Published November 17. 2013 4:00AM Updated November 17. 2013 4:47AM
Wethersfield — Stonington High School was preparing for a team photo after Saturday morning's CIAC Class S field hockey final when someone reminded everyone to hold up their index fingers.
Finally, the Bears were able to say they were No. 1 again.
Stonington made Molly Crowley's second-half goal stand up and beat Granby, 1-0, ending a 26-year stretch in which a state championship kept eluding their grasp.
"Finally ... and I couldn't be more proud of this team," senior Emily Cassata said. "I wouldn't want to represent any other school but Stonington, honestly."
It was the second state championship for the No. 3 Bears (18-2), who won their first in 1987.
"I was just a little freshman on the sidelines watching," Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio said. "It's a long time ago. I do remember it. I remember it, and I actually have it on video, so I probably remember more of it because I've watched the video ... the VHS ... over and over throughout the years. (Former coach) Janis (Ingham) gave me the video.
"This is better because I get to experience it with a really great group of girls. It's very personal. It's very personal. I was part of it as a spectator as a freshman, but now I get to be a part of it. … I thought it was really cool, but I didn't know (what it felt like). But now I know.
"Actually, I don't even know yet. It hasn't hit me."
Stonington has been the queen of Eastern Connecticut Conference field hockey for over two decades and ruled with an iron fist. The Bears have won 22 of the last 23 ECC titles.
The state tournament, however, had become a rerun of "just missed" and "couldas." They'd blitz the locals, only to lose in the state quarterfinals (to Haddam-Killingworth in 2009 and 2010). Or the state semifinals (to Granby in 2008). Or last year's Class S final (2-0 to H-K).
"It's definitely been a journey," Cassata said. "Every year we say this is the year, this is the year. Last year we came so close, and to lose to H-K, it was such a battle, but we fought hard, and it was a good game."
Tucchio has been around for most of the state title drought. She's in her 10th year as head coach and was an assistant for seven years prior.
"Every now and then you get that glimpse," Tucchio said. "You know, you get into the semifinal here-and-there and you get that glimpse. Maybe we can get a little further.
"I don't think it wears on you. I think, for me, every year is a new team, and it's a new group of kids. We try to set out goals early. We try to be realistic. Not every year you're going to be able to win a state championship. But when the time is right and the players are right and the team is right, I think you have to capitalize on it. I think that's what we've done."
It was perhaps fitting that Stonington had to go through Granby and H-K to win the state title. It picked off H-K, 2-0, in the quarterfinals on Nov. 7.
"This year when we beat them in the quarterfinals, we knew it was our year," Cassata said. "Coming here, we were so confident in ourselves and our abilities, and we have so much depth on the team that we knew this was the year. Everyone knew."
Saturday's game was scoreless until Crowley took a feed from classmate Margot Calmar and, amidst a crowd by the net, scored with 18 minutes, 54 seconds left in the game.
"I entered it into Margot (Calmar), who was up at the top of the circle, and she hit a perfect pass right back to me and I just hit it right in," Crowley said. "It went to the opposite side of the goal right past the goalie."
The Bears had to withstand several penalty corners in the final stressful minutes before time expired.
"It's even better (than I thought it'd be)," Cassata said. "Such a great experience. I can't explain it. (There are) no words."