BURRILLVILLE – A few hours after Burrillville High head coach Amy Cardone awoke Monday morning, she received a text from netminder Catherine Keable, who played a pivotal role in the Broncos clinching their first state championship in 20 years, not to mention only the second in school history.
About 18 hours earlier, Cardone's crew assembled a masterful, four-goal performance over the final 40 minutes to shock top-seeded and previously-undefeated Lincoln in the R.I. Division II title tilt at Rhode Island College, but Keable's message both worried but didn't surprise her mentor.
“She said she had, during the second half, dislocated her jaw while making a save,” Cardone explained. “I saw her after the game and she had a fat lip; she told me her jaw hurt. During the last 20 minutes of the second half, I saw her keep rubbing her cheek, but I didn't think anything of it because she kept making saves, really good saves.
“After we accepted our plaque and medals, Catherine could talk, though I could tell she was in a lot of pain,” she added. “I figured she felt so happy about winning, she wasn't concentrating on her jaw … Her mom told me she was going to bring her to the emergency room right after they left RIC, but Catherine told her, 'No way, mom. I'm goin' on the team bus. I want to be with my teammates.”
That attitude was standard for this close, hard-nosed Burrillville contingent, which always cared more about playing and succeeding than succumbing to mere injuries or pain.
Part of it had to do with the fact no one wanted to let her “sisters” down.
When asked why her Broncos had managed to capture the crown and manufacture a final overall record of 13-4-1, Cardone immediately answered, “The chemisty. This is my fifth year coaching these girls, and – every year – I've had a great team, but this one, I don't know. There's just something about it.
“They all got along right from the start,” she continued. “They considered themselves a family, it was a sisterhood. There was never any in-fighting. They went through the same things at practice and during games – the same passing, dribbling and conditioning drills; shooting on our goalkeepers to prepare them. It didn't matter if a girl was a JV player who didn't see a minute of action to someone who played every minute of varsity to the co-captains. They always treated each other the same.
“You could never tell who was that JV player or varsity starter because they had so much respect for each other. They're all such good friends, and they encouraged each other, wanted to see every individual improve. The team bonding was off the charts, the fact they all treated each other equally. They were all on the same page, and I thought that made a huge difference.”
Burrillville had last won a state crown in 1993, that coming at Division III; the year before, the Broncos qualified for but lost in the D-III final.
They also had attended a pair of D-II championship matches in 1996-97, but dropped both of those in disappointing overtime sessions. The same thing happened in 2009, Cardone's first year, when it lost to Tiverton, 5-2.
Without question, this group made up for some previous alumnae's heartache, and did so in impressive fashion.
During the course of the regular season, they finished with a 10-3-1 league mark and 10-4-1 overall, that “other” defeat coming at non-league foe Smithfield on Sept. 28.
Ironically, and incredibly, Burrillville mustered only a 5-3-0 record at its Thomas Gledhill Field home, but went 8-1-1 on the road.
“I remember that loss to Smithfield; that's my son Jesse's birthday,” Cardone giggled. “It was a good and bad day.”
All told, the Broncos recorded 63 goals this season while allowing just 18 (including the three playoffs wins in which they outscored their foes, 13-2), and posted six shutouts in all.
Senior co-captain Taylor Ross led the squad with 59 points (22 goals, 15 assists), while junior phenom Katie Antoniello took second with 44 (18 tallies, eight assists). Fellow senior co-captain Victoria “Tori” Libby placed third with seven goals and seven feeds.
“Those can be misleading for Tori,” Cardone mentioned. “Even though those numbers aren't super high, they don't indicate her contribution to the offense. She would draw the (opponent's) top defender, and that would leave our other forwards open.”
As for Keable between the pipes, she closed with 84 saves.
“That's a good amount, but it's not really high,” Cardone noted. “That's because our defense played so well in front of her the majority of the time. If you look at her overall percentage of shots against saves, it would be way up there. She made a lot of outstanding saves.”
At least four of her total of 11 came against the Lions on Sunday, with at least two in dramatic fashion as she leaped to knock high liners over the crossbar.
Among the defenders in whom she raved: Junior Sydney Blais (who played extremely well against the Lions); freshman Caitlin Libby (Tori's kid sister); and sophomore Mikaela Messier; and junior Samantha Liberty.
“That chemistry I talked about, that's due to my co-captains, Tori and Taylor,” she stated. “They're everything you want captains to be. They motivated and encouraged everyone; they'd be the first onces to practice and the last ones to leave, and they led by example.
“I can say the same thing about my other two seniors, Rachel DeRotto and Chelsea Almeida, who always taught and encouraged the underclassmen. If someone didn't get what we were trying to do, they would explain it to them. I honestly couldn't have asked for a better, finer group of seniors.”
Burrillville had trailed Lincoln, 1-0 at intermission, and Cardone pulled her troops together and delivered the same halftime speech she had when her club fell behind Pilgrim in Friday's semifinal at Cranston Stadium by the same score.
“I just told them they needed to have fun, and – if they did that – the rest would come,” she said.
Boy, was she right. Libby tied it with a 20-yard screamer on a pass from Ross only 6:40 into the stanza, and – less than nine minutes later – Antoniello notched what proved to be the clincher on a pretty 22-yard curler from just outside the left corner of the penalty box.
With 20:44 left in regulation, Antoniello drilled home a shot for the ages. Stationed deep into the left corner of the offensive zone, she ripped a line drive that somehow found the upper right corner of the netting, and that gave the Broncos a 3-1 cushion.
Lincoln defenders and freshman goalie Jianna Iaciofano seemed stunned that she could've succeeded with that ridiculously-tough angle.
“We know she has a strong leg, so we tell all the time, 'Go ahead and take that shot. We know you can make it!'” Cardone laughed. “I will say that she picked a good time to nail it … We had told the girls at halftime that we needed to win more 50-50 balls and make sharper passes. We wanted them to have more fun out there, especially since I didn't see them having much in the first half, but also not to force something to happen.
“I asked them to make smarter and tighter passes, and be more deliberate in moving the ball downfield, finding the open girl,” she added. “By doing that, it helped us to spread out more and give Lincoln more ground to cover. Those things forced us to play a more wide-open game, and it created more openings in their defense.
“Before the game, I didn't bring up anything about Lincoln being unbeaten. We had lost to them, 2-1, earlier in the season, and I told them that wasn't our best game, far from it. We just didn't play very well.
“One of our assistants, Eileen Liberty, filmed that game, so at one of our practices we went back and watched it. We pointed out the mistakes we made, and then told the kids how they could fix them. That helped a lot. I don't want to take anything away from Lincoln, that's an outstanding team, but we didn't play up to our capabilities. We knew the mistakes we had to correct, and we did that in the second half.”
There was one other key ingredient to the upset: The Broncos' grit. Frankly, they didn't take kindly to losing. Cardone admitted that her club would start slow on some occasions, but once someone had scored, the floodgates would open. The same thing occurred on Sunday.
With exactly 7:31 left in the contest, which had been battled under gray skies with some drizzle, the sun peaked through the clouds as it set in the west, and that made it hard for both squads to see play in that half of the field.
“I saw that,” Cardone chuckled. “I thought that was appropriate, shining light on us. I was looking for a rainbow; that would've put the icing on the cake.”
As for Keable's text to her coach Monday morning, Cardone read how her keeper explained it: “She said she had dislocated her jaw, but that it was all worth it. She typed, 'Because we're the champs!”
Now that's grit.