By Dan Guttenplan
---- — LYNN — Throughout its season-long march to perfection, the Newburyport girls soccer team has left no doubt that a Division 3 state championship is the only goal this season.
The Clippers (20-0-2) are now one win away from achieving that feat after posting a 3-0 victory over Division 3 South champion Cardinal Spellman (18-2-2) last night at Manning Field in Lynn. The Clippers have a chance to become the first undefeated team in school history Saturday (3 p.m.) when they meet Division 3 West champion Granby at Foley Stadium in Worcester.
“Since Day 1 in preseason, we’ve been working all season for one goal,” said Newburyport captain and Division 3 Player of the Year Aly Leahy. “That was to go undefeated and win a state championship. We have one game left.”
The Clippers posted their 13th shutout in a row, a stretch that dates back to Oct. 7. Sophomore Abbie Bresnahan, whose sister Taylor won state championships with Newburyport in 2007 and 2008, was the catalyst for last night’s victory. The center midfielder had a plan to pressure the Cardinal Spellman defense in hopes of generating goals or penalty kicks. She earned a penalty kick in the 39th minute and scored a goal in the 58th minute.
Newburyport got on the board in the 39th minute, when Cardinal Spellman defender Siobhan O’Connell pushed Bresnahan off the ball inside the box. Carly Brand scored her 15th goal in the last 12 games on the penalty kick, giving the Clippers a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.
“Our goal was to attack the box,” Newburyport co-coach Robb Gonnam said. “We went to see them (in the Division 3 South final) Saturday night, and we felt that might be their only weakness. The goal was to get the ball to Abbie and have her attack. That’s exactly what she did.”
Newburyport took a 1-0 lead into halftime, but felt it had been outplayed on a 30-degree windy night. The Clippers regrouped and dominated play for much of the second half. They earned another penalty kick in the 53rd minute when Cardinal Spellman defender Lisa Evans was called for a handball in the box.
Leahy, typically the last line of defense in front of goalkeeper Lilly Donovan, stepped up and buried the penalty kick to give the Clippers a 2-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Newburyport had another scoring chance when Carly Brand made a run toward the right sideline before sending a crossing pass in front of the net. Maryam Moshrefi nearly buried the shot, but instead, settled the pass, and found Bresnahan 20 yards out from the net. Bresnahan finessed the ball to the top right corner of goal for the game’s final score.
“I wanted to take the ball and attack the box, either to get a foul or get a goal,” Bresnahan said. “I got a foul once and got a goal the next time. It ended up being successful.”
The Clippers thrived in penalty-kick situations last night just two days after they beat Lynnfield in a shootout after 100 minutes of scoreless soccer. Gonnam breathed a sigh of relief after Bresnahan’s third goal, which was the first non-penalty kick goal for the Clippers in nearly 150 minutes of play.
“I was glad to see the regular goal instead of just the penalty kicks,” Gonnam said. “Their goalkeeper (Julia Schneider) was really good. We saw her make some magnificent diving saves on Saturday. She made another one against Abbie (last night).”
The Clippers will return to the Division 3 state championship game for the first time since 2008, when they finished off back-to-back championship seasons with a team that included Jillian Kinter, Laura Muise and Taylor Bresnahan. Leahy, who was a seventh-grader at the time, served as a ball girl for that team.
“We watched them, and we wanted to be like them,” Leahy said. “Now we’re finally here.”
Abbie Bresnahan believes this year’s team has a chance to be viewed as the best of all the state champions. The 2007 team suffered one regular-season loss; the 2008 team two.
“It feels good because I always lived under my sister,” Bresnahan said. “I’ve always wanted to get up to her level. Now, we have a chance to exceed her team by going undefeated for the whole season and winning the state championship.”
Season in review
Date Opponent Result
Sept. 4 North Reading W, 2-0
Sept. 9 HAMILTON-WENHAM W, 3-0
Sept. 11 Saugus W, 7-1
Sept. 17 MASCONOMET T, 1-1
Sept. 19 Triton W, 2-0
Sept. 21 PENTUCKET W, 5-1
Sept. 25 IPSWICH W, 4-0
Sept. 28 Manchester Essex W, 3-1
Oct. 1 GEORGETOWN W, 2-1
Oct. 3 Rockport W, 2-0
Oct. 7 Amesbury W, 6-2
Oct. 12 LYNNFIELD W, 1-0
Oct. 14 NORTH READING W, 3-0
Oct. 16 Hamilton-Wenham W, 1-0
Oct. 18 SAUGUS W, 10-0
Oct. 21 Masconomet T, 0-0
Oct. 23 Pentucket W, 7-0
Oct. 25 TRITON W, 2-0
* Nov. 4 IPSWICH W, 2-0
** Nov. 6 Hamilton-Wenham W, 3-0
*** Nov. 10 Lynnfield W, 1-0
**** Nov. 12 Cardinal-Spellman W, 3-0
***** Nov. 16 Granby TBD
Home games in CAPS
* Eastern Mass. Division 3 North quarterfinal
** Eastern Mass. Division 3 North semifinal
*** Eastern Mass. Division 3 North final
**** Division 3 state semifinal
***** Division 3 final