PEPPERELL -- The Nashoba Valley Youth Soccer League U12 Tournament wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Varnum Brook Elementary School Field in Pepperell. The Pepperell A team (6-1-1) advanced to the finals against Ayer-Shirley, after defeating Boylston in the semifinals at Littleton Saturday, 3-1.
Striker Catherine Nkwantah, hammered home two goals as Pepperell defeated Ayer-Shirley in the Nashoba Valley Cup Finals, 2-1. Pepperell head coach Timothy Doyle said that solid chemistry is what helped push his team to victory,
"They care more about each other than winning this game," said Doyle. "They were such a great team all season long. They are just so much fun to coach. They are really a great group of girls. "
Pepperell went 3-0-1 in round-robin tournament pool play this weekend to reach the finals match with Ayer-Shirley. Pepperell dictated the tempo early and often in Sunday's match.
The Pepperell wings continued to find Nkwantah, who took half of the team's 12 shots during the game. Nkwantah's first goal came midway through the first half as she displayed great persistence as the Ayer-Shirley defense smothered her with the double team. Not even the sweltering heat could slow down Nkwantah.
Nkwantah dribbled the ball hard into the attacking third, cut across the 18-yard box and buried the ball near post to make it 1-0 Pepperell at 17 minutes of the first half. Ten minutes later, Nkwantah let a shot fly from atop the 18-yard line, and it rattled the cross bar.
Nkwantah gathered the rebound and placed the ball inside the low left pocket of the net to give Pepperell a 2-0 lead heading into half-time.
"Catherine Nkwantah literally scored every goal for us in the tournament," the coach said. "We scored 10 goals in the tournament; she (Nkwantah) was great."
Rhyschel Perez scored 10 minutes into the second half for Ayer-Shirley. Perez punched the ball into the goal-box and curled it past the Pepperell keeper, to bring her team within a goal. That would be the final goal of the afternoon for both sides, as the Pepperell defense held strong.
"Caroline Cournoyer and Kaelah Marr were fantastic at defense," said Doyle. "Our goalies, Gabriella Doyle and Ciara Murphy, were fantastic today as well. Our defense was so strong; I don't think we gave up more than two or three shots. We usually out-shoot every team 12-2. They (Ayer-Shirley) were a great team we played against."
When Doyle and his staff arrived at the fields on Sunday, they asked the team who they wanted to lead them into the championship game. "The team chose Morgan (Nesbit) as the captain because of how well she played yesterday," said Doyle. "That was the epitome of these guys that they chose Morgan. She was just outstanding all weekend long."
When the Valley Champion, Pepperell A team, received its gold medals and hoisted the trophy, coach Doyle was met with a small celebratory water cooler shower, but that was alright, because the girls deserved it. "I feel so proud of those girls in how well they played," said Doyle. "I am just so happy for them."
Ayer-Shirley head coach Dan O'Neil was impressed with his team's effort, despite coming up short.
"The team played their hearts out over the past two days," said O'Neil. "They (Ayer-Shirley) were seeded seventh of eight and rose to the occasion. We are winners in my mind to have made it to the finals. Their opponent today had bench depth and rested fresh players. Our 10 girls did the best they could versus 15. I am proud of all of them for this season's achievements. I am looking forward to working with them again next season at U14."
Members of the Pepperell U12 Nashoba Valley Cup championship team are Marr, Caroline Cournoyer, Ciara Murphy, Gabriella Doyle, Morgan Nesbit, Catherine Nkwantah, Martina Nkwantah, Sara Murphy, Caitlin Ludford, Kendra Faxon, Sophia Couto and Joanna Chase. Coach Doyle was assisted by Jeffrey Cournoyer and Robert Chase.
Follow Ed on Twitter/@EdNiser.