Centaurs pg 1 11-19-20

rise to the
top again
It’s a group of players that has experienced a large range of emotions over the past three years.
In 2018, the 12 seniors on this year’s Woodstock Academy boys’ soccer team basked in the glow of the school’s first ECC tournament title.
But the target on their back brought out the best in their opponents in 2019 and from the highest of highs, the Centaurs had to endure a season that ended with just one win.
Then came the pandemic. It would have been easy to wave the white flag and surrender.
The Centaurs chose to do the opposite.
“To have that high and then come back and have that low we experienced last year, to see them bounce back this year is just credit to a fantastic group of seniors this year,” said Woodstock Academy coach Paul Rearden. “It’s a group that I saw came in as freshmen. I saw them grow and develop and it was a privilege to see that. I’m proud of the boys.”
Nov. 14 the Centaurs finished the COVID-19 altered season with an 11-0 record and an ECC tournament experience Region III championship after a 3-0 win over Windham at the Bentley Athletic Complex.
“It’s pretty special going from one win to undefeated, that’s improvement right there,” Woodstock Academy senior Rich Hickson said with a laugh.
Rearden was concerned going into the final.
The Whippets had challenged the Centaurs just a week before in Willimantic when Woodstock Academy had to hang on for a 2-1 win.
The hard-fought victory came against a Windham team that had been on the sidelines for nearly a month.
Windham (5-2) still earned the third seed in the regional tournament and beat second-seeded Parish Hill, 1-0, Nov. 11 to advance to the title game against the top-seeded Centaurs.
Rearden played down the chance for the Centaurs to go undefeated last week, fearing it may affect the team’s mindset. As he told them the night before the match, it was great to win the first 10 games, but people only remember the last one.
His fears appeared well-founded early.
Woodstock Academy was dominant in the first half, taking eight shots on goal and had 11 corner kicks.
But the Centaurs could not get a ball past Windham keeper Jose Luis Candia.
“You generally feel that one will go in, but we learned some lessons from last year. We had plenty of games last year where we peppered the goal with good shots, but we didn’t take enough of them. That cost us last year so you can never feel comfortable to think you will eventually get (a goal),” said Rearden.
But something did work in the Centaurs favor in the scoreless first half. The pace of the match.
“The lack of games that Windham has had over the past month and then it had to play three in the last week, I thought it would come into play,” said Rearden.
Not only were the Whippets not allowed to play games, they also could not practice, which affected their fitness.
The fatigue became more of a factor for the Whippets when the Centaurs finally took the lead.
Eric Phongsa scored his 12th goal of the season 8 minutes, 53 seconds into the second half.
“I saw the cross come in (from Hickson) and I was just running as fast as I could. It got in front of me and it was the same angle that I scored from at Windham (where the Centaurs posted a 2-1 win earlier this season), I hit it with my left (foot) and it went in to the right,” Phongsa said.
Just four minutes later, Hickson found himself in the right place at the right time.
Huck Gelhaus sent the ball in from yet another corner (the Centaurs finished with 16) and it bounced harmlessly into the middle of a mass of players.
But the ball rolled out of the crowd and Hickson saw the lane open up.
His line drive found the lower left corner for his seventh goal of the season to give Woodstock Academy the 2-0 lead.
“I’m not going lie, I didn’t think it was going in,” Hickson said.
Rearden agreed, saying it “caught me off guard.”
Despite Windham getting only four shots in the game, Rearden didn’t think the 2-0 lead was insurmountable.
“I wouldn’t say it finished it, it did put them in a hole and the third one put it away,” Rearden said.
Junior Ty Morgan got that with just over two minutes left in regulation.  
The title game was played under cloudy skies, breezy and chilly conditions.
That was a far cry from the semifinal which featured temperatures in the mid-70s Nov. 10.
The Centaurs got out of the blocks a bit quicker and topped fifth-seeded Windham Tech, 5-0.
It was the bench which got the good times started.
Senior Marco Maluf came off the sideline and scored the first goal 22 minutes into the contest.
“The bench changed the game,” said Rearden. “That’s the beauty of it. The boys who are starting realize it’s a privilege to do so but they know there are guys on the bench. If the coaches feel the starters aren’t giving it their everything or are off their game a half-step, we can change it. That was a great advantage for us.”
Gelhaus scored his eighth goal of the season and Matt Marshall put a nice header off a ball played in by Gabe Geyer before the half to give the Centaurs a 3-0 lead at the break.
Andrew Johnson and Phongsa finished off the scoring for the Centaurs.
The two tournament wins and an undefeated season was a nice exclamation point for the Centaurs.
“It was nice end to the senior year. I was glad to be out there, playing with my teammates. I couldn’t ask for a better team, a better season. It was amazing,” Hickson said.
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy


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