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04/17/2022 12:00 AM

Branford-East Haven Boys’ Lacrosse Team Building Leaders On and Off the Field

The Branford-East Haven co-op boys’ lacrosse squad is looking to develop leaders is it competes in the 2022 spring season. Pictured from the squad are (back) the team’s senior captains Kevin Lee, Cam Paleski, Dylan Dupre, and Aidan Strebel, who are all from Branford; along with (front) East Haven students Connor Czaplicki, Alex Dombrowski, Ryan Sheldon, Gennaro Pompano, and Tanner Walsh. Photo courtesy of Jim May

In his 27 years with the Branford boys' lacrosse team, Head Coach Jim May has used the mantra, "It's not just about lacrosse," to help define the program. While May is looking for his squad to win as many games as possible, the biggest thing for the coach is that everyone on his team, from freshmen to seniors, become leaders during the 2022 season.

Branford and East Haven are joining forces as a co-op team for the second-straight season and feature 24 players on their roster. More than half of those players are new the sport. While the team had to start the year by going over the basics, Coach May credits his senior leaders for helping the new Hornets push through and improve.

"We have so many new players. Almost three quarters of this team is new. It's a tough thing to do, but they've jumped on board and realized that we have to do certain things," Coach May said. "We did a lot of skill work, but you've got to be able to pass and catch before you can move forward."

The Branford-East Haven (Bfd-EH) co-op boys' lacrosse team played three home games last week. The Hornets took a 7-4 loss to Foran on April 11, then saw their game against Sheehan on April 14 get halted due to weather in the first quarter. Two days later, Bfd-EH hosted North Branford and won the contest by an 8-5 score to improve to 2-4.

Junior Sean Bosworth had 3 goals with 1 assist when Bfd-EH faced Foran, while junior Jack Linder also found the back of the net for the Hornets. Senior captain Aidan Strebel made 13 saves in goal.

In the win over North Branford, East Haven freshman Gennaro Pompano led the way by netting 3 goals for Bfd-EH. Bosworth scored 2 goals in the victory, while senior captain Kevin Lee, junior Matt McNulty, and East Haven freshman Alex Dombrowski had 1 goal apiece. Strebel made 11 saves in net.

Coach May said that his team has been battling hard until the final whistle in both its wins and losses this season. May added that the Hornets have a "never-quit attitude," and that's an attribute he wants his athletes to display both on and off the field.

"Each and every game, we have a never-quit attitude. It's important in sports, but it's more important in life," said May. "If they continue to have that going forward, win or lose, we'll be successful. It's what we look forward to as a staff, and it's what we see every game."

Bfd-EH is being led by four captains in Strebel, Lee, Cam Paleski, and Dylan Dupre, who are all Branford students. Paleski, a defender, earned All-SCC Second Team accolades last season. Strebel is the team's goalkeeper, while Lee and Dupre are midfielders.

Coach May said that all four players have grown into strong leaders and gained the trust of everyone in the program.

"All of them lead in different ways. Aidan and Cam lead by example on the field. Kevin and Dylan lead by example in the community and in the classroom," May said. "We have a great rapport with those four guys. They're all fantastic leaders and bring a lot of enthusiasm to the team."

Branford's attack features three juniors in Bosworth, McNulty, and Alex Milne. Bosworth stands 6 feet, 7 inches, and that height has helped him succeed on the ice as a member of the Branford hockey team. May said that Bosworth is a strong playmaker who sees the entire field well.

Milne is the Hornets' lefty attackman. May said that Milne is a quiet leader who has shined when given opportunities. When it comes to McNulty, Coach May simply said that the junior has the best shot on the squad.

The Hornets' midfield includes two senior captains in Lee and Dupre. Meanwhile, a pair of East Haven freshmen, Pompano and Dombrowski, are stepping up and taking on big roles in their first seasons with the program. Coach May said both players have done a great job when called upon and are becoming strong vocal leaders. Senior Ryan Sheldon and freshmen Connor Czaplicki and Tanner Walsh are the three other East Haven students on this year's team.

Along with Strebel in goal, Branford's defense is anchored by senior captain Paleski, a four-year member of the Hornets. May called Paleski the most vocal player on the roster. Paleski is joined on defense by fellow senior David McDonald, who served as a senior captain for Branford's football and boys' basketball teams. Coach May said that McDonald has made a great transition into lacrosse.

May added that fellow defender Jeter DeCusati, a sophomore, has one of the strongest lacrosse IQs out of anyone on the team. Freshman Cole Hawley is the Hornets' long-stick midfielder, and May feels that he's doing a fantastic job in that role.

With Strebel in net, Coach May said that it's like the Hornets have an extra coach on the field. As he looks to stop every shot that comes his way, Strebel is also dedicated to building the culture of the Bfd-EH boys' lacrosse program.

"Aidan Strebel is our most valuable player. He was last year and has continued to be that this year. He's like a second coach out there," said May. "[Strebel] and I want to build a culture where the boys want to be out on the field all the time. He wants to make sure that when we aren't practicing, we're watching film, or when we're on the field, we're out there a little longer. That's the type of kid Aidan is."

Coach May said his seniors are proving crucial in terms of helping the younger players develop. This year's senior class also includes Nate Mathis, Dimitri Gionteris, and Danny Vaicunas. As the Hornets continue through their season, May knows that the seniors are going to be a pivotal part of any success.

"We have a ton of seniors, and they have been so successful in other sports and in the classroom. Although some might be green in the game of lacrosse, they're not green in the leadership role. That has helped tremendously in terms of communication," May said. "The small stuff is huge for us. We're just making sure the freshman and sophomore understand their role in a positive and enthusiastic way."

When it comes to that success, Coach May believes it goes way beyond the box score. Of course, every coach has aspirations of winning a state championship, and May is no exception. However, even more important, Coach May believes that if every player understands what it means to be a leader, then his team is going to be successful regardless of any outcomes.

"We want every person to come into the program to understand that we're not just about lacrosse. We're about being leaders," May said. "How can we lead? How can we expect from the coach as a leader and what can we expect from the players as leaders? We want all of these young men to become leaders on and off the field. It's the culture I think we've had since we started the program years ago."

The Branford-East Haven boys' lacrosse team's roster features senior captains Cam Paleski, Aidan Strebel, Kevin Lee, and Dylan Dupre; seniors David McDonald, Dimitri Gionteris, Nate Mathis, Ryan Sheldon, and Danny Vaicunas; juniors Sean Bosworth, Matt McNulty, Alex Milne, Jake Elpi, Jack Linder, and Ethan D'Onofrio; sophomores Brennan Scarpace, Gavin Groves, Parsa Malahiazar, and Jeter DeCusati; and freshmen Max Rosenberg, Cole Hawley, Gennaro Pompano, Alex Dombrowski, and Tanner Walsh.

Senior captain Aidan Strebel is back for another season as the starting goalkeeper for the Branford-East Haven boys’ lacrosse team this year. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound
Freshman Alex Dombrowski is one of five East Haven students who are competing for Branford-East Haven boys’ lacrosse team this spring. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier