STONINGTON — For the past 35 years, Stonington High's field hockey program has been a dominant force in this neck of the woods.
Each of those seasons the Bears have won or contended for an ECC championship. That will not happen this year because the coronavirus pandemic has created an alternate universe for high school sports.
Instead, the Bears are playing their fellow ECC teams in a tournament that has been dubbed a "postseason regional tournament experience" by the league.
Either way, the Bears are still as dominant as ever, standing at 12-1 after a 5-0 win against Waterford in the regional semifinals Tuesday night at Palmer Field. It was the fifth time the two teams played this season.
Stonington will host East Lyme in the regional finals on Thursday at 5 p.m. It will be the final game of the season.
The Bears finished with 30 shots and 16 penalty corners against Waterford (0-10). The Lancers finished with neither a shot nor a penalty corner.
Better than 65 percent of the game was played in the scoring circle in front of the Waterford goal. And if not for some fine saves by Lancers goalie Ilyanna Rivera, the score would have been much more lopsided.
"I liked that we changed the angle of attack over and over," Stonington head coach Jenna Tucchio said. "Everything that came onto our sticks we controlled. We put great pressure on their goalie."
Ellie Korinek scored a goal and finished with two assists for the Bears. Korinek, a second-team Class S All-State selection last season, has 15 goals and eight assists this year.
The senior attributed the Bears' continuing success to a number of factors.
"We are lucky to have coach Tucchio and coach [Lauren] McGugan with us," Korinek said. "We come to the field every day and they are ready to work with us. They are ready to see what we can do better, where we can improve."
Sandy McGugan, who assisted on one of Korinek's goals, controls the attack in the midfield, continually playing balls into the circle or to the wings. Her mother, Lauren, was a former head coach with the Bears and a standout performer in the 1980s for the program.
"I think coach Jenna instills the mentality in all of us that every day you get better," Sandy McGugan said. "It's just take it day by day and do one thing better every day. I think that mentality pays off and that helps us grow and improve."
Olivia Monte scored twice for the Bears. Hannah Nulick and Emma Spathakis added a goal each, and Teagan O'Brien and Maddie Mendez had assists.
Stonington led 3-0 at the half.
Tucchio said the success of the program builds on itself.
"I think there is something to be said for the attitude that, 'If I play for Stonington, at some point in my career I'm pretty much guaranteed to be playing for something,'" Tucchio said. "The kids this sport attracts — they are smart and they are hard workers. I've been very lucky."
Stonington has played in the Class S semifinals three of the past four seasons. It's hard to say how this team would have fared in the state tournament, but it's a question that will never be answered due to the tournament's cancellation.
"As a senior it's really disappointing," Korinek said. "I've been looking forward to a state championship really since last year, because I knew we would have a strong team. But we are just grateful for every game we've had this season. We are so lucky to have had a full season considering the circumstances."