC — the most wins ever, overall and in the conference in the program’s 39-year history.

The Bears have now won two state championships (the first in 1987) and won or shared 27 of the last 29 ECC titles. Stonington reached the state finals last year, losing 2-0 to Haddam-Killingworth, but reversed that with a 2-1 win over H-K in the quarterfinals this year.

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