Cromwell boys soccer huddles prior to overtime against Old Saybrook in the Class S semifinals
Cromwell’s semifinal game against Old Saybrook was a mirror image of their 2019 season, reflecting the valleys and peaks the team experienced this fall.
A sluggish start, a strong second half, and ultimately coming up a little short of a trip to the finals.
#5 Old Saybrook, the defending Class S champions, held off the #9 Panthers last Tuesday at Jonathan Law High School in Milford to advance to their second straight state title.
Shon Ryan scored on a penalty kick in overtime, providing the rival Rams a 4-3 lead, which proved to be the game-winner and ending a roller coaster of a game, and season, for first-year head coach Angelo Morello and his resilient Panthers.
Morello address his exhausted team following the loss, telling them it was a pleasure to coach them and thanked them for leaving it all on the field during the 100-minute marathon.
For the first forty minutes of action Old Saybrook completely controlled the tempo, scoring two first-half goals and negating a Panthers offense that had scored nine goals over the first three rounds of the tournament.
Gannon Efinger banged one in front close range ten minutes into the game and Colin Shumeister made it 2-0 when he advanced the ball off his chest before firing the ball past Cromwell goalie James Grodzicki.
“They came off the field and were frustrated. They were on each other and that’s one thing that I didn’t want,” Morello said of his team’s mindset at the half, “We were just losing all the 50-50 balls so we made some slight adjustments, but it was the kids that did it. They played hard.”
With their season on the brink, Cromwell came out of halftime with a renewed sense of urgency. The game got increasingly more physical and Morello got a yellow card from the official, which seemed to fire up his team even more.
Offensive magician Anthony Caracoglia scored seven minutes into the second half when he booted a lefty kick to the right corner of the net, cutting the deficit in half.
Shulmeister counter with his second goal, a header following a perfect corner kick from Ryan, increasing the lead to 3-1.
However, as they had done all year, the battle-tested Panthers clawed their way back in.
Caracoglia hammered home a penalty kick at the 17-minute mark and then delivered an amazing sliding cross to Zach Randazzo, who sent home a game-tying goal with 13:06 to play in regulation.
“We went from our normal 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. I just needed to open up a little more space in the middle of the field and for our top,” Morello said about the tactical adjustment he made for the second half, “They were double and triple teaming Anthony, so we wanted to get Zach free. Zach is a dangerous, you can see that on that tying goal. We were getting beat to a lot of balls in the first half, so having Logan (Fox) in the middle really helped us.”
Fox nearly gave the Panthers the lead, but his shot sailed just high after working a perfect give-and-go with Caracoglia in the waning minutes of regulation.
Ryan’s game-winner came three minutes into overtime after colliding with a Cromwell defender in front of the net. It was a call that could have gone either way and it marked the second time in a few weeks that Cromwell lost to Old Saybrook on a penalty kick, also losing in the Shoreline tourney (1-0) on a similar call.
“[The kids] deserve better than this, but a call is a call. We’ll live with it,” stated Morello, whose team also fell to Old Saybrook (4-1) in the regular season on Oct 4.
Morello’s first season on the sidelines didn’t end with a title shot, yet it showed that the program has the tenacity and toughness to work through any adversity.
The Panthers won only two of their first seven games this fall before finishing as the one of the hottest teams heading into the tournament, winning seven of eight late in the regular season.
A turning point came when Morello shook things up following a 4-1 loss to Coginchaug on Sept 24, “The Coginchaug game we got whipped up pretty good and we had to make a tactical change. We went to that 4-2-3-1 formation, and it worked.”
Not only was the new alignment successful in the regular season but it carried over into the postseason where they fought though the first three round of the state tournament, knocking out Northwest Catholic, Housatonic, and top-seed Canton.
Morello credited his senior captains with helping turn the season around.
“They’re just unbelievable. Once I got hired, they contacted me. They wanted more team unity and it definitely showed this year. They were great leaders, they brought the team together, and they all loved each other. It’s a great bunch of boys and everybody felt welcomed, from freshmen coming in, to the guys that were already here. Everybody felt part of this team and it’s due to those seniors.”
Caracoglia, who scored a mind-blowing ten goals in the four tournament games, is one of the departing captains, along with defensive stud Carter Newman and Patrick Stafstrom.
“Losing Anthony, that’s 32 goals. From afar his freshman year I saw this kid and he was getting playing time and you could see the talent and Carter Newman is a rock solid in the back, he lit a fire on our defense. Patrick played well on the wing and so did Matt (Sabriglio) on the right side. They will be missed along with the four role players on the bench that didn’t get a lot of time, but they were just as important as anyone else. Their leadership was important because we have a young team. They bought in and it’s been fun.”
Heading his second year, Morello will have six starters coming back next fall, including Randazzo, Fox, and Grodzicki, who Morello praised for his work in goal this season.
Following the elimination of Cromwell, Old Saybrook successful defended their crown by defeating #3 Holy Cross (3-1) in overtime at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, winning a second straight Class S championship.
Wethersfield sophomore Alanna DePinto won the Class L state championship in the 100-yard Freestyle. The Eagles finished fourth overall at the event held at Wesleyan University.
