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The Branford girls’ lacrosse team celebrates its second straight state title after earning an 11-8 victory versus Hand in the Class M State Tournament final at Law High School on June 9. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Head Coach Jackie Ceccolini holds the championship trophy high after the Hornets’ girls’ lacrosse squad defended its state title by defeating SCC rival Hand in the Class M championship game. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The Branford girls’ lacrosse team capped off a storybook 2018 season by bringing home another state title this spring. Head Coach Jackie Ceccolini (left), senior Haley Maercklein (right), and senior Daly Hynes (back) revel in the feeling of victory following their 11-8 win versus Hand. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Sophie Spencer scored five goals to lead the Branford girls’ lacrosse team to an 11-8 win against Hand in the Class M state final. Spencer finished her high-school career with a whopping total of 229 goals to her credit. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Daly Hynes came up with a number of big saves to help the Hornets hold off Hand and claim their second straight state championship. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Autumn McHenry and the Branford girls’ lacrosse team earned the Class M repeat by posting an 11-8 win against Hand in the state final on June 9. The Hornets finished their season with an overall record of 19-3. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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It’s official. The Branford girls’ lacrosse team can call itself a dynasty. After claiming their first state title last year, the Hornets cemented their legacy by winning back-to-back championships when they recorded an 11-8 victory versus Hand in Class M State Tournament final at Law High School on June 9.
Trailing 2-0 early, Branford responded by netting six straight goals and never surrendered the lead on its way to defending its state crown. Hand clawed back to make it 8-7 early in the second half, but senior Sophie Spencer scored one of her five goals to give the Hornets some insurance with 18:45 remaining in the game. Spencer went on to notch two more scores and solidify the Class M repeat for Branford, which finished its season with a record of 19-3.
“Once wasn’t enough for us. We needed to do it again and we knew we could do it,” said Spencer. “It means so much for the town of Branford. We were crazy excited last year to do it for the first time in history, and then doing it twice is just amazing. It’s the best feeling ever.”
Four days before the final, Spencer led the Hornets to a last-gasp, 12-11 overtime victory against Pomperaug in the Class M semis when she scored the last three goals of the game, including the equalizer with 38 seconds remaining regulation and the winner with 30 seconds left in OT. That contest was a rematch of last year’s Class M final, which Branford won by the final score of 15-8 at Law High School.
One year later, the Hornets were back on that same field to battle familiar foe and fellow SCC opponent Hand with the state title at stake. The top-seeded Tigers had edged Branford by a goal during the regular season, before winning the SCC Tournament for the fourth year in a row. However, the 2nd-seeded Hornets flipped the script in the state final and defeated Hand when it mattered most to keep the Class M crown in Branford.
“I feel like I blinked and I was just right here again, but it feels great to be back here and get the job done. It’s what we’ve wanted all season long. We lost to Madison earlier his season, so this makes it feel even that much sweeter,” Branford Head Coach Jackie Ceccolini said. “The last game was a one-goal game that could have gone either way, and so could this one, but we fought a little harder and the draw was huge. Autumn was huge on the draw for us today and our goalie, Daly Hynes, really made her stops.”
Senior captain Autumn McHenry scored a goal in the win, but she made her biggest impact by winning one face-off after another during the Hornets’ game-changing 6-0 surge that featured a pair of goals from fellow senior Haley Maercklein. McHenry did her homework by reviewing the film from Branford’s regular-season contest against Hand to pick up a few pointers that could help her be a little quicker on the draw in the state final—and she passed the test with flying colors.
McHenry and many of her Branford teammates have been playing lacrosse together since the 3rd grade, and she said it means the world that they authored a storybook finish to their high-school careers.
“It means so much, especially to do it with this group of girls. We’ve grown up together and we’ve put everything into this,” said McHenry. “We love lacrosse so much and we’ve bonded through the years through lacrosse, so to go out like this is really amazing.”
McHenry captained the Hornets with Spencer and f senior Sabrina Torcellini this year. In the Class M final, fellow senior Daly Hynes played the game of her life by making 10 saves for Branford, including a few critical stops when Hand was within striking distance and threatening to turn the momentum in its favor.
Spencer praised the play of the Hornets’ first-year goalie, along with McHenry for her ability to keep the ball in Branford’s hands with her work in the face-off circle.
“Daly came up with so many amazing saves. On eight meters, everywhere, she was playing amazing. Her clears were awesome. It was a huge game for her. She pushed through and she played insanely amazing,” Spencer said. “Autumn was so amazing on the draw. She has been all season. Today, more than ever, we needed us all to come up big, and Autumn did out of everyone. She really fought through, pushed hard for us. It’s just awesome.”
Hand scored the first goal just 2:26 into the game and then made it 2-0 by getting another goal 19 seconds later. About a minute after that, Maercklein stole the ball and took it all the way home for a goal to get the Hornets on the board. With 17:34 to play in the first half, Spencer maneuvered her way through three Tigers’ defenders and found the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2. Right after that, Hynes made a save to deny Hand’s Riley Kokoruda from scoring the go-ahead goal. Branford came back the other way and took a 3-2 lead when Maercklein scored from fellow senior Erin O’Brien with 16:38 remaining, prompting Hand to take a timeout.
However, the brief break wasn’t enough to thwart the Hornets as they came out of the huddle and scored three quick goals to stake themselves to a 6-2 advantage. Crotty scored the first one, Spencer added another 18 seconds later, and then O’Brien’s goal 18 seconds after that made it 6-2 with 15:21 left in the first half.
