WILMINGTON – Over the last decade especially – although it happened frequently before then – the Wilmington High School girls soccer team has usually had a league championship type team (8-of-10 years in the Middlesex League), have had their share of prolific scorers, strong midfielders, defenders and goalies which helped the ‘Cats previously win nine state tournament games dating back to 2011.
And usually through those more successful years, the team has been fortunate to have strong outside defensive backs who can not only shut down the opponents strikers, but are also extremely offensive minded as well, constantly bringing up the ball from the left and right sidelines.
There's been a pretty good cast of these defenders over the years — all with similar traits — fast, extremely tough and durable, good on their feet and with their feet. Certainly Aly Colantuoni is right there in that mix.
The senior captain has been one of the four outstanding defensive backs on the Wildcats team this season, joining Audrey Curdo, Samantha Papastathis and Kaitlyn Maguire.
Colantuoni has vastly improved not only from last year to this year, but from the start of this season to Monday night, where she helped the Wildcats prevail 7-1 over Salem in the first round of the Division 2 North Sectional Tournament.
With the game tied 1-1, just a minute after Salem scored, Colantuoni used her offensive skills and took the ball up the left sideline, shifting past several defenders before putting a low shot to the far right corner for the game winning tally.
"It was a big goal at the time. It was right after (Salem) had tied the game (at 1-1). She has the capacity to do that and we need her to do that," said head coach Sue Hendee.
A lot of teams — not all — use this strategy with outside backs generating offense. Back in the early 2000s, the Boston Breakers did it with Angela Hucles. Hendee has done it for years and it's just a matter of finding the right two outside backs to first defend, then second, quickly shift into offensive mode.
"Aly does it really well and she is one of the highest scoring defenders I think I have ever had," said Hendee. "She has four goals and three assists or something like that and that's outstanding for a defensive back. She can also run all day, she can make that run, turn around and get back. She's a tough defender, too."
After her goal made it 2-1, Wilmington started to dominate but had nothing to show for it — countless number of chances were missed, including two shots rolling right through the center of the six yard box, but no one was there to tap it in.
"Heading into this game we were all really confident and maybe that wasn't the best thing to do because we got a little too cocky," said Colantuoni. "We scored two goals early and after that it seemed like we all thought that we could keep going and score on our own, which clearly didn't work. In the second half, we realized that we had to keep working together and we just kept connecting, especially in the last ten minutes of the game."
Colantuoni was asked about her role — playing offense and defense, and adjusting to it.
"People like to say that I have speed so when I get the ball and I'm in the zone, I just try to run as fast as I can with the ball, keep the ball on my feet and just try to run by people, I guess," she said, "But I love it, love it and that's why I like playing outside back.
“I love defending because it's just natural for me, but being able to take the ball up the field and defend at the same time, that's just something I love to do."
The dual roles is certainly not easy. The stamina, the toughness, the physical aspect of the game and the mental toughness is all extremely difficult to go through for 80 minutes. On top of that, you need to know when to go, when not to, when to trick to maneuver past defenders, when not to, when to pass, when to shoot and when to leave the offense on the side and get back on defense.
"Before high school, (the soccer teams I played on) were not as organized and I mostly played forward and defense so I guess playing both of those positions I was used to taking the ball up the field and coming back to play defense so that helped me to where I am now," she said.
This season, the Wildcats are 13-5-1 after the 7-1 win over Salem. On the season, the Wildcats have given up just 18 goals, four each against Winchester and Salem, while posting eight shut outs.
"This season has been awesome for the defense," said Colantuoni. "We just have been so solid back there — it's everyone, one hundred percent, it's been everyone back there. Honestly, I'm not surprised with how anyone has played. I knew that we had so much potential last year.
“Audrey was a freshman and now she is a sophomore. She did play next to me last year but she just has really stepped it up this year. She is strong. And Sam is next to Audrey and she is just like a brick wall, then there's Kaitlyn and she takes the ball up the field, too. It's awesome (playing with them)."
After losing to Winchester 4-1 back in early September, the two teams will match up again this Thursday in the quarterfinals.
"We are a little nervous because of the last game, but we took film and we watched it so we know what we need to work on," she said. "I think if we remain confident, that we can beat them. If we just play our game and not panic, I think we can beat them."