Last fall, the Hand girls’ soccer squad put together an excellent postseason run that saw the Tigers advance to the semifinals in the SCC Tournament and the championship game of the Class L State Tournament. Now, Hand is back on the field for the 2017 campaign and ready to follow up last year’s success by further proving itself as a powerhouse.
Head Coach David Dikranian’s squad is coming off a season that saw the Tigers finish with an overall record of 16-3-3. Along the way, Hand won the SCC Quinnipiac Division title and reached its first conference tourney final since 2009.
Dikranian and company are returning many key components from last season, along with several other athletes who are vying for time on the field, to form a deep, well-rounded team that’s looking to steadily improve with every contest.
“Our goal is to get better with every game, along with challenging for and winning SCCs. We also want to make a deep run in states. The fact that the girls are talking about things like that is a good thing, because we haven’t had a lot of that in the past, and wanting to compete for titles is a good thing,” said Dikranian, whose team took a 1-0 loss against Guilford in its season opener. “I’m optimistic, and I think we will be a competitive team. If we can get better every game, we can make a run. There is a lot of camaraderie here. They are good students that do a lot in the community. They are a special group.”
The Tigers feature a trio of senior captains leading the way this year with outside back/outside midfielder Gabby Egidio, midfielder Riley Kokoruda, and fellow four-year starter Taylor Scully, a center forward. Kokoruda and Scully both earned All-Quinnipiac and All-SCC honors in 2016, while Kokoruda also made All-State and solidified a spot on the New Haven Register’s All-Area Team. Coach Dikranian said that all three captains are ideal leaders who know what it takes to win and have the craving to help Hand continue winning.
“They are all winners on and off the field. They are excellent students that have won on different levels. They each also won a travel team state cup together a few years back,” Dikranian said. “Riley and Taylor have excelled in lacrosse, and Gabby was on the state championship basketball team this past winter. Riley has been an anchor to our team, and Taylor has a knack for scoring goals. Gabby is fast and physical. They’ve all won together and in different sports, so they want to win and compete at the highest levels. They also love their teammates, and they’re special captains to have.”
The Tigers will display their depth behind the likes of senior defender Hannah Martin, sophomore midfielder/forward Kayla Howard, who was an All-Quinnipiac and All-SCC Second Team selection last year; along with senior forward/midfielder Vivianna Mazzarella, a pair of center backs in senior Heather Baughan (All-Quinnipiac in 2016) and junior Tara Henry, senior defender Sophie Cohen, and sophomore back Sam Riordan. Junior Morgan Lipford is the Tigers’ starting goalie.
“Kayla was one of our best players last year. She could penetrate and work the ball to people. She was technical, had speed, and skill. She did a great job with playing the ball into forwards and had key assists,” Coach Dikranian said. “Viv was one of our best players in the second half of the season, so she is a candidate for All-SCC if she can put it together for a full year. Sophie came off the bench last year and gave us great depth. Sam saw some time last year and looks to be a top defender.”
Some of Hand’s other athletes who are competing for varsity time this year include junior outside defender Ellie Laffargue, junior defender Francesca Antoni, sophomore striker Chloe Silva, and sophomore midfielder Chloe Thompson, as well as junior defenders Alex Fischer, Hayley Dean, junior forward Jillian Kottage, plus sophomore defenders Caroline Pfaf and Isabelle Craven.
As the reigning division champion, the Tigers will look to defend their title while competing against fellow Quinnipiac opponents East Haven, Lyman Hall, and Lauralton Hall this fall. Hand also has pivotal SCC clashes against Amity and rival Guilford on the schedule. Coach Dikranian said that the 2017 season is all about taking things one game at a time and progressing on a daily basis—an approach that certainly paid off for the Tigers a year ago.
“I preach to the girls about being optimistic and patient. We didn’t hit our stride until our fourth or fifth game last year. As long as we are getting better each game, we can build on that,” said Dikranian. “We begin the year with two great programs that are well-coached in Amity and Guilford. It will be very tough for us, but if we come out with good results, we’ll be in good shape. Playing well, staying positive, and getting off to good starts will be key for us.”
Facing Guilford in its first match of the year, Hand had some good chances to score in the second half with an Egidio shot sailing just inches over the crossbar. Scully later broke in on a breakaway, but her shot was deflected off the foot of Guilford goalkeeper Meghan Landon. Mazzarella and Howard also had quality chances to score for the Tigers. Guilford scored the game-winner with less than 10 minutes to play following a free-kick scramble. Hand outshot Guilford 15-9.
• David Dikranian is now in his fourth season as the head coach of the Hand girls’ soccer squad. Dikranian was named the 2016 New Haven Register All-Area Coach of the Year.
• The Tigers’ assistant coaches are Brett Donoghue (varsity assistant), Shane Smith (JV coach), Kendra Lena (freshman coach) and Bob Dikranian (volunteer assistant).
• Hand has divisional games against East Haven (Friday, Sept. 15, home; Tuesday, Oct. 10, away), Lauralton Hall (Monday, Sept. 25, away; Friday, Oct. 20, home), and Lyman Hall (Monday, Sept. 18, away; Thursday, Oct. 12, home) this season.