The North Branford girls’ soccer team lost to Old Lyme in last year’s Shoreline Conference Tournament final but this time around, the T-Birds gained a big-time measure of revenge when they rallied for a 2-1 victory versus the Wildcats in the championship game at Portland High School on Nov. 4. The win solidified North Branford’s first Shoreline title with Head Coach Pat Kozloski, whose club improved to 14-3-1 by handing four-time defending tournament champion Old Lyme its first defeat of the season.
“I think it was all new last year, and it was exciting just to be there. This year, it was just another game, and the girls knew what to expect. We handled it with a little more experience,” Coach Kozloski said. “I think we just had some unfinished business. The girls had the feeling that we belonged this year.”
Top-seeded Old Lyme, which has also won the Class S State Tournament in each of the past two years, started the game by scoring a goal 23 minutes into the first half. However, No. 2 seed North Branford responded with a pair of goals duiing a five-minute span early in the second half. First, Old Lyme committed a hand-ball infraction in the box that set up a penalty kick attempt by Lexi Rosado. The sophomore stayed cool, calm, and collected, and blasted the equalizer past the Old Lyme goalie. Just four minutes later, senior captain Jenna Bryden scored a goal to put North Branford up 2-1. Bryden’s winning goal actually came off a miss-hit, but the bottom line is that it gave the T-Birds a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Jenna tried to cross it, but it took a wonderful spin off her foot, and found the back of the net...We’ll definitely take it because a goal is a goal,” said Kozloski.
North Branford’s defense took control of the contest from that point on. The minutes eventually ticked down until the clock read zeros as North Branford walked off the field with the conference crown in its clutches.
“In the last 10 minutes or so, you could see it in everyone, especially the seniors, that we were going after every single ball. Every time a girl from Old Lyme got the ball, we were on them,” said senior captain Morgan Violette. “It was complete desire. We wanted to win so badly. When it started to get to a minute, we started counting down. It was crazy. We all rushed the field and were hugging each other. It was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
The victory was especially sweet for a group of seniors who joined the team in 2014, when North Branford won just one game. All the long hours of hard work have certainly paid off for the T-Birds’ savvy class of veterans.
“It’s been such a transformation. We went from winning one game the entire season to now where we’re Shoreline champs,” senior captain Sarah Criscuolo said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we were able to come through and take those honors. It’s such a good feeling. I can’t even put it into words how happy we are.”
Coach Kozloski said he feels proud about how his athletes have grown together during the past few the years. After his team returned 10 starters from last season, Kozloski knew the 2017 edition of the Thunderbirds had the potential to achieve something special
“This is my fifth year, and we’ve continued to improve every year. This was a goal for us at the beginning of the season, and it was awesome culminating with a victory,” he said. “The hard work we put in, it’s pretty cool for the girls to have all their efforts come to fruition.”
Junior goalie Allie Augur made six saves for the T-Birds against Old Lyme in the Shoreline final. To get to that game, North Branford defeated Morgan 4-1 in the semifinals on Nov. 1. Four different players scored a goal for the T-Birds in the victory. Rosado netted the first goal in the first half, and then MacKenzie MacGowan, Ana Pavic, and Violette added goals in the latter half.
Next up for North Branford is the Class M State Tournament, in which the T-Birds hold the No. 8 seed. In the first round, North Branford is hosting No. 25 seed Seymour on Tuesday, Nov. 7. If the T-Birds win, they will host the winner of No. 9 Morgan and No. 24 New Fairfield on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 11; the semifinals are slated for Tuesday, Nov. 14 or Wednesday, Nov. 15; and the final is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 17 or Saturday, Nov. 18.
With the Shoreline title in the bag, Criscuolo said the Thunderbirds are feeling good about themselves entering states and plan to keep giving everything they have as they chase another championship.
“As we head into the State Tournament, winning the Shoreline is a confidence booster,” Criscuolo said. “We can face any team. As long as we work our butts off, we can be great.”
From the Sidelines
North Branford girls’ soccer Head Coach Pat Kozloski is assisted by Dewey Boatman and Sarah McDonald.
The senior captains for the T-Birds are Jenna Bryden, Sarah Criscuolo, and Morgan Violette.
The rest of the Thunderbirds’ roster consists of seniors Hannah DiEdwards, MacKenzie MacGowan, Amanda Bouffard, and Madison Sullivan; juniors Allie Augur, Olivia Rodriguez, Caitlin May, Ana Pavic, Aaliyah Aaron, and Jessie Kilburn; sophomores Gabriella Sarmento, Lexi Rosado, Britney Gildersleeve, Gianna Sullo, and Madeline Criscuolo; and freshmen Julia Casella, Landon Melillo, Olivia Ferreira, Ashley Amendola, Zoe Miller, Mallory Preiss, Adriana Cacopardo, Katie Dow, Charlotte Villano, Gabriella Pesticci, and Alessia Valentino.