Valley Boys’ Lacrosse Builds a Foundation with Hawkins
While it was only his first year as head coach of the Valley Regional boys’ lacrosse team, Colby Hawkins entered the 2022 season with big expectations. After seeing his team grow throughout the season, Hawkins felt that the Warriors achieved their goals and showed the potential of the program going forward.
Valley reached the postseason by qualifying for both the Shoreline Conference Tournament and the Class S State Tournament this spring. The Warriors finished their first campaign with Coach Hawkins with an overall record of 7-11.
“Our goals were to make the conference and state playoffs and develop players in their skill and knowledge of the game. We accomplished this and had a great season, granted we had some tough losses that came down to one or two goals at the end of the game,” Hawkins said. “We had great progress with stick skill development and with new players learning the game rules and strategies.”
Valley Regional posted a 7-9 record in the regular season this year. Coach Hawkins said that the team’s road game versus North Branford on May 17 was the Warriors’ best performance of the year. Junior Michael Kollmer scored 6 goals and had 2 assists to lead Valley to a 15-9 victory over the Thunderbirds. It was a crucial win for the Warriors in their quest to qualify for Shorelines.
As the No. 4 seed, Valley faced top-seeded Haddam-Killingworth in the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference Tournament on May 24. The Warriors took a 10-6 loss to the Cougars, who went on to win the conference title.
Valley finished its season by playing in the Class S State Tournament. The 20th-seeded Warriors faced No. 13 Morgan in the qualifying round and took an 11-8 defeat against the Huskies in a competitive contest.
Kollmer had 3 goals with 2 assists for Valley in the game. Senior captain Cooper Strecker had 2 goals and 1 assist, while senior Ben Safran and sophomore Sullivan Rock scored 1 goal apiece. Junior Jackson DeFelice contributed 2 assists for the Warriors. Sophomore goalie Noah Santangelo made 21 saves in net for Coach Hawkins’s squad.
“We were given a third opportunity to play a conference team in Morgan, who we had previously lost to in overtime,” said Hawkins. “We unfortunately lost in the qualifying round. We were up in the first quarter, but made errors passing the ball in the fourth quarter.”
From the regular season to the postseason, Coach Hawkins felt that Valley played its best when momentum was on its side. When the team was scoring goals in droves, Hawkins saw the Warriors’ eyes light up and knew they could go on long scoring runs. This was never more evident than in the team’s fourth game of the season, an away game versus Old Lyme on April 12. Trailing 7-3, the Warriors came back to claim a 10-7 victory behind a strong fourth-quarter performance.
“Momentum is a big factor in this game. When we scored, we picked up our level of play. We passed the ball better, communicated, and moved without the ball. This was something we strived to keep going all season,” Hawkins said. “It was really exciting on the sidelines when we went on a run of goals. The sidelines were excellent in cheering on their teammates.”
This year, Valley Regional was led by senior captains Strecker and Reece Whitney, along with junior captain Leif Duval. Strecker and Duval were selected to the All-Shoreline Conference First Team with junior Ben Costanzo. Kollmer was named to the All-Shoreline Second Team. The other seniors on Valley’s roster were Safran, James Beckman, Jake Burdick, and Ian Silva.
When it came to leadership, Coach Hawkins said that Valley’s captains and the entire senior class played a major role in helping the team’s underclassmen adapt to high school lacrosse. In addition to the captains, Coach Hawkins was also impressed with the play of Santangelo, who was in his first season as a goalkeeper. Hawkins said that Santangelo battled through some early season struggles to become a force for the Warriors in the crease.
“Noah Santangelo was our most improved player, being a first-time goalie. He is very quick in reacting to the ball and was never one to flinch from a shot,” said Hawkins. “He had difficulty with his clearing passing in the beginning of the season, but made great progress with repetition over the season. Noah also began chasing shots and gained us the ball on many attempts in the second half of the season.”
Santangelo had help from a strong defensive core that featured Duval, Whitney, and Safran. Coach Hawkins said all three defenders played aggressively and forced numerous turnovers for the Warriors. Their play helped Valley move the ball up the field with smart and accurate passes.
With that core, the Warriors also had two seniors step up on the defensive side of the ball. Silva moved from short stick midfielder to long stick midfielder this season. Hawkins said that Silva maintained a positive attitude through the change and helped create turnovers with his strong play.
Fellow senior Beckman was in his first year of playing lacrosse. Hawkins said that the senior did a great job of picking up the sport and became a role model for the team through his leadership and selfless play on the field. Beckman received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention.
As Hawkins looks to build the Valley Regional boys’ lacrosse program, he will enter year two of his tenure with a solid core of returning players. Kollmer, Costanzo, and Duval have already been named the captains for next season. Hawkins is hoping that they learned a lot this year and come back ready to make a deep playoff run in 2023.
“Our returning players recognize the importance of taking care of the ball and having longer possessions on offense. We’ve discussed being patient while moving the ball and players rotating to get open,” Coach Hawkins said. “Our team has a lot of potential to improve our record and playoff success next year. We have more than half the team playing on teams this summer, and nearly all will be playing in our winter indoor league to prepare for next year.”
The Valley Regional boys’ lacrosse team’s roster features senior captains Cooper Strecker and Reece Whitney; seniors Jake Burdick, James Beckman, Ben Safran, and Ian Silva; junior captain Leif Duval; juniors Michael Kollmer, Mason Soboleski, Ben Costanzo, Jackson DeFelice, Cobe Cokas, Holden Soboleski, and Dylan Ingram; sophomores Sullivan Rock, Noah Santangelo, and Deryck Llivichuzhca; and freshmen Cameron Costanzo, Drew Delouchery, and Matthew Cooper.