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Senior captain midfielder Ben DeMaio is one of seven returning starters on the Branford boys’ soccer squad. The Hornets are looking to follow up last year’s run to the Class L state quarterfinals by embarking on another notable postseason journey this fall. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain forward Marzio Mastroianni found the back of the net on two occasion when the Hornets started off their season by netting a 3-0 home win over Notre Dame-West Haven. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior Praneeth Ganedi is back in net for his second season as the starting goalie for Branford boys’ soccer team. Ganedi and the Hornets opened up their season by defeating Notre Dame-West Haven and Hamden last week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The Branford boys’ soccer squad is primed to have another solid season after returning a wealth of experience from last year’s team that won 13 games and advanced to the Class L State Tournament quarterfinals. The Hornets are off to a fast start in 2018 after claiming victory in their first two games of the campaign last week. Head Coach Paul Hunter’s club posted a 3-0 home shutout over Notre Dame-West Haven in its season opener on Sept. 11, followed by a 3-2 victory at Hamden in an SCC Oronoque Division contest.
Coach Hunter thinks that his returning veterans are going to mesh quite nicely with the Hornets’ first-time starters this fall.
“We have a little leg up from the standpoint of bringing back seven starters, so experience is a plus for us,” said Hunter, whose team features 14 seniors. “We have kids coming back who’ve been in the trenches, and that will give the kids who are starting for the first time a little more of a comfortable feeling, knowing that they’re out there with guys who’ve been through it before.”
Two of Branford’s most experienced players are senior captains Ben DeMaio and Marzio Mastroianni, who have both been varsity regulars since their freshman years. DeMaio, a central midfielder, was an All-Oronoque selection last season. Mastroianni, a forward who’s also a standout runner in Branford’s track program, netted a pair of goals in the Notre Dame victory, including one on an assist from DeMaio.
“Marzio and Ben have a lot of good qualities not only with their ability to play, but also their leadership and ability to drive the other kids to step up and improve their games. They’re trying to get the best out of everyone, so we can have some success,” Coach Hunter said. “They’re pretty similar. They’re vocal with the other boys. They want the best for the team and, in a positive manner, are trying to get the other players to play to their potential.”
Sophomore midfielder Ralph Ciarleglio scored the Hornets’ first goal against Notre Dame to give Branford a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute. Senior defender Abdalla Syed had the assist on the goal. In the second half, Mastroianni scored from senior Juan-Leon Munoz in the 57th minute, after which Mastroianni netted his second goal on DeMaio’s helper just one minute later for 3-0 advantage.
Coach Hunter said that Branford missed a few scoring opportunities in the first half, but settled in as the game unfolded. The Hornets continued applying pressure in the second half, began wearing down the Green Knights, and converted a couple of those opportunities. In the end, Hunter was happy to open the season with a victory.
“As we’ve told the kids in the past, 90 percent of it is creating chances. That’s what we want to do. Then you can concentrate more on finishing and getting the end product,” he said. “We got the first win under our belt. We let the nerves settle in, and the boys acquitted themselves well. Getting the first win out of the way is important.”
Mastroianni and fellow forward Munoz both return to the striker position for the Hornets this year. Branford has a few new starters patrolling the midfield. With the graduation of Ethan Boileau and Ian Cabahug, DeMaio is the lone returning starter in that unit and moves to the middle after having previously played on the left flank. Junior Tahj Sutherland joins DeMaio at central midfielder with Ciarleglio on the left and junior Andrew Wirtz on the right. Senior midfielder Marvin Hernandez came off the bench to give Branford some valuable minutes against Notre Dame. Hernandez and Ciarleglio can also play the striker position.
“I think we have a very dynamic, attacking group of kids who are all capable of beating people one-on-one and can also play give-and-go within the framework of what we’re trying to do,” Coach Hunter said. “They like to get after it and score goals.”
The Hornets are bringing back plenty of experience on the defensive end of the field. Senior sweeper Kosta Gionteris is in his third year as a starter, junior Cody McCarns returns as the stopper, and Syed is a returning defender on the right side. Sophomore Matt Cordero is starting at left defender after playing midfielder last season.
“We should be a cohesive unit back there with our communication and from the standpoint that they’re used to each other, they know what each of them are capable of doing, and can cover for anything that is lacking,” said Hunter.
Senior goalie Praneeth Ganedi returns for his second season as Branford’s starting netminder. Ganedi, an accomplished tennis player at the high school, made three saves to get the shutout versus Notre Dame.
“Praneeth got a chance to start a few games as a sophomore and gained a lot of good experience starting at the varsity level for us all last year,” Hunter said. “He has very good reaction and quickness with his ability to cover corners. He’s a very confident keeper.”
As his team dives into the 2018 season, Coach Hunter knows that Branford has the talent to put together a memorable year. He believes that one of the biggest keys will be the Hornets’ ability to maintain a consistent level of quality play throughout the course of the campaign.
“As in past years, it comes down to the consistency of the play of the kids. The kids can play. I know they can play, and they know they can play. It’s just about doing it on a more consistent basis, game in and game out. We don’t want to fall into lulls where we’re giving the ball away needlessly when we shouldn’t,” said Hunter. “We have kids that can show that consistency of play, and I think it will ramp up higher and higher as we go through the season.”
From the Sidelines
The Branford boys’ soccer team’s 2018 varsity roster includes senior captains Marzio Mastroianni and Ben DeMaio; seniors Praneeth Ganedi, Matt Alexander, Aidan Kropiwnicki, Juan Leon-Munoz, Derek Tratnyek, Will Riggs, Chris Campoverde-Rojas, Louis Pouzache, Kosta Gionteris, Abdalla Syed, Justin Dombrowski, and Marvin Hernandez; juniors Tahj Sutherland, Cody McCarns, and Andrew Wirtz; sophomores Ralph Ciarleglio and Matt Cordero; and freshman Dimitrios Ginoteris.
Paul Hunter is in his 10th season as head coach of the Hornets. Hunter is assisted by JV Head Coach and varsity assistant Mark Harris, who is in his eighth year in the program; varsity assistant Andres Wullaert, who’s in his third year with the team; and goalkeepers’ coach Bob Faulkner, who returned to the program this season.
Branford is a member of the SCC Oronoque Division with Cheshire, Hamden, Lyman Hall, and East Haven. The Hornets will play two games against all four of those teams this season. Branford also has two games versus fellow SCC schools Guilford, Career-Hillhouse, Notre Dame-West Haven, and Law on its regular-season schedule.
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