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06/30/2022 12:00 AM

Branford-East Haven Boys’ Lacrosse Became a Brotherhood This Spring

The Branford-East Haven co-op boys’ lacrosse team put together a solid season that featured 11 victories, including a win in the Class L State Tournament. Pictured from the squad are (back) senior captains Kevin Lee, Cam Paleski, Dylan Dupre, and Aidan Strebel, who are from Branford; along with (front) freshmen Connor Czaplicki and Alex Dombrowski, senior Ryan Sheldon, and freshmen Gennaro Pompano and Tanner Walsh, who are all from East Haven. Photo courtesy of Jim May

As the Branford-East Haven (Bfd-EH) co-op boys' lacrosse team battled throughout the 2022 season, Head Coach Jim May wanted his squad to learn how to succeed while dealing with uncertainty. It was an ideal that everyone on the team bought into and, through that mutual desire to improve both individually and as a group, this year's Hornets became much more than just a team—they became brothers.

"Things that are worthwhile are usually not easy. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable," Coach May said. "They understood that they were going to figure it out as brothers and get it done."

Bfd-EH finished its campaign with an overall record of 11-7 this spring. The Hornets went

10-6 during the regular season before competing in the Class L State Tournament, where they won their opening-round contest.

While it was a successful year, Bfd-EH actually got out to a slow start by losing four of its first five games. However, Coach May's club refused to throw in the towel. The Hornets were determined to improve and show everyone that they were a better team than that.

On April 21, Bfd-EH defeated Lyman Hall by a 16-11 score in a home game, marking the team's third win in a row. After having lost to Lyman Hall twice last season, this year's victory over the Trojans showed the Hornets just how much potential they had this year.

"We could have easily went into the tank. They persevered and did a great job going forward," said May. "That adversity built the character of the team. That Lyman Hall game is when they started to believe."

With its 10-6 mark during the regular season, Bfd-EH qualified for the Class L State Tournament as the No. 12 seed. The Hornets earned an 11-3 victory versus No. 21 Bunnell-Stratford in the qualifying round of the tourney before taking a 21-5 loss to No. 5 seed Fairfield Prep in a first-round game.

Coach May said that the Hornets knew the type of competition they would be facing against Fairfield Prep, which won the Southern Connecticut Conference title this season. While the competition level was high, those type of challenges never deterred this year's team. Coach May's players went into the Prep game with the belief that they could compete.

"It was great to go out in that first game and have a good showing," May said. "Taking the bus ride to Fairfield Prep, all the kids knew what type of team they are. When we went into that game, they really believed that they would be able to hang in. Going into the game, we thought we had a chance. Maybe we didn't, but they didn't see it that way. It's a huge situation going forward to have that mentality as a Branford lacrosse player."

Heading into the season, Bfd-EH's offense was only returning 9 total points from last year's scoring production. The Hornets set a goal of averaging 9 goals per game this season—a bar that May was concerned about reaching due to the team's losses. However, several different players were able to step up and help Bfd-EH record an average of

9.2 points per game.

Bfd-EH's offense was led by junior Sean Bosworth and freshman Gennaro Pompano, who both scored over 50 points on the year. Pompano earned the team's award for

Best Offensive Player.

Next to Bosworth and Pompano were stalwarts such as senior captain Cam Paleski and juniors Matt McNulty and Alex Milne. Bosworth, McNulty, and Milne will all be captains next season alongside fellow Jack Linder and Justin Elpi, who were also juniors this year. Coach May said that the Hornets' core offensive weapons proved crucial for the team's success down the stretch this season.

While Paleski was contributing on offense, he was also the team's leading defender. Paleski was named to the All-SCC Second Team, marking his second-straight All-Conference nod, and also won Bfd-EH's team award for Best Defenseman. Paleski was joined by senior David McDonald, who was in his first year playing lacrosse, and sophomore Jeter DeCusati as the Hornets' defensive leaders.

Behind those players in goal was senior captain Aidan Strebel. For his efforts in the net, Strebel was selected to the All-SCC First Team and was also named Bfd-EH's Most Valuable Player.

Coach May has had the opportunity to work with numerous goalies during his tenure with the Hornets. May said that Strebel has been the best keeper that he's coached—and not just for Strebel's ability to stop shots.

"Being there when the program first started, in my eyes, Strebel has been our best goalie. He did some great things in terms of stats," said May. "But more importantly, Aidan wanted his teammates to have fun and play relaxed. He was never stressed out. He got the guys to calm down and take a breath. His leadership style was unique. He led by example. He would get fired up himself, and the guys would follow."

Strebel served as one of the Hornets' captains this season with Paleski and fellow seniors Dylan Dupre and Kevin Lee. Coach May said that the leadership of all four captains played an integral role in building the Bfd-EH boys' lacrosse program.

"This year's captains led from everywhere—from fundraising to sportsmanship to in the classroom to off the field taking the guys under their wing and on the field. There wasn't a single spot where they did not lead," May said. "The five captains next year and the rest of the guys will really have to focus on doing that next year. Those guys were incredible in all facets of the game in terms of leadership."

As a co-op with East Haven, one of the roles for both the captains and each Branford athlete on the team was to be welcoming and connect with their new teammates. Coach May said that wasn't a problem this season as, within the first two weeks, everyone on the roster had formed a bond.

Coach May said that senior Ryan Sheldon, who is from East Haven along with Pompano and freshmen Alex Dombrowski, Connor Czaplicki, and Tanner Walsh, played a big part in helping to establish those connections. While they may be rivals in other sports, when they play for the Bfd-EH boys' lacrosse team, everyone in the program is a member of the same family.

"You might live 5 miles, 10 miles or the next town away, but you're my brother, and that's the way it's going to be," said May. "They really took that into consideration and into heart."

By qualifying for this year's Class L State Tournament, the Hornets' boys' lacrosse team has now made states in 21 of the past 23 seasons. Coach May credited everyone affiliated with the program for their determination and dedication toward helping the team reach that level of success.

While the team has been consistent, Coach May said that change has always been a staple for the Hornets. As Bfd-EH looks to play its brand of lacrosse, the team will continue making the necessary adjustments to ensure that every athlete has the tools that they need to succeed.

"Each player, their parents, and my staff buy into exactly what we want to do. If there is something that isn't working, we take that completely out of the realm and switch it up. We're not stubborn here," May said. "That's what kids really appreciate. Sometimes, we're going to have to change things up, but if that change is unsuccessful, we're not too stubborn to change it. We will adapt to every kid, every parent, and every situation."

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

Senior captain Cam Paleski earned All-SCC honors for the second-straight year and also won the Best Defenseman Award on behalf of the Branford-East Haven boys’ lacrosse team this season. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound
Senior captain Aidan Strebel was an All-SCC First Team honoree in addition to earning MVP honors for the Hornets based on his excellent play in net during the 2022 campaign. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound
Alex Milne was named one of the senior captains for the Branford-East Haven boys’ lacrosse squad for the 2023 season, joining Sean Bosworth and Matt McNulty in that role. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound
Gennaro Pompano had a big freshman year as a member of the Branford-East Haven boys’ lacrosse team, topping the 50-point mark on his way to winning the club’s Best Offensive Player Award. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Freshman Alex Dombrowski was one of five East Haven students who suited up for the Branford-East Haven co-op boys’ lacrosse squad this spring. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier