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Senior captain Ava Galdenzi (right) and the North Branford field hockey team took a 1-0 loss against Granby in the championship game of the Class S State Tournament at Wethersfield High School on Nov. 23. (Photo by Susan Lambert/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Olivia Toto and the Thunderbirds’ field hockey squad outshot Granby by a 12-7 differential in the state final, but were unable to get a shot past the Bears’ goalkeeper in a 1-0 defeat. (Photo by Susan Lambert/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior Avonlea LeBeau and the T-Birds finished their campaign with a record of 20-1-1 following a 1-0 loss to Granby in the Class S State Tournament final. (Photo by Susan Lambert/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The North Branford field hockey team went on an exciting postseason run in order to reach the championship game of the Class S State Tournament for the second time in three seasons. Unfortunately, that was where the Thunderbirds’ run ended as North Branford dropped a 1-0 decision to Granby in the Class S State Tournament final at Wethersfield High School on Nov. 23.
It was the first defeat of the year for the 2nd-seeded T-Birds, who finished their campaign with an overall record of 20-1-1 after losing to No. 1 seed Granby.
“When you come this far, you want to go that far. The emotions are really raw right now,” Head Coach Babby Nuhn said. “We know you have to work for it, as well as earn it, so it hurts today. But there are many positives that are coming out of this game and this season with a fully united team effort.”
The Thunderbirds outshot Granby by a 12-7 margin in the state final. However, North Branford was unable to find the back of the cage against the Bears.
“We still believed it’ll come, but it never did. Not today. That’s just the nature of the sport,” said Nuhn. “When you have opportunities in life, you have to take them when you get them and, unfortunately, we did have a lot of chances here offensively.”
North Branford started the game strong and spent the majority of the first 12 minutes in Granby’s offensive end. One of the Thunderbirds’ best chances came on an early penalty corner. Senior captain Ava Galdenzi took a close-range shot, but Granby goalie Nina DeGagne kicked the ball aside to keep the game scoreless. At the 17:51 mark, Granby Head Coach Sandy Wickman called a timeout that changed the game’s momentum.
“I thought we came out strong in the beginning, and then Granby took their timeout and played more aggressively, and that took us out of our rhythm,” Coach Nuhn said. “I noticed it immediately.”
Late in the first half, the Bears took advantage of one of their penalty corners to get on the board with 1:42 to play. Julia Olchowski sent a pass to teammate Avery Bryanton near the top circle, and Bryanton drove a shot to the lower-left side of the goal that made its way past T-Birds’ senior keeper Jaime Matthews to give Granby a 1-0 lead.
The Thunderbirds continued to keep the pressure on Granby during the second half, but the Bears’ defense prevented North Branford from netting the equalizer.
“I wasn’t concerned, because I felt there was time. I told our girls to be patient, not panic, and try to work our game out,” said Nuhn. “We kept fighting right to the end. That’s the job you’re supposed to be doing. It would’ve been nicer to put a few goals in there, especially early, when the momentum was there.”
Coach Nuhn said that she was impressed with Granby’s performance throughout the game. After losing in the Class S final the last two years, including a defeat against North Branford in 2017, the Bears claimed their 14th state title in program history by defeating North Branford in the title game this season.
“They are certainly one of the best. Granby was complete from one end line to the other. They have a lot of forces to reckon with,” Nuhn said. “But overall, I’m still real proud of all these kids.”
• The North Branford field hockey team’s roster includes senior captains Ava Galdenzi, Ali Barrett, and Melanie Norton; seniors Bianca D’Onofrio, Emily Olsen, Avonlea LeBeau, Alyssa Waligroski, Izabella Mott, and Jaime Matthews; junior captain Kelli Jacobson; juniors Sophia Anastasio, Emma Serenson, Aly Kendrick, Sofia Votto, Amanda Nuzzo, and Gabby Gibilisco; sophomores Olivia Toto, Mia Oliverio, Saoirse Burke, Samantha Helwig, and Braeden LeBeau; and freshmen Gianna Palma, Avery Kendall, Mia Park, and Payton Kamienski.
• Head Coach Babby Nuhn is assisted by Evaun Boatman, Lori Connelly, and Kathy Galdenzi. Gabriella Barone serves as the team’s manager.
• The Thunderbirds qualified for the Class S State Tournament after finishing with a mark of 15-0-1-0 in the regular season. North Branford earned a pair of wins against Old Saybrook (5-0 and 4-0), Morgan (4-0 and 2-0), Valley Regional (6-0 and 7-0), and Haddam-Killingworth (7-0 and 6-2), along with one victory apiece versus Watertown (7-0), Waterford (9-0), Sheehan (5-0), Westbrook (1-0), Sacred Heart Academy (6-0), Killingly (4-0), and Branford (4-0). The T-Birds also played Westbrook to a 2-2 tie.
• Prior to the state tourney, North Branford won the Shoreline Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The T-Birds recorded a 2-1 win over No. 4 Valley Regional in the semifinals and then topped No. 2 Westbrook by a 2-1 decision in the championship game.
• North Branford advanced to the Class S final by winning its first three games in the tournament. The T-Birds earned a 7-0 home victory versus No. 15 Wamogo in the first round and then posted a 3-1 win against No. 7 Canton in quarterfinal action. In the semifinals, North Branford notched a 1-0 victory over No. 3 Immaculate in overtime.
• This was the sixth state final appearance for North Branford. The T-Birds earned state titles by defeating New Milford (2-1) in the 1980 Class M final, Haddam-Killingworth (1-0 in OT) in the 2006 Class S final, and Granby (2-1) in the 2017 Class S final. In 1981, North Branford shared the Class S title with Pomperaug after the two teams played to a 0-0 tie in the final. North Branford took a 2-1 loss to Stonington in the 1981 Class M final.
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