This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.07/13/2022 12:00 AM
Samantha Helwig never expected to be playing lacrosse at the collegiate level, but after competing for North Branford, her outlook on the future changed. Following a strong run as a lockdown defender with the T-Birds’ girls’ lacrosse team, Samantha will be going on to play both lacrosse and field hockey at Albertus Magnus College.
Samantha grew up as a dancer for Performing Art Studio Be in North Haven and continued to dance there through her senior year. However, while that was happening, lacrosse was becoming a big sport, and Samantha saw many of her friends playing. Samantha asked her parents if she could give lacrosse a shot and, eager to see her try the sport, they agreed. Samantha found that she loved lacrosse from the moment she picked up a stick in 6th grade.
“It was the beginning of when everyone was playing lacrosse. All my friends were playing it. I told my parents that I was interested in it. They told me I could give it a go,” says Samantha. “I started playing it and stuck with it ever since. It was an immediate connection as soon as I stepped on the field.”
Samantha played in North Haven’s town league during her 6th-grade season. Samantha and her family knew coach Jennifer Saracino and, since she was new to the sport, Samantha and her parents wanted her to be coached by someone they were familiar with. Then in 7th grade, Samantha began playing for North Branford’s recreational league.
Samantha remained with North Branford’s youth program through her 8th-grade year. All of Sam’s coaches at the youth level welcomed her with open arms to lacrosse. Receiving that type of support made Sam realize that she wanted lacrosse to be a part of her life for the long haul.
“All the coaches were so welcoming. It was really helpful to just learn the basics of lacrosse,” Samantha says. “It was such a welcoming program in both towns. I truly believe it made me stick with the sport and fall in love with it.”
Samantha’s background in dance, which she started when she was three and started competing in at age seven, helped her learn the footwork of lacrosse as she started playing the sport. Samantha’s footwork was put to the test when she joined the Thunderbirds as a freshman and played for their JV team. In her first year, Samantha gained a great understanding of what high school competition is all about and what it takes to make the varsity roster.
“It brought you a step up in your game. Even as a freshman playing on JV, you’re still playing with high schoolers. You’re playing stronger teams,” says Samantha. “It really challenged me at first knowing I had to step up my game to get on that level and make varsity.”
Samantha also joined North Branford’s field hockey team in her freshman year and was a member of the program through her senior campaign. Samantha plays goalie in field hockey and is a defender in lacrosse. Last fall, she served as the starting keeper for a T-Birds’ field hockey squad that won its fifth-straight Shoreline Conference title and then claimed the Class S state championship.
Samantha says that playing goalie helped her learn how to block shots and move her feet properly. As a defender in lacrosse, when she watches the opposing attacker run at her with the ball, Samantha’s mission is to do everything she can to ensure that the ball doesn’t go in the goal.
“I have to do anything possible to stop this ball from getting in the net,” says Samantha. “I work on communicating with my teammates and focus on what we need to do to make sure they don’t get the ball in the net.”
Samantha’s sophomore lacrosse season was canceled, but despite being away from the high school field, she still put in a lot of work. Samantha spent time in her backyard working on her stick skills, passing to herself on a rebounder, and keeping up with her running.
Samantha’s hard work paid off when she was elevated to a full-time varsity position on the T-Birds’ defense heading into her junior season. By this point, lacrosse had become a more serious endeavor for Samantha, who was fully dedicating herself to both the sport and her team. Samantha embraced everything about being a lacrosse player and what it means to compete for North Branford.
“At first, it was challenging. Now, it’s so serious. You have to be fully committed. I was willing to do that and be fully committed,” Samantha says. “It made me fall in love with it more. I’m the type of person where if you want to do a sport, you have to be all-in. You can’t slack off at practice. It helped me understand that to win championships and succeed, you need to focus.”
The North Branford girls’ lacrosse team won the Shoreline Conference title in Samantha’s freshman season. With Samantha now on the varsity roster, she helped T-Birds defend their crown during her junior year, marking the team’s third-consecutive league crown. Walking off the field as Shoreline champions, Samantha realized that all of the Thunderbirds’ hard work had been worth it.
“Every time you win it, it’s an incredible moment,” says Samantha. “It’s hard to believe at first. We just did that? It’s so shocking. It’s such a good feeling to know that all your hard work pays off.”
In her senior year, Samantha took on the responsibility of being one of North Branford’s top defenders alongside junior Ashley Manning. The T-Birds turned in another solid season that featured 14 victories to go with a return appearance in the Shoreline Conference final. Samantha says that she felt more confident and had a better grasp of the game as a senior. After playing alongside veteran teammates that she had grown close to and mentoring the team’s new players, Samantha could only describe it as a perfect senior campaign.
“This year was the best year I could ask for. Having the connections with all my friends on the team and having the freshman look up to you, it was really incredible,” Samantha says. “Going into every game, I knew it was my last year playing the high school level. I wanted to give it all and do my best. It was everything you could ask for in your senior year.”
Samantha is going to attend Albertus Magnus College, where she will major in sports management while playing both lacrosse and field hockey for the Falcons. Samantha will also stay involved in dancing by teaching at her sister Rachel’s new studio that is expected to open in North Branford Branford in the fall. Samantha says that playing sports changed her life, and she’s excited for the chance to continue pursuing her passion at the next level.
“I wanted to, but I never thought it would actually happen. I thought it was a far reach for me. Now that I’m actually going, it’s insane to believe,” says Samantha. “When I was younger, I thought I would be a dancer my whole life. Sports truly changed my life. It’s so incredible I’m going to be able to continue this in college.”
Playing lacrosse for North Branford gave Samantha an opportunity to grow both her skills and her love of the game. She ultimately found a family as a member of the T-Birds’ girls’ lacrosse team. Samantha always felt happy to share the field with her teammates and says that competing alongside them made the experience that much sweeter.
“The team is like a family,” Samantha says. “Going to practice was never dreadful. I was going to see my friends that I love so much. The fact I was there with them made it 10 times more enjoyable.”