The East Haven girls’ soccer team came up just a little bit short in its opening match of the season when facing North Branford in the latest installment of the Battle of Rt. 80. On Sept. 9, North Branford came up with a 1-0 victory against the Yellowjackets in Jake Hackett’s first game as East Haven’s head coach.
It was an even contest that saw the Easties put five shots on the North Branford net. The Thunderbirds picked up the lone score of the game on East Haven’s own goal at the 31-minute mark of the first half. Freshman goalkeeper Angelia Munoz made seven saves for East Haven.
Coach Hackett has spent a lot of time working with the Yellowjackets to try and get them back to where they were two years ago, when they set the program record for victories in a season. East Haven was unable to record a victory last fall.
“I think that was a group who had an invested group of seniors. We can definitely build off that to get to that level of success, because the players here have a passion for the game and the desire to improve and do what is necessary to keep getting better,” Hackett said. “I talked to the girls on the first day, and I told them about a blind person who climbed a mountain by taking one step at a time. They really took that idea to heart and are invested in what we’re doing. That’ll be our key to success, showing last year was last year, and this year was this year. We’re going to fight and we’re going to battle as hard as we can to get to where we need to get to. It’ll come with time, and we’ll get there by taking the right steps.”
Although the campaign is still in its preliminary stages, Hackett said that he’s been impressed with how much growth he’s seen from his squad in such a short amount of time.
“We’ve been playing better every single time we’ve stepped on the field. If I watched game film from our first practice compared to [the North Branford game], it’s like two different teams,” he said. “The girls work hard, the ball movement is better, our off-ball movement is better, and they’re starting to find their roles much better. We’re figuring out how we play as a team better.”
Hackett said that’s been especially impressed with how well everyone has been playing on defense. The Yellowjackets’ defensive corps is led by its center backs, junior Ali Szewc and senior Jessica Reed, who’ve been working very well alongside senior outside backs Molly Mazzucco and Ayana Rivera.
“They’re a very solid group. They’re doing a great job of being organized and keeping the back locked down,” Hackett said. “Ali is a natural leader. She does a great job of getting them organized.”
Hackett is expecting senior Jordan Kikosicki and junior Jenna Pane to control the midfield, while seniors Haley Montesanto and Ally Moss provide offensive support on the wing. Senior Marley Herard is the Easties’ striker, with freshman Isabella Pilato playing the role of attacking midfielder.
“She is top class and has a bright future in front of her,” said Hackett of Pilato. “She has great talent and is working hard and doing what we’re asking her to do. The offense is working hard and moving the ball well.”
Hackett has inherited a team with plenty of senior leadership. Although East Haven’s three captains are Mazzucco, Montesanto, and Kikosicki, the first-year coach knows that he has plenty of girls leading the charge as the Yellowjackets embark on a new era.
“I couldn’t be happier with the captains that I have,” Hackett said. “We know this is my first year, so having players who are natural leaders, it’s not just the captains, but the seniors are invested and have that maturity level. They want to learn, listen, improve, and work hard. To have that maturity level from your upperclassmen, it trickles down to your juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. It goes through the whole program, which is a special thing to have.”