This is a printer-friendly version of an article from

05/24/2023 08:06 AM

T-Birds’ Boys’ Lax Flying Above Adversity

Eric Izzo is a senior captain and long stick midfielder for the North Branford boys’ lacrosse team this spring as the Thunderbirds overcame many obstacles throughout the campaign. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

The 2023 season script for the North Branford boys’ lacrosse team has given way to injuries, plus peaks and valleys. Yet no matter what the act of each day ended up calling for, the Thunderbirds have answered it with a resounding resolve.

The T-Birds finished 7-10 overall and qualified for the Class S State Tournament in their 2022 campaign. In states, North Branford took a qualifying round loss to New Fairfield in a tight 16-12 contest.

This year, North Branford entered the final week of the regular season hoisting a 9-5 record. Last week, the T-Birds first traveled to Old Lyme on May 15 and prevailed by a 7-6 tally. North Branford wrapped up the regular season on May 19 hosting Northwest Catholic and took an 8-5 loss to finish with a 10-6 mark.

Head Coach Dave Carpenter explained that while the T-Birds have had to contend with key injuries and need to find some steadiness with the proficiency of their play, the club has taken a next-man-up mentality while rallying around each other.

“The team has really come together this year; we have a great culture around this group of boys, and it starts with the seniors,” said Carpenter. “We’ve had a lot of key injuries, and when [sophomore] Shane Esposito went down, the team really rallied around him and came together even tighter. This is a season I don’t think any of them will ever forget. We have had our ups and downs throughout the season, and we’re looking for a little more consistency across the board.”

Four members of the senior class function as captains for North Branford this spring. At the midfield level of the turf, Eric Izzo (at long stick) and Eli Defaranos act as squad stewards, alongside defensemen Dom Langello and Dave D’Onofrio–the latter of whom has provided an emotional and spiritual spark with his dedication to the team through a personal setback .

“Eric is another coach on the field and provides great defense and pushes transition offense. He leads by example in everything he does. Dom brings energy to the team; he plays with pride and passion and is a physical presence on defense,” said Carpenter. “Eli is our field general on offense that can always draw, slide, and find the open guy. Eli also works hard on the field and in the classroom, showing the younger guys what it means to be a student-athlete. Dave picked up the game his freshman year and quickly developed into a starter for us. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL three weeks before the season but is at every practice and game when he’s not in physical therapy. The kids see that he has passion for the game; even though he can’t play he is there to support his brothers.”

Additional key seniors anchoring the defense are Tyler Serenson and Dylan Burwell, while Ian Kamienski is a senior stalwart in the midfield.

“Tyler and Dylan fill in our other two spots on defense that is keeping our opponents to just under six goals a game,” said Carpenter. “Ian is a shifty midfielder that can break down any defense and is extremely reliable on defense as well.”

On the offensive attack, juniors Luke Blomster and Brady Martinik are a formidable force as a duo, plus netminder Jack Maley (69% save percentage). Sophomore midfielder Esposito provided a solid spark before seeing his season conclude with an injury that cost him a kidney. Lastly, midfielder AJ Sigal and Cameron Lacroix on attack have been freshman phenoms for the T-Birds.

“Luke and Brady team up as an attack duo that are producing a lot of scoring for our offense. Jack has been a key cog to our defense at goalie,” said Carpenter. “Shane was having a breakout season before a brutal injury that saw him lose his kidney. He is going to be a heck of a player when he returns to the field. AJ and Cameron are two freshmen that have been logging valuable minutes for our team and contributing in the box score, which is a great sign for the future.”

As Carpenter again stressed the need for consistency in play as the T-Birds storm into the postseason, he explained that it is not just about securing victories while in the heat of battle. It also entails doing it while showing the utmost character and being diligent students with the game and in the books.

“The goals for the team are to win Shorelines and have a good showing in the state tournament. Off the field, I always ask that they be the best version of themselves and take care of business in the classroom,” said Carpenter. “We have moments where we put it all together and we look unstoppable, and others where we get lost. It’s on to Shorelines, where we look to be a No. 3 seed if we win out our conference games and head back to Old Saybrook who has now beaten us twice, for the semifinal match.”

As per Carpenter’s prediction, 3rd-seeded North Branford will in fact travel to No. 2 Old Saybrook for a Shoreline Conference Tournament semifinal matchup on Monday, May 22 at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the finals on Thursday, May 25 at 5 p.m. at Indian River Complex in Clinton to face the winner of the other semifinal showdown between 4th-ranked Morgan and No. 1 Haddam-Killingworth.

The 2023 North Branford boys’ lacrosse roster is comprised of seniors Izzo, Defaranos, D’Onofrio, Langello, Nathan Tranquilli, Serenson, Alec Johnson, Ian Kamienski, Benjamin Taylor, Dradon Brindisi, Burwell; juniors of Evyn Aguiar, Braden Burns, Colby Longo, Martinik, Joseph Carofano, Connor Stoner, Blomster, Patrick LeBeau, Nicholas Cassella, Lucas Vollono, Maley, Joseph Jacobs; sophomores in Tanner Izzo, Esposito, Jeremy Meneo; and finally freshmen Sigal, Lacroix, Luca Landino, Chase Nugent, James Criscio, Mark Borzillo, Patrick Ford, Benicio Iamunno, Michael Goodmaster, and Gregory Ferraro.

Carpenter, who is in his ninth season leading the T-Birds’ coaching staff, is assisted by Dwight Boatman, who has been with the program for five years, and three-year mainstay Derek Grzebisz.

2023 North Branford Boys’ Lacrosse Team Regular Season Results

April 4: Old Saybrook 8, North Branford 7

April 6: North Branford 8, Valley Regional 3

April 8: Sheehan 11, North Branford 7

April 11: North Branford 6, Haddam-Killingworth 5

April 13: North Branford 14, Cromwell 2

April 15: North Branford 11, Branford 6

April 20: North Branford 9, Morgan 8

April 27: North Branford 7, Haddam-Killingworth 6

May 2: North Branford 13, Cromwell 2

May 4: Old Saybrook 12, North Branford 9

May 9: Morgan 6, North Branford 5

May 11: North Branford 8, Valley Regional 1

May 12: North Branford 8, Old Lyme 5

May 13: Foran 14, North Branford 2

May 15: North Branford 7, Old Lyme 6

May 19: Northwest Catholic 8, North Branford 5