Ludlowe girls defeat Warde booters, Mengel scores goal

The Fairfield Ludlowe girls soccer team knew it had a solid game plan heading into its annual showdown with town-rival Fairfield Warde.
But all the strategy in the world would have meant nothing against the unbeaten Mustangs without the proper execution.
The Falcons weren’t perfect in that respect, but they certainly came close, getting fantastic first-half goaltending by junior Caroline Serniak, a strong defensive effort in the center of the field, and one amazing second-half goal by sophomore Clare Mengel to post a stunning 1-0 victory over the favored Mustangs on Oct 9, in front of a large crowd at Tetreau-Davis Field.
In less than two hours, Ludlowe went from having tempered expectations to full-blown celebration.
“We came out to win but we also just wanted to have fun,” said Mengel, who scored the only goal in the ninth minute of the second half. “We knew beating Warde would have been a huge deal in this town.”
Fairfield Warde (8-1-1) looked like it might have an easy time of it in the first half, dominating possession while holding a 15-1 advantage in shots.
Ludlowe (4-5-2) didn’t even get control of the ball on Warde’s side of the field until the 13th minute, collecting its first shot a few minutes later.
Serniak didn’t make any highlight-reel saves with Ludlowe’s defense limiting Warde’s quality scoring opportunities. But Serniak’s positioning was brilliant and she was there to make every stop, finishing with six of her 10 saves over the first 40 minutes.
“Serniak came up big for them. She had a great game for them,” said Fairfield Warde head coach Tom Cunningham, who was gracious in defeat. “We took quality shots, but we talked at halftime about getting our heads up and finding corners because Serniak seemed to be everywhere we were shooting them.”
Ludlowe’s defense, led by senior captain Annie McNamara on the back line and junior Kalee Brannen at midfield, clogged things up in the middle third of the field in an attempt to slow down Warde’s flow entering the attacking zone.
The plan seemed to work more and more as the game went on. As things began getting physical, the pressure began to build on the faces of the Mustangs.
The Falcons held Warde to just six shots in the second half, and despite getting off just three shots of their own in the game, Ludlowe knew the longer it hung around in a scoreless game, the better its chance to steal one.
That’s exactly what Ludlowe did when Mengel picked up a 50/50 ball at midfield and beat Warde goalkeeper Mollie Kerrigan with an amazing shot under the crossbar from 30 yards out to put the Falcons up 1-0 with 21:37 left.
“We knew it was going to be a tremendous challenge, and (Warde) pressed us. They pressed us for a long time,” Ludlowe head coach Kate Dawson said. “But the girls showed great resiliency. They knew if they could through it and settle their nerves that they could counter-attack.”
Ludlowe junior Morgan Quinn pushed the ball into the center of the field, which was fairly wide open with Warde already in full attack mode.
Mengel beat two Warde defenders to the ball, skipped past them to the right into the center of the field, then quickly launched a shot that seemed destined to sail over the top of the crossbar.
But one of the Warde defenders got her foot on the ball as Mengel let it go, causing some serious action like a top-spin lob in tennis. The ball curled over Kerrigan’s head and somehow, under the bar into the net.
“Originally when I hit it I thought it was going straight out,” Mengel said. “But when it hit the player, it went up and over. I thought it was going in at that point. I think it caught the goalie off guard.”
Ludlowe is now 2-0-1 against Warde over its last three meetings. The Falcons also defeated Warde 1-0 last season. After a 1-4-2 start to the season, the Falcons are now 3-1 over its last three games. They’re now well within range of qualifying for the state tournament and still within ear-shot of the FCIAC playoffs.
A win like this could be a huge springboard. “Hopefully this will help us turn the corner,” Dawson said. “This is a big win for us. The girls deserve it. They’re worked hard all season. They earned it today.”
Warde had six corner kicks in the first half, including three consecutive with 13 minutes left. But Ludlowe’s defense deflected the first two attempts and Serniak made a save on a header to end the threat.
“Caroline made some big saves at big moments for us under a lot of pressure,” Dawson said. “She’s an accomplished goalkeeper, and she proved it tonight.”
The result was frustrating and disappointing for Warde, which opened the season with seven straight shutouts. The Mustangs have suddenly hit a little speed bump, going 1-1-1 over its last three games. But Warde, which entered the game slotted fourth in the Class LL state rankings, are still in position to make this a memorable season.
“We’re at 8-1-1 right now. Looking at the standings, we’re still up top,” Cunningham said. “Going forward we still have everything in our hands because we still have to play the teams above us. We still have to play Ridgefield and St. Joe’s. I told the girls, keep your heads up. It’s one game in the season. We know it’s a rivalry game, but it’s worth three points.”

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