Branford Field Hockey Sees Success with Young Team
Scout Engstrom had an excellent sophomore season for the Branford field hockey team by garnering All-SCC Division A accolades on behalf of the Hornets.(File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Freshman Mia d’Amuri (left) and junior Katie Laska (middle) congratulate junior goalie Nina Shamas (right) following the Hornets’ 3-0 victory versus Lyman Hall on Oct. 3. Shamas made the All-SCC Division A Team for Branford by virtue of her performance this season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Lenora Longway and the Hornets saw success in 2020 and are primed for even bigger things next year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Andrea Amarante was one of the veteran leaders on a young Branford field hockey squad that notched six victories and made the SCC Division A semifinals this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The Branford field hockey team featured one of the youngest squads in the Southern Connecticut Conference with just two seniors on its roster this fall. However, Head Coach Pete Frye viewed the Hornets’ youth as a blessing instead of a burden.
By the end of the season, seven of Branford’s 11 starters were either freshmen or sophomores. In the end, the Hornets’ up-and-comers meshed with their veterans to produce a solid season that saw the team go 6-6 and earn a win in the SCC Division A Tournament.
Branford claimed a 2-0 victory versus Mercy in the first round of the SCC Division A Tournament. Senior captain Andrea Amarante scored the Hornets’ first goal on assists from junior Julia McHenry and sophomore Scout Engstrom, after which freshman Raiyn Fries netted their second score from Amarante and Engstrom. Junior goalie Nina Shamas made six saves for Coach Frye’s club.
“I honestly believe the SCC pod we were in was no worse than third best in the entire state. It was great to win a game. Mercy is always tough. You got to be ready to play them,” Frye said. “We played well. It was a possession game for us. Our defense played well, but our offense played especially well. They kept the ball from them and limited their opportunities. We had our whole team for the second time this year. It was great to see everybody on the field.”
Branford went on to take a 3-1 loss to Cheshire in the semifinals of the tournament. Fries scored the lone goal of the game for the Hornets, who saw Shamas make 12 saves.
While his team was unable to come away with the win, Coach Frye said that Branford played some of its best field hockey of the season against Cheshire.
“Obviously, we would have liked to win the game. But when we left the field, it was one of those moments where you could not be more proud. Even two days afterwards, there was just a feeling of accomplishment,” said Frye. “The first time we played Cheshire, we didn’t have a shot on goal. This was a lot closer game than 3-1. We had multiple opportunities to tie and take the lead. Our girls played extraordinary hard all 60 minutes. It was the perfect time.”
Even though Branford only had two seniors, those seniors proved pivotal members of the team. The Hornets’ seniors were Amarante, a forward, and Alisa Gueco, who finished the season on defense. Amarante and Gueco each served as captains, leaders, and difference makers for Branford.
“They’re both quiet, but strong leaders. Andrea played an intricate part of our offense all year,” Coach Frye said. “When we were playing Lauralton Hall, we were having some problems on defense, and I asked Alisa to go in and settle things down. She claimed the spot throughout the playoffs. We played well in the playoffs due to her play. This year was so fragile, you really needed kids like that, that were calm, cool, and collected to lean on.”
Branford saw four underclass athletes make the All-SCC Division A Team this year. The Hornets’ honorees were goalkeeper Shamas; fellow junior Lenora Longway, a forward; sophomore Engstrom, who is also a forward; and fellow sophomore Lauren Kendrick, a midfielder. Shamas made 101 saves on the season for Branford. Engstrom had six goals and three assists, Longway scored one goal to go with seven assists, and Kendrick had one goal with one assist on the year.
Freshmen Ellie Wieland and Fries were also starters for the Hornets. Coach Frye also relied on players like McHenry and fellow junior Katie Laska, sophomores Aryana Wilson and Gianna Bozzi, and freshman Mia d’Amuri during the season.
With a host of players returning next year, Coach Frye believes that the Hornets could be a dangerous team within the SCC ranks in 2021. In terms of this season, Frye praised his young club for battling through adversity and staying together as a squad throughout the campaign.
“We were so young this year, there were times we were starting three freshmen in a varsity game. We didn’t play a JV team that started that level of youth. It’s invaluable for them being exposed to this level of play,” said Frye. “Next year, I think these kids are ready for it. These kids never failed to amaze me with their resiliency and the way they can put their head down and power through. The way they persevered through this year is remarkable.”
Coach Frye feels that the Hornets developed a lot of character while dealing with the challenges of 2020. Frye was proud to see his athletes battle past anything that came their way, while building a foundation for future success in Branford.
“That first practice was indescribable. You didn’t know if we were going to be able to see each other face to face. I miss it now,” Frye said. “You focus on your little pods. Our team became one of my pods. This year has made you focus on those close relationships and appreciate them. It’s what our whole team got out of this season.”
The Branford field hockey team’s roster included senior captains Andrea Amarante and Alisa Gueco; juniors Ava Brunner, Katie Laska, Catalina Brown, Olivia Salerno, Lenora Longway, Julia McHenry, and Nina Shamas; sophomores Lauren McCarthy, Elizabeth Axtell, Lauren Kendrick, Aryana Wilson, Gianna Bonanno, Scout Engstrom, Gabriella Morrotti, Gianna Bozzi, and Melanie Wagner; and freshmen Allison McCarthy, Sophia Taranto, Iva Sekerovic, Raiyn Fries, Rachel Esposito, Lauren Thompson, Grace Booth, Mia d’Amuri, Ellie Wieland, Isabella Kelly, Mariah Fazzino, Reanna Sachs, and Julia Bozzi.