STONINGTON — Five years ago, the Stonington High girls lacrosse team used a loss in the finals of the ECC tournament as motivation for the CIAC Class S tournament.
The result was the Bears’ first and only state championship.
The Bears can duplicate that feat this season, and Saturday they get the chance when they take on top-seeded New Fairfield in the Class S finals at Jonathan Law High in Milford. The start time is set for 10 a.m.
In 2014, it was a dispiriting loss to Fitch that propelled Stonington to the state title game, a 13-10 Bears win over Granby. The loss to Fitch was their only blemish on a 21-1 season.
This year, the Bears lacked focus in the ECC finals and lost to Woodstock Academy, 11-9. But since, they’ve won three straight state tournament games and find themselves, like 2014, in the state final.
On both occasions, longtime Stonington coach Jeff Medeiros said, the losses served as a wake-up call.
"We didn't play our best, and we didn't like the way we felt not playing our best," he said.
"We didn't play well that day [against Woodstock] and we lost. It leveled us. It brought us down to earth. Now we just want to play our best and see what happens."
The third-seeded Bears (18-3) are the underdogs this time around. New Fairfield (21-1) is the two-time defending Class S champion and has three state titles on its résumé.
The Rebels tore through the regular season, losing only once in a nonleague matchup with Class L Staples.
They followed with three straight wins to claim the South West Conference title, beating Pomperaug 9-8 in the title game (Danielle Hernandez scored four goals; Nicole Berry, three). In the state tournament, they advanced comfortably until the semifinals, but got past No. 13 Weston, 9-6.
Defense is the Rebels' hallmark. Led by senior goalkeeper Rachel Mikolay, they've allowed more than seven goals in a game just twice. (Mikolay has made a verbal commitment to play Division I lacrosse at Elon University in North Carolina.)
"We're gonna do what we've done all year," Medeiros said. "Their defense isn't impenetrable. We're gonna figure out a way to score, and we have three girls that can. For us, it's ball possession. Keeping the ball out of their hands. It's about controlling the clock, controlling the game."
The three girls Medeiros referred to are seniors Kate Johnson, Hannah Lamb and Emma Sabbadini.
Johnson holds the program record for points in a season, which stands at 125 (82 goals, 43 assists). She is also an ace on draws, which allows to the Bears to play their ball-control game. Lamb established records for goals in a season and career (currently 93 and 229, respectively). And Sabbadini set the school mark for single-season assists (47) to go with 66 goals.
As Medeiros put it, "There's not a record that we have that they haven't broken."
The Bears will have to work to overcome the absences of Kathryn Logel (20 goals, 29 assists) and Megan Detwiler (15 goals, 5 assists), who are both out with concussions.
But don't count them out, Medeiros said. History just might repeat itself.
"New Fairfield isn't unbeatable. They can be beaten, and we're gonna figure out a way to do it," he said.
"If everybody does their thing, doesn't make mistakes and we keep the ball, we'll find a way to score. ... And if those three (Johnson, Lamb, Sabbadini) play their best game, I don't see how we can't win."