Girls’ soccer: Grit, maturity and focus brings Concord a playoff win in penalty kicks

The Concord girls soccer team celebrates after beating Nashua North in a penalty-kick shootout at Memorial Field on Wednesday.

The Concord girls soccer team celebrates after beating Nashua North in a penalty-kick shootout at Memorial Field on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

The Concord girls soccer team celebrate after beating Nashua North in a shootout on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 at Memorial field.

The Concord girls soccer team celebrate after beating Nashua North in a shootout on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 at Memorial field. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord High goalie Kelley Mikelson makes a save in the tiebreaking penalty-kick shootout against Nashua North to help secure the Crimson Tide’s 2-1 victory in a Division I tournament opener on Wednesday. Mikelson had a pair of saves in the shootout, which Concord won 3-0 in three rounds.

Concord High goalie Kelley Mikelson makes a save in the tiebreaking penalty-kick shootout against Nashua North to help secure the Crimson Tide’s 2-1 victory in a Division I tournament opener on Wednesday. Mikelson had a pair of saves in the shootout, which Concord won 3-0 in three rounds. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff photogaphs

Concord forward Whitney Vaillant gets knocked down by Nashua North midfielder Sarah Frye during the first half of Wednesday’s D-I girls’ soccer tournament match at Memorial Field.

Concord forward Whitney Vaillant gets knocked down by Nashua North midfielder Sarah Frye during the first half of Wednesday’s D-I girls’ soccer tournament match at Memorial Field.

Concord defenseman Willa Marino battles for the ball with Nashua North midfielder Mary Pappas during the first half at Memorial field on Wednesday, October 25, 2023.

Concord defenseman Willa Marino battles for the ball with Nashua North midfielder Mary Pappas during the first half at Memorial field on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord forward Whitney Vaillant battles a pair of Nashua North players during the first half at Memorial field on Wednesday, October 25, 2023.

Concord forward Whitney Vaillant battles a pair of Nashua North players during the first half at Memorial field on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 10-26-2023 1:36 PM

CONCORD – The fans cheering on the sideline at Memorial Field on Wednesday looked as exhausted as the players. One hundred minutes of girls’ soccer. A 1-1 tie. A trip to the Division I quarterfinals on the line.

The teams gathered at midfield, preparing for penalty kicks.

Concord captain Whitney Vaillant calmly sunk the first shot into the back of the net. When Nashua North’s Allison Frye clanged her attempt off the crossbar, the Tide could start to taste the win.

Round two: The Tide’s Willa Marino scored; the Titans’ Lilly Baker-Ollivierra did not, thanks to a great save from Concord goalie Kelley Mikelson.

Round three: Concord’s Amanda Vezina scored; Nashua North’s Kaylee Moore did not. Once again, Mikelson came up with the save. The Tidewon PKs, 3-0, and the D-I preliminary round playoff game, 2-1.

Here are three takeaways from No. 6 Concord’s gritty playoff victory:

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Concord’s conditioning and mental strength make the difference: By the homestretch of the second half, No. 11 Nashua North’s players looked visibly gassed. Players put hands on their hips while some even bent over during any brief stoppages to catch their breath. Frequently turning the ball over and having to defend with the season on the line, Concord’s persistent pressure took its toll on the Titans (7-8-2).

Even though it didn’t necessarily lead to the game-winning goal for the Tide (13-3-1), it still prevented Nashua North from generating many opportunities.

“Just extremely, extremely proud and happy for these girls,” head coach Andrew Mattarazzo said after the win. “These girls have definitely put in the work and the effort and the time, and it’s showing right now. To show the grit, to show the maturity, is a huge thing in girls’ high school sports, and I think this team has it.”

Mikelson comes up huge in PKs: Playing goalie during penalty kicks is one of the more unenviable positions for a player to be in, but Mikelson stood on her head. After the first shot hit the crossbar, she correctly anticipated the direction of each of the next two shots, keeping the ball out of the net and helping her team secure the win.

“She’s a senior, somebody who has put in the work and put in the time and the effort with Coach Steph (Oberg) as a goalie, and it showed,” Mattarazzo said. “She wanted it for her team, and she did it for her team, and that was huge. ... Nothing more we could ask of her.”

Off to Bedford on Sunday: With a berth in the Division I semifinals in the balance, Concord will face No. 3 Bedford (14-2-1) on the road on Sunday. When these two teams matched up on Sept. 19, the Bulldogs eked out a 1-0 win.

As Mattarazzo explained a few weeks ago, that loss still gave his group confidence that it could compete with one of the best teams in the division.

Now, with the season on the line, they’ll need to find a way to dig down even further to come out with a win against a team that’s only lost twice all season.

Preparation keyed Concord’s win on Wednesday – the Tide had even been working on penalty kicks during practice in case they were needed in a playoff game. Mattarazzo’s keeping the same laser-like focus as the team pushes forward.

“Just be prepared,” he said was the message to his team heading into the quarterfinals. “We live on another three or four days. We get to have another three or four days together and enjoy it and take it all in. That’s what I told them here. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”