Senior captains Sadie Budzik (left) and Kaitlin Lewkowicz (right) led Cromwell volleyball in 2019
After losing a five-set heartbreaker to Immaculate in the second round of the Class S tournament last Wednesday at Cromwell High School, head coach Traci Capodice reflected fondly on the team’s mental makeup following the historic season.
“We played well all season and we played good tonight, but they did a little more than us. It was two evenly-matched teams and they played a better fifth set.”
It marked the end of a memorable season for the Panthers, who won a program-record 16 regular season games, before sweeping Classical in the first round of the tournament.
Capodice had a mixture of senior leadership and vibrant youth on her roster, which boosted the team in 2019 and leaves plenty of pieces coming back next fall.
Seniors Sadie Budzik, Kaitlin Lewkowicz, Jamie Trinh, and Ava Zawadzki played their final game on their home floor during the tournament loss to the Bridgeport-based Mustangs.
It’s a senior class that Capodice will not soon forget, “They’re a special group, these four. They work so well together, and they did great things. They have a bright future ahead of them.”
Budzik and Lewkowicz made an immense impact on the program during their time at CHS. This season the two captains dominated from the first serve until the final point Wednesday night.
Budzik led the team in kills (337) and aces (148) this fall. Lewkowicz was a versatile setter, racking up a team-high 423 assists and adding 68 aces.
“They’ve got great chemistry together,” Capodice said of her setter-hitter combo, “They work well together. If one is having an off day, the other adjusts, and when they’re both on they do big things.”
Capodice added that Lewkowicz played libero as a freshman and sophomore but moved to setter during her junior season to fill a need, “She had to pick up that role pretty quickly and she did a tremendous job with it. It was natural for her and when she’s setting and Sadie is on, it was perfect. Sadie can adjust to Kaitlin’s sets and Kaitlin could adjust to her, they work very well together. They were our glue.”
As they had done all season, the productive pair made several key plays against Immaculate.
After dropping the second and third sets, Budzik shined in the fourth set with five kills and six aces. She finished with a team-high 14 kills, 17 digs, and nine aces.
Lewkowicz ended the set with an overhand punch, which dotted the corner and forced the decisive fifth set.
Early in the match, the next generation of Cromwell spikers shined. Sophomore Khaya Skene single-handedly saved the opening set, diving to save an errant ball with the team trailing 25-24. Skene went headfirst into the center of the court, reaching out with her right hand before making contact with the ball prior to it hitting the ground. The shot was perfectly placed towards the back corner of Immaculate’s side, tying the set at 25. The Panthers scored three of the next four points to win 28-26.
“She’s done a great job for us and she showed it today,” Capodice said of Skene, who finished with 10 kills, “She plays well for us all the time but today she was diving for balls, she was going for every point. She’s got a very bright future ahead of her, she’s a strong player.”
Skene will be one of four returning starters in 2020, along with Driona Statovci, Brynn Kovacs, and Alex Umelo.
Statovci was steady as the team’s libero, leading the team with 235 digs.
Kovac, a freshman, showcased her accuracy and touch as a lefty. She starred in the tournament win over Classical, finishing with four kills and four aces.
Umelo made great stride this season, more than doubling her kills and blocks from a season ago.
“It’s a big difference from last year,” Capodice said of the development of Umelo, who finished with a team-high 90 blocks in 2019, “She worked so hard over the summer. She worked on a lot of different things and it showed this year. We’ve never had anyone block as well as she has.”
Umelo had a handful of big plays in the elimination match, finishing with nine kills, nine digs, and a pair of blocks.
Capodice, who has been coaching at CHS since 2012, shared a tearful goodbye with the team following the loss.
After the Panthers dropped the fifth set 15-5, which ended the program’s most successful season, Capodice reminded her girls of what they had accomplished.
“I told them not to hold their heads down. We did great and they worked really well together. It’s a great group of kids and I love them all. We’ll be back next year, ready to go.”
Anthony Caracoglia- Cromwell (Soccer): Caracoglia had week for the ages. The senior scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat Northwest Catholic (2-1) in the first round of the Class S tournament, then tallied all four goals in the Panthers 4-2 triumph over Housatonic in the second round, and capped the week with a three-goal performance in a 3-0 shutout of Canton in the quarterfinals.
Reagan Pelton- Newington (Soccer): Pelton scored a goal and assisted on another as the Indians held off Hamden 3-2 in the opening round of the Class LL tournament. The senior was the assist leader this fall for the Indians, who fell in the second round to Wilton.
Sean Ahern- Middletown (Cross Country): Ahern placed 8th overall at the Class L finals at and then had a solid showing at the State Open, both events took place at Wickham Park in Manchester. The junior was consistent all season, including in the Class and Open finals where he ran a 16:51 (5:27 average) in both meets.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Cross Country): Stockman wrapped up a remarkable cross country career at Rocky Hill, placing 3rd overall at the Class SS Finals and then finished top 20 in the State Open. The soon-to-be graduate will be running for the University of Richmond this time next year.
Giankarlos DeJesus- Wethersfield (Soccer): DeJesus scored the game-winner and game’s only goal in the Eagles 1-0 second-round tournament win over Bristol Central last Friday. The sophomