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Article Published January 24, 2019
Franco Finds a Home on the Range
Chris Piccirillo, Sports Editor

Matteo Franco has been playing soccer throughout his life, but when he arrived at North Haven High School, one of Matteo’s friends who competed for the Indians’ rifle team encouraged him to try out for the squad. Matteo made the cut as a freshman and found that he enjoyed both the sport and the positive atmosphere surrounding the program.

Now a senior, Matteo is leading the North Haven rifle team as one of its captains this winter. He also served as a senior captain while playing goalie for the boys’ soccer squad in the fall, helping the Indians earn their first State Tournament berth in four years.

“It was one of the best decisions that I made in my high school career,” says Matteo, whose friend Harrison Callahan suggested that he sign up for rifle. “It helped me make new friends and have new experiences that I wouldn’t be going through if I didn’t join the team. Even now, I wouldn’t be captain of another varsity team, which is great.”

In a high school rifle match, 10 shooters compete for their team in an effort to post the best score out of a possible 200. The top five scorers for each squad have their points count toward the team’s total. For an athlete to be a varsity shooter at North Haven, he or she needs to finish in the top five in half of the Indians’ matches during a given season.

Matteo didn’t make varsity for North Haven in his freshman year, when he averaged a score of 171. However, Matteo had breakout campaign as a sophomore by improving his average to 185, then averaged a 184 last season, earning varsity status in each campaign. This season, Matteo is looking to take his average into the high 180s.

Matteo attributes his improvement to several factors, including his offseason core training away from the range, the advice he’s received from Head Coach Brent Heidenis and assistant coach Dennis Bennett, and simply gaining more experience. Matteo adds that his mental game has also come a long way, and he believes the unwavering support of his teammates has proved huge in that regard.

“It’s a mental game, so if you know the people around you want you to shoot better, it’s easier to shoot,” Matteo says. “I was reassured by people who wanted me to do well, and I wanted them to do well. That made me feel much more comfortable and made me a better shooter.”

Matteo finished with a solid score of 188 when North Haven came in fifth place at last year’s State Championship. He also won the team’s Sportsmanship Award as a junior. With a roster that features a plethora of seniors this year, Matteo feels confident that the Indians have the pieces in place to get back to states and improve upon last season’s performance.

“The seniors that left last year were telling us, ‘Next year is your year. You will win it all.’ And now our remaining teammates are working and practicing more than ever to get that state title,” Matteo says. “We’re looking really good. We have about nine or 10 seniors on the team that all have two more years of experience under their belts, and everyone is learning from each other. That creates a team where everyone grows at a faster rate.”

Matteo has been fostering North Haven’s growth while leading the team alongside fellow captain Camille Sahirul this season. Coach Heidenis says that Matteo sets a great example as a leader by showing up early to practice and then keeping his cool during matches.

“Matteo isn’t a screamer or a yeller. He’s just very consistent, leads by example, and, when he speaks up, people listen. He’s a friend of his classmates and people just feel good being around him, which is why they elected him as a captain,” said Heidenis. “Matteo is the complete package who really is a joy to coach, because he’s self-motivated and has a desire to achieve success in the program.”

Last fall, Matteo helped the North Haven boys’ soccer squad achieve a high level of success that featured nine victories, including one in the Class L State Tournament, during his first year as the starting goalkeeper. Matteo says it means the world to him that he helped the Indians launch a major turnaround in his final campaign with the program.

“Coming off a year where we won three games, to win nine games, that was huge for North Haven. It really put us back to being a competitive team again,” Matteo says. “Even though all the seniors are leaving, the team is now known as a competitive team that will show up at every game, and be feared by the other team.”

Whether he’s patrolling the net on the pitch or lining up a bull’s-eye at the rifle range, Matteo says that it’s been an honor to represent his hometown as an Indians’ athlete these past few years.

“It’s a privilege to play for North Haven, no matter what uniform you’re wearing,” says Matteo. “You wear that uniform and you feel good, because it’s your team, and the people around you just make you better.”