It was quite a season for the Notre Dame-Fairfield girls’ soccer team. The Lancers went 11-2-3 during the regular slate, made their first SWC championship game appearance and got all the way to the Class M state tournament semifinals.
That is all impressive enough but consider that an already small roster of 15 players necessitated by player transfers was ravaged by injuries throughout the campaign. Then, after the team’s second round state tourney win over Watertown (a 3-2 outcome) on November 14,
Head Coach Wayne Mones learned that he had just suffered a heart attack.
A goal by Toni Domingos with about three minutes left in regulation may have saved his life, Mones said. He felt some pain immediately after the game, perhaps because the adrenaline had worn off, he said, and drove to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.
“You don’t have a whole lot of time,” Mones acknowledges. “If she doesn’t score there we play two overtimes (10 minutes each) and if it goes to penalty kicks then it’s over a half hour,” Mones said. “Maybe I wouldn’t be around.”
Mones did not realize how series it was until he was seen by doctors and told he had a massive heart attack, the 67 year old said.
Mones missed his first game in 43 years of coaching at a variety of levels when the Lancers blanked Tolland 2-0 in the quarterfinals two days after his heart attack. Consider this, though, you could say the streak of games rolls on since Mones showed up at the end of it to congratulate his players.
Part of his message to the student-athletes was they that impressed him by coming out on top despite not only a thin bench but not having their coach on the sideline. Although not cleared by doctors to coach, Mones made his way to the soccer field once the potentially heart-pounding game action was in the books.
“I just wanted to get to my kids and tell them how proud I was of them,” he said. “We were all there for one another.”
His message to anybody who feels like something might be wrong is to do something about it — asap.
“I want people who when they start feeling something to go check it out,” Mones said.
A trip to the cardiologist on November 19 revealed there was no damage to his heart and Mones was given the green light to coach in the next round.
The seventh-seeded Lancers went on to fall 3-0 to No. 3 Plainfield in the semifinals on November 20, ending a year of perseverance and never quit attitude displayed by the Lancers – on and off the field.
The Lancers were without a full roster for much of the season. Two players, in fact, were carted off during the Tolland game, including Annie Deal who reaggravated an injury in the contest but later returned. She walked off the pitch with her arm in a sling but she and all of her Lancer teammates had smiles on their faces.
“It’s crazy just because we got so far with so little players,” Notre Dame goalkeeper Tia Pascarelli said.
“It started in the summer when two girls decided to transfer,” said Mones, who then rattled off the list of other personnel setbacks, including concussions and ankle sprains, that somehow hardly seemed to have an impact on this squad.
In the first half of the season, Notre Dame had just enough team members to field an 11-player lineup. There was one game when the Lancers played down a competitor, with just 10. With one or no substitutions on any given day, there was no time to rest but the Lancers managed to continue to pile up wins behind the goal-scoring prowess of Domingos, a junior who already has plans to continue her soccer career at Maryland after high school. Domingos netted 42 goals, including one against Tolland, during the course of the regular and postseason.
“We had practices with less than enough players,” Notre Dame Assistant Coach Joe Macri noted.
About halfway through the season, Mones plucked basketball player Yasmani McCollough from the school hallway to help bolster a roster in need of some help.
“She ended up being one of our best backs,” Mones said.
The Lancers limped through much of the season and were in about their best shape by the Tolland game, for which 12 players were available and played.
“This is what they’ve done all year. They’ve just persevered,” Mones said. “They did a great job considering they were that beat up. This year we did more with less.”
The program has been very competitive in both the SWC and state in the last several years, including earning state co-championships in 2015 and 2016.
The program turned around six years ago when Wayne took over,” Macri said.
So, what is the secret?
“It’s just about getting a group of kids together who really care and have passion and fight. They just have tremendous spirit,” Mones said.
That passion and fight was certainly on display throughout this campaign when the Lancers battled through all of those setbacks.
Notre Dame may have fallen short of its ultimate goal but this season. Playing shorthanded and, in some instances injured, finally caught up to the team in the state semis, Mones said. But it certainly can be deemed a successful campaign, especially considering the circumstances.
“It definitely feels like an accomplishment for all of us,” said Jazmine Fred, who scored in the win over Tolland, said of the Lancers reaching the state semis.
Players who contributed to the Lancers’ success this year, in addition to Pascarelli, Domingos, Fred, Deal and McCollough, include Christina Altamirano, Celine Lesperance, Danielle Yardis, Tassia Ferriera, Daniela Mazo, Brianna Seaborn, Danielle Gilling, Zoe Wood, Mackenzie Ledford, Taylor Gibbs, Laryssa Guimaraes, Zoe Gountas and Paige Fourtin.
Footage of the end of Notre Dame's win over Tolland: