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ATTLEBORO — Not surprisingly, Maddie Breckner had the first, and the last, words in the Bishop Feehan High School girls’ soccer team winning its first Catholic Central League championship in its first season as a member of the conference.
The defending MIAA Division 1 state champs extended their unbeaten skein to 38 matches over two seasons, securing victory No. 14 of the coronavirus-impacted 2020 season in dramatic fashion at McGrath Stadium Saturday with a 3-2 shootout victory over Bishop Fenwick.
Breckner, the senior goalkeeper for the Shamrocks, made her public debut at an athletic event by serenading the family and friends in attendance with a stirring rendition of the national anthem prior to the start of the match.
And it was Breckner who placed an emphatic right hand upon Bishop Feehan’s quest for the CCL Cup by making a diving stab of a Crusader drive on their fourth penalty kick to provide the Shamrocks with an insurmountable, and title-taking, 3-1 advantage in the shootout.
Breckner blanked the Crusaders through the final 58 minutes of regulation and then two five-minute sudden-victory overtime periods after the two sides had played to a 2-2 standoff after 80 minutes.
Breckner had 11 shutouts during the season, with Bishop Feehan having allowed merely two goals through its first 13 matches of the season before taking on Bishop Fenwick. The script to the CCL championship took an unexpected turn and twist when the Crusaders matched that season total of goals allowed by the Shamrocks within the first 22 minutes of their match, stunning the Shamrocks in taking a 2-0 lead.
Bishop Feehan coach Phil Silva had scouted Bishop Fenwick’s CCL semifinal round match against Austin Prep, which was also decided in an overtime shootout. Silva’s report back to Bishop Feehan in its preparation for the Crusaders and its impact upon the outcome placed Breckner in position to serve the Shamrocks well.
“We had the first four shooters in terms of what they did the other night,” Silva said. “I said that they’re going to go to your left on the first three and the fourth kid is going to go up the middle.”
Breckner denied the first two Crusader shooters, who let loose ground-hugging shots right at her torso, shots that were destined for the lower left corner. The third Crusader shooter did connect with a drive to the left. The Shamrocks had already gained a 2-0 edge by that time as both Francesca Yanchuk and Kaitryn Franchino had labeled their shots into the back of the Bishop Fenwick net. Shamrock sophomore Bri Marrero went to the spot for Bishop Feehan’s third penalty kick and was successful as well, creating a 3-1 advantage.
The fourth Crusader shooter also went left, but Breckner alertly came off of her spot, dove to her right, and got her right hand on the drive to knock it away and secure the Shamrock championship.
“She still had to make the decision to do it,” Silva said of Breckner. “The fourth one, she (Breckner) made a hard save, the kid (from Bishop Fenwick) hit a hard ball.”
Breckner has always been a soccer player, but she began her musical journey in earnest in the sixth grade. She is a member of various Bishop Feehan musical and drama clubs, participating in many a presentation.
“But that was the first time that I sang the national anthem in public,” Breckner said after not having been called out of the stands to sing prior to any Bishop Feehan football or basketball games. “I found out Friday, they had reached out to the Jazz Choir and asked if there were any singers that wanted to do it. It’s my senior year, I might as well do it.”
Breckner had completed a few rehearsal renditions of the national anthem and gained accolades for her range of voice and depth in her delivery prior to Saturday’s kickoff.
Breckner had not experienced any pressure in penalty kick situations throughout the course of the 2020 season in goal for the Shamrocks as Bishop Feehan had routinely decided the outcomes of most matches (save for a 1-1 standout with Bishop Stang) by halftime. And even during the course of the 2019 season, Breckner was never forced to hold the line in goal for a shootout.
“We had gone to overtime against Brookline (in the MIAA Division 1 State Tournament semifinal round) but no shootouts,” she recalled.
Breckner and the Shamrocks began rehearsing their penalty kicks and her presence in goal over the final two weeks of the season, Silva preparing for any scenario.
“If it gets to overtime, then we have to practice it and be ready,” Breckner said.
A resident of Norton, the 5-foot-7 Breckner had been mostly a defender, not a goalkeeper before enrolling at Bishop Feehan.
In her second season of full-time varsity duty, Breckner's poise had been developed through the 23-0-1 2019 season, especially in a 2-1 victory in overtime against Natick in the Division 1 South Tournament semifinal round, then a 2-1 verdict over previously unbeaten and No. 1 seeded King Philip High in the title match.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking, because we kept saying to ourselves are we going to come back from this (a two-goal deficit),” Breckner said. “At halftime, I knew that we could do it, we had to focus and double down. We had to believe in ourselves. I trust my team and I know that they can do it – and they did.”
That is, Yanchuk converted a penalty kick in the final minute of the first half, reducing the gap to one goal. But it was not until the 70th minute, with 10 minutes left in regulation time, that Yanchuk scored her second goal of the match, her 35th of the season, to tie the match and force overtime.
In the CCL title match, Bishop Fenwick turned a long ball off of the right flank to the far top left corner of the Shamrock net behind Breckner for the go-ahead goal in the 19th minute and then tallied three minutes later on a loose ball in the penalty box area. Breckner had to make just four saves overall, perhaps the most testing being a one-time of a loose ball shot in the seventh minute of the match. Then Breckner and the Shamrocks were spared by the width of the crossbar on a loose ball chance by the Crusaders late in the third quarter, in the 55th minute.
“When people take PK’s (penalty kicks) you typically watch their plant foot,” Breckner said of reading the Crusader shooters intentions. “Typically, wherever their plant foot goes, whether the right or the left, they’re aiming that way.
“My coach (Silva) definitely helped me with this, he’s been training me. I had an idea where they were going, I watched their plant foot. Coach Silva and Coach (Chris) Charron told me just to be ready, keep my composure, you can do this.”
And Breckner did.
“I would love to go into the entertainment industry,” Breckner said of her unchartered collegiate and professional plans, while also keeping her athletic career in mind. Breckner has interest in such Big East Conference schools as Providence College and UConn, as well as being in the midst of Manhattan’s theater scene at Fordham University.
“We saw 'Mean Girls' and 'Chicago,' ” Breckner said of her recent experiences with Broadway musicals and productions.
“Whether I tried to go for an acting career or be a part of theater production. I love speaking in front of crowds. It doesn’t make me nervous.”
Nor does protecting the soccer net for penalty kicks.