Branford Field Hockey Claims Class M State Crown After Four Shutout Wins
The Branford field hockey team prided itself this year on facing only the best competition the SCC and state had to offer, which became a tremendous X factor in postseason play as the Hornets survived four one-goal games to capture a state title.
The Hornets finished off a spectacular regular-season run that saw them nab 10 wins and take only four losses with two of them to the eventual Class L runner-up Wilton and Class S state champion North Branford, in addition to the SCC winner in Cheshire. Following a berth in the SCC Tournament final, Head Coach Peter Frye and Branford entered the Class M State Tournament as the No. 9 seed and notched three-straight 1-0 decisions over Brookfield, Guilford, and Hand to mark the program’s first state final in 11 years.
On Nov. 19 in that state championship game at Wethersfield High School, the Hornets again posted a 1-0 triumph, this time over 6th-seeded New Milford, who finished 13-4-3-0 overall, to bring Branford its first state crown since 2005 and finish the year with an outstanding overall record of 16-5-1-1.
“We have said all year, ‘earned not given’, and we truly earned this win,” said senior captain Scout Engstrom. “We worked as a team, and everyone stayed focused and did their job. We were faced with many challenging teams this year and made history. This year’s team was special; we had what it took to win and we knew we could win. We just had to work together and stay poised. I will always remember the feeling when the clock hit zero, and we all cheered knowing we just won a state title.”
After a scoreless first half, freshman Aliza Giordano ended the deadlock following a corner feed from Engstrom with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter to give Branford a 1-0 edge with what would be the deciding score. Giordano grabbed the ball from the right side before slamming it home into the left side of the cage.
“It’s amazing to earn what we worked so hard for these past five months,” said senior captain Gianna Bozzi. “The state tournament was our best streak of the season. Everyone in town was supporting us, but we did not let the pressure and excitement affect our game. I am so proud of my Branford field hockey girls, and I will remember the joy of winning the state title for the rest of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my field hockey career.”
Branford had only a pair of shots on goal to New Milford’s one, but the Hornets made sure one of their two was true. As they have done all postseason, the Hornets clamped down on defense and drained down the clock on the way to their 11th state crown.
“It’s difficult to put things into words; I am still coming down from the high of it,” said Frye on the victory. “For quite a few of our seniors, I have been their coach for eight years, which doesn’t happen often. To see them realize their potential in their final year is really something to witness. I am honored to be a part of this.”
On the whole, Branford posted
13 shutouts combined between regular season and postseason action, with a decorated defensive effort with a cool, calm, and collected bunch. In 16 regular-season contests, Branford netminders faced an average of fewer than a shot a game with
“There is a coaches’ saying, ‘you never know what you have until you are in a 1-0 game,’ and we had four,” said Frye. “Our numbers this year on defense defy logic in a way. Our defense did not allow our goalies to take shots. The loss in the SCC final where we lost our composure taught us how to behave in tight games, and they stayed composed in states. Our mantra was that our last game will be our best game, and they kept getting better throughout this run.”
The All-State Team was announced during the state final with Engstrom and senior Aryana Wilson named to the First Team and senior captain Lauren Kendrick on the Second Team.
On Nov. 15 in a game that cemented Branford’s spot in the final, the Hornets faced off with No. 5 seed Hand (finishing 14-5-1 overall) in a semifinal showdown at Guilford High School, and Branford edged out the Tigers by the final score of 1-0. Senior Gianna Bozzi scored the only goal of the game. Bozzi’s goal came off an assist by Engstrom on a penalty corner at the 5:40 juncture of the second stanza. Junior goalie Julia Bozzi made two saves in net to get the shutout for the Hornets.
The prior week, Branford opened play in the Class M bracket with a 1-0 win against No. 8 Brookfield in the first round. The Hornets continued the theme with another 1-0 victory at No. 1 seed and defending champion Guilford in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinal round of the tourney. With the latter decision, Branford concluded Guilford’s run as the three-time defending Class M title holder.
Additionally, the Hornets qualified for the SCC Tournament as the No. 4 seed. Branford claimed a 1-0 win over No. 5 Amity in the SCC quarterfinals and then netted a 3-2 decision versus top-seeded, defending champion Guilford in the semifinal round–ending the Grizzlies’ four-year reign as conference champs. The Hornets then took a 2-1 loss to No. 2 seed Cheshire in the conference final.
In the regular season, Branford finished 10-4-1-1 with victories over Lauralton Hall (6-1), Sacred Heart Academy (3-0), Hamden (4-0), Sheehan (2-1), North Haven (2-0), Shelton (7-0), Newtown (2-1), Amity (4-0), Mercy (3-0), and Lyman Hall (8-0). The Hornets dropped decisions to Class L state-semifinalist New Canaan (3-0), SCC champion Cheshire (1-0), Class S state champion North Branford (3-2), Guilford (2-1), and Class L runner-up Wilton (3-0), while they played to a scoreless draw against Hand.
“It’s nice to get the program back to where it was before,” said Frye, who succeeded longtime and legendary Hornets’ Head Coach Cathy McGuirk. “We literally had the hardest schedule one could take. We ended up playing the No. 1 seed in both the SCC and Class M tournaments. We did not duck anyone.”
Frye was joined on the sidelines this fall by Assistant Coaches Jenna Limone and Michaela Hobbs. The Hornets’ 2022 roster was comprised of senior captains Engstrom, Lauren McCarthy, Kendrick, and Gianna Bozzi; additional seniors of Wilson, Gianna Bonanno, Gabriella Morrotti, Jade Bocciarelli; juniors Allison McCarthy, Sophia Taranto, Iva Sekerovic, Rachel Esposito, Mia d’Amuri, Elizabeth Wieland, Isabella Kelly, Mariah Fazzino, Reanna Sachs, Julia Bozzi; sophomores of Skylar Dunn, Randee Chobian, Sydney Dahl, Eliza Burgess, Thalia Zweeres; and finally freshmen Tate Jones, Stacia Comen, Hana Omeragic, Paige Baker, Siara Humphries, Giordano, and Haley Robison.