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East Haven Girls’ Soccer Earns State Tourney Berth
Sophomore Emily Pycela (right) and the East Haven girls’ soccer squad are on their way to the Class L State Tournament after notching recent wins against Cross, West Haven, and Branford. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Freshman Gianna Mendez (left) scored the game-winning goal when the Yellowjackets made states by earning a 2-1 win over rival Branford on Oct. 25. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Junior captain Bella Pilato and the East Haven girls’ soccer team evened their record at 6-6-3 after winning all three of their matchups last week. Pilato buried a penalty kick in the club’s 2-1 victory versus Cross on Oct. 21. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
The East Haven girls’ soccer team entered last week’s action in a hole when it came to earning a potential berth in the Class L State Tournament. The Yellowjackets responded by posting victories versus Wilbur Cross (2-1), West Haven (1-0), and Branford (2-1) to improve to 6-6-3 and cement their place in states. East Haven qualified for the tourney with its win over Branford to close out the week.
“It’s something we aspire for every year. To be in the State Tournament again this year is great. We knew we’d be young, and it would be kind of a developmental year, but the way we’ve played, getting to the State Tournament can only help us,” Head Coach Jake Hackett said. “It shows us what our hard work can get us, and this is a direct result of how hard we’re working. Getting these players in the State Tournament while they’re young is very valuable. It means a lot to the program and a lot to the girls. I’m proud of them.”
Coach Hackett believes that the Yellowjackets are playing their best soccer of the season right now. East Haven started to pick things up during the previous week of play, when the team battled Hand to a 0-0 tie and then took a 3-1 loss to Cheshire in a competitive contest. Hand and Cheshire are the two squads sitting atop the SCC Housatonic Division.
“Every year, our goal is to be playing our best soccer at the end of the year and continue to get better,” said Hackett. “It took time to adjust to our system, but the girls are putting the work in, have bought in, and are playing hard. All of this is happening at the right time of the year, which is good for us.”
On Oct. 21, East Haven rallied for a 2-1 road victory over Cross in New Haven. After the Governors scored the first goal of the game, junior captain Bella Pilato converted a penalty kick to even the score. Later in the game, freshman Gianna Mendez fed a great ball to sophomore Emily Pycela, who buried the go-ahead goal.
Coach Hackett said that East Haven’s defense turned in a great performance in the victory. Junior goalkeeper Angelina Munoz made a few key saves to help the Yellowjackets come out on top.
“The thought process was we knew that we had to win if we wanted to keep our state hopes alive. We got very unlucky with the first goal, but had a mindset where we knew we had to get the job done,” Hackett said. “We played well and were able to come out with a win.”
Two days later, the Easties hosted West Haven and prevailed by the final score of 1-0 on Senior Night. Emily Pycela scored lone goal of the game on an assist from Mendez. Coach Hackett said that both sides played quality soccer throughout the contest.
“[West Haven is] a good program and very similar to us. Being our Senior Night, we came out with a ton of energy and were able to score the goal to come out on top,” said Hackett. “Everybody played tough, especially at the end. They threw everything they could at us, and we were able to hold defensively. West Haven played hard, and we knew we were lucky to come out with the win.”
Hackett added that his defense put together another excellent effort against West Haven, led by senior captain Christina Fazzino, junior captain Aimee DiVerniero, and sophomores Kate Pycela and Emily Mazzucco. Sophomores Jocelyn Lucero and Alex Castro made key contributions off the bench for the Yellowjackets, who saw Pilato make a game-saving clear of a ball on the goal line late in the game.
“Our defensive group has really come together as a unit. Quality defenders can be overlooked, but having such a strong foundation with that group is so important,” Hackett said. “I’m very happy with how they’re playing. They’ve all bought in to how we play in the back, and they’re having a lot of success.”
East Haven finished its week by notching a 2-1 home victory over crosstown rival Branford on Oct. 25. Mazzucco scored the first goal on a header off a corner kick, after which Mendez put away the game-winning goal to help the Yellowjackets qualify for states. East Haven also prevented Branford from making states by winning this game.
“Going into a rivalry game after already playing two games that week can be difficult, so we focused on our game-plan and executed it,” Hackett said. “Our defense held well, our midfield play with [freshman] Sydney [Herard], Gianna, and Bella was exceptional, and Emily Pycela is always lethal up top. It was a tough opponent, but the girls stepped up.”
It wasn’t an easy week for the Easties, but Coach Hackett was proud of his club for stepping up and delivering in the clutch with time running out in the season.
“That was our thought process this whole week. If we can win out, it would put us in a position for the State Tournament,” said Hackett. “We had good performances all around as a team, and the girls definitely feel very accomplished after this week. Three wins in a week is a tough task, so the girls should all keep their heads up and be proud.”