North Haven Girls’ Soccer Small on Numbers but Big on Heart
Coming into the season, the North Haven girls’ soccer team knew it would be an uphill battle after graduating several key pieces from last year. Despite the challenges they knew they would face, the Nighthawks showed they were geared up and eager for the climb and bought in from the get-go, dating back to the summer.
North Haven not only parted ways with successful seniors from 2021, but the Nighthawks additionally returned a small roster for this fall. Still, North Haven was able to return to the postseason by qualifying for the Class L State Tournament, falling by a 6-0 final against No. 8 Branford in the first round, as the 25th-seeded squad to finish up action at 7-10 overall.
Head Coach Gary Collins noted that while the numbers on the roster may have been low, the girls raised the intensity of their training and competitive nature by staying healthy and active, which helped lay the groundwork for a year where they exceeded any preseason expectations.
“Coming in, we had to figure out a plan early because the numbers would be lower with 17 players on the roster,” said Collins. “A goal was to help the girls stay fit and keep up the culture while helping each other grow and develop. This was a young group, so we wanted to get everyone to be on the same page. I met with the captains back in July to get an idea of this year and the plan. We had a lot of players show up for preseason conditioning, which helped us. We put together a system for the girls to flourish and be productive. From there, our main goal was to get to states and to build a structure that allowed the girls to be successful.”
In the summer meeting with Collins were senior tri-captains Ilana Blumenthal, Giavanna Damone, and Aisling Pretty. Sam Adams also rounded out the four-member senior class. Feeling a deeper personal connection to the foursome, Collins praised the girls for being the glue for the group.
“This senior class came in with me as freshmen my first year. They brought good leadership and bought into the program,” Coach Collins said. “They established themselves and set great examples for the rest of the girls. I give them a lot of credit for what they did for this team. They helped keep the team together when things may have looked like they were falling apart. Sam was also a great role model; she was committed and consistent.”
The Nighthawks got off to a fast 2-0 start following shutout wins over Shelton (2-0) and East Haven (1-0)—the former clash being one that helped set the stage for things to come. Collins also stated that North Haven put in near-perfect performances in a revenge 2-1 victory over West Haven and a close 1-0 loss to Foran.
“That first win versus Shelton gave us that confidence we needed for a quick start,” said Collins. “We came off a good preseason. It set the tone for us and showed we could move forward and do good things with this group. The West Haven win was another big win for us; they beat us the first time [3-0]. We also lost to Foran 1-0 when they scored with a couple of minutes left. I felt we were the better team that day; our possession game and defense were good. We did everything just about right that day.”
Sophomore Hannah Bernardo racked up First Team All-SCC honors, with Cameron Ryan notching a spot on the Second Team for All-SCC distinction. Collins was also bestowed with the SCC Coach of the Year Award.
In an early look ahead to next fall, Collins noted it will be more of the same in terms of playing the numbers game as four more seniors will depart, but the Nighthawks know they will return a more varsity savvy squad while looking to cultivate the program’s future within the middle school ranks.
“One of our bigger concerns will be defensively next year. Most of our defenders are seniors. We are now down to 13 as well after graduating four seniors,” said Coach Collins. “We have to worry about the middle school group. We have to try to sell the program to them and to come to the high school where there is an opportunity to play and be impact players right away. The experience from this year will come into play next season. We already have a good core, so we just want to keep building the program and moving forward.”
Looking back on the progress on the pitch this year, Collins was proud of the collective efforts from the girls. Through the ups and downs, North Haven sharpened its strategy and swagger both on and off the field.
“This year meant a lot to me because of the work we put in. We have girls who worked really hard as the year went on,” Collins said. “ We went on rolls this year, we lost some games, but we got better technically and tactically. We wanted them to compete from Day 1 and they did that. They stayed consistent and worked hard in practices. They had a good showing, and I applaud them for that.”
The 2022 Nighthawks’ roster was comprised of seniors in Adams, Damone, Blumenthal, Pretty; juniors of Erika Fronte, Anna Mortali, Rebecca Ford, Ryan, Molly Marottolo, Ayla Sivri; sophomores in Andrea August, Bernardo, Alison Palmieri; and freshmen with Alivia Garnett, Carly Ryan, Faith Nicholas, and Grace O’Brien.