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Norwalk quest to repeat as LL soccer champ ends in 1-0 loss to Staples

For 78 minutes of its Class LL first round game with Norwalk High, the Staples boys soccer team was frustrated Tuesday by not being able to convert any of its many opportunities into goals.

It took an individual moment of brilliance with less than two minutes left to separate the two teams and lift Staples past the defending Class LL champion.

Joe Pravder's wonder strike from 30 yards out with 1:39 left in regulation gave the Wreckers a 1-0 win over Norwalk at Loeffler Field in Westport.

"I've been around long enough to know goals are not easy as they seem," Staples coach Dan Woog said. "When you are out there its really tough. We fought for everything, Norwalk fought for everything. It was a hard-fought game. I told (Norwalk coach Chris Laughton) that he didn't deserve to go out this early."

Pravder capitalized on a failed clearing attempt by the Bears, curling a shot into the top corner of the net. Norwalk goalie Tyler Dalton was helpless to do anything but watch the ball loop over his head and under the crossbar.

"You have to give the kid credit, it was a phenomenal goal," Laughton said. "You don't see shots like that too often."

After being held to one goal in their last three games -- all defeats -- the Wreckers finally cashed in after seeing so many chances fall by the wayside.

"We were rocked after losing three in a row," Woog said. "We were doubting ourselves; we hadn't scored a goal. The week off was (productive). We worked on some things."

Chances were few and far between Tuesday for the Bears, but Miguel Argueta came closest early in the second half. His shot from just inside the box was tipped over by Wreckers goalie Noah Schwaeber. Staples controlled the midfield for most of the game and kept Norwalk penned inside its own half for long stretches.

"Staples did a good job of minimizing our opportunities, so that's a credit to them," Laughton said. "We haven't been the most offensively potent team this year. I was hoping we would capitalize on the opportunities that we had."

Norwalk, which reached the semifinals in 2011 in addition to its 2012 crown, took a step back this season. Fielding just three seniors -- Sergio Mandujano, Jon Ceja and Brody O'Brien -- during a rebuilding year, the Bears gradually improved as the season went on.

"It was a rollercoaster season," Laughton said. "A lot of the guys came in with no varsity experience at all. We had a big turnover from last year. I'm just proud of the way they turned the season around. I'm proud of the way they fought and made sure it was a good season."

Norwalk rallied down the stretch, winning four of its last five games to make FCIACs. The stretch began with a 1-0 win over hometown rival McMahon and ended with a defeat to eventual champion Greenwich in the conference quarterfinals.

"It was a good experience," Laughton said. "We have 20 guys coming back (including talented midfielder Jose Canahui), and hopefully the experience in the FCIAC tournament and the state tournament makes us a better team for next year." Read Full Article 

Ryan Lacey

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