NORWALK, Conn. – Chris Laughton has been part of the Norwalk soccer landscape since he was a kid, playing in youth programs, earning all-league honors and now coaching the Norwalk High team.
He has never been as proud of his association with Norwalk as he was on Friday, when the Bears beat Fairfield Prep, 2-0, to win their first state title since 1966.
“I couldn’t be happier,’’ Laughton said after the top-seeded Bears (21-1-1) used goals by Andrew Melitsanopoulos and Nacho Navarro to defeat the third-seeded Jesuits (20-3-1) at New Canaan High School. “It means a lot to me, considering my background. Now every time we that state championship trophy, we’ll know we were a part of it. It’s a great feeling.”
Melitsanopoulos scored the game-winner with 9:17 left in the first half on a penalty kick. Santiago Muriel created the opportunity when he broke in alone on the Prep defense and was hauled down.
Melitsanopoulos drilled his penalty shot into the left corner, as Prep goalie Will Steiner could not get a hand on it.
“Steiner is ridiculous on penalty kicks,’’ Melitsanopoulos said. “I was confident in the way I was taking them. I figured I’d go to my usual spot and it worked.”
Prep, which outlasted Greenwich in penalty kicks in the semifinals, stepped up its pressure in the second half. The Jesuits had several quality chances, including a golden opportunity by Austin Sims with about 10 minutes to go.
The Norwalk defense held firm, and Navarro gave the Bears breathing room with a goal with 2:32 remaining. Kevin Joslyn set up the goal with a nifty move around a defender before slipping a pass to Navarro, who drilled the ball into a wide open net.
“Our defense has done a great job all year,’’ Laughton said. “I have a lot of confidence in our back four and our goalkeeper. I wasn’t too concerned. But that second goal really lightened the mood a little bit.”
It was fitting Norwalk that Melitsanopoulos, Navarro and Joslyn figured in the goal scoring for the Bears. They were all multi-year starters, part of a 13-member senior class that had been denied titles in the past. The Bears were knocked out in the league playoffs in the first two rounds the past two years, lost in the state semifinals last year and in the second round two years ago.
This year, they are the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference co-champions and state champions. They were the best team in the state from September through November, and now, they have the hardware to show for it.
“I’m especially happy for the seniors,’’ Laughton said. “These guys have been there, they were putting in the work when no one else was. It’s nice to see the fruits of their labor pay off. I’m really proud of them.”