McHenry said the Hornets were unfazed when the Tigers came out of the gates by scoring the game’s first two goals.
“We definitely wanted to keep our composure, keep a cool head, and just take control of the game,” she said. “Lacrosse is a game of runs, so we knew that they were going to take a couple of runs, and then we knew that we would have to retaliate. So, we just really focused on one play at a time.”
Still, the Tigers (19-3) refused to go down without a fight and answered by scoring three goals in a row to cut it to 6-5 with 4:45 to play in the opening half. Hand’s Taylor Scully had a chance to tie the game, but Hynes made the save. Torcellini then scored from McHenry, who followed by netting a goal of her own for an 8-5 lead with 37 seconds remaining. Hand scored with seven seconds left and Branford was up 8-6 at intermission.
Hand scored early in second half to cut the gap to 8-7, and the game stayed that way for the next four minutes, until Spencer scored to give Branford a two-goal edge with 18:45 to go. With 16 minutes left, the Tigers were whistled for their fourth yellow card of the afternoon, forcing them to play shorthanded for the rest of the game.
The Hornets controlled play from that point on, getting a goal from Spencer with 6:13 remaining, after which she bounced one in just under the crossbar for her fifth goal of day and a 11-7 command with 3:29 remaining. Hand scored the game’s final goal with 1:31 to play, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Branford from walking off the field with the state title plaque in its grasp for the second consecutive season.
“It’s completely incredible. I’m so happy we made it back, and I’m so happy that we won, especially against a team like Madison. I’m proud we were able to prevail on this amazing day,” Torcellini said. “Hand has always been a rival ever since we were little in 3rd grade, and to beat them here in the state final is amazing. I couldn’t have dreamed it any better.”
The 2018 campaign was indeed a dream season for the Branford girls’ lacrosse squad. Spencer said one of biggest factors that motivated the Hornets to win another Class M title was the fact that the state final marked their farewell ride at the high school.
“We knew that this was our last game ever together. We knew we had to fight hard,” said Spencer. “We’re all going to miss each other so much next year, whether we’re playing or not playing. We’re never going to be on the field together again, so we knew we had to finish it out for people we love and get a win.”
Coach Ceccolini said that she’s going to miss working with such a talented and dedicated class of seniors. While it will be sad to see them go, Ceccolini is happy that they left their mark on the program and made their hometown proud by capturing back-to-back Class M state championships.
“I’m extremely proud. Everybody’s put in the work and I’m just really proud of everybody involved. Always a great way to go out,” Ceccolini said. “We felt like we’ve had the whole town supporting us all season long. We felt like that last year and that momentum stayed through. So, we’re just playing for the town of Branford, and it feels good when you feel like it’s a big team effort.”
Branford had advanced to the Class M final rallying for a 12-11 overtime victory versus 3rd-seeded Pomperaug in the semifinal round at Bunnell High School on June 5. The Hornets trailed 11-9 with just less than 11 minutes to play, before Spencer scored the final three goals to give Branford the win. Spencer tied it up by scoring with 38 seconds to play in regulation and then netted the winning goal with 30 seconds to go in the overtime period. Spencer finished the night with six goals, Torcellini and Crotty both scored a pair of goals, while Maercklein and O’Brien also had goals in the win. Hynes made six saves in net for the Hornets.
From the Sidelines
The Branford girls’ lacrosse team’s Class M State Tournament roster consists of senior captains Autumn McHenry, Sophie Spencer, and Sabrina Torcellini; seniors LanLe Crotty, Caroline Erickson, Daly Hynes, Haley Maercklein, Hailey Manware, Erin O’Brien, and Emma Pierson; juniors Jess Amarante, Grace Paleski, Abby Robinson, and Carly Shea; sophomores Katherine Elmasry, Gabby Gills, Karly King, Isabel Mannle, Brooke O’Leary, and Brianna Shaw; and freshmen Nicola Colossale and Jocelyn Smestad.
Spencer finished her high-school lacrosse career with 229 goals and 60 assists. McHenry scored 206 goals and had 144 assists in her four years with the Hornets.
Branford Head Coach Jackie Ceccolini’s coaching staff featured her brother Billy Alessi, her father Joe Alessi, JV Head Coach Melissa Carney, Caity O’Brien, and Christina Smith.
Branford posted a record of 14-2 for the regular season. The Hornets recorded victories versus Haddam-Killingworth (15-3), Law (16-5), Lauralton Hall (16-2), Old Lyme (16-5), East Lyme (15-3), Pomperaug (13-8), Guilford (16-8), Sheehan (16-3), Barlow (6-5), Stamford (19-5), Mercy (16-5), Staples (15-11), Old Saybrook (7-2), and Amity (19-4). Branford also took a 7-5 loss to Cheshire and dropped a 13-12 decision to Hand.
Branford was the No. 3 seed in the SCC Tournament and earned a 21-6 home victory versus No. 6 seed North Haven in the quarterfinals. The Hornets lost a 10-7 contest at 2nd-seeded Cheshire in the semis.
In the first two rounds of the Class M State Tournament, the Hornets notched a 19-5 home win over No. 15 seed Fitch in the first round and then defeated 10th-seeded Masuk 16-5 in a quarterfinal contest at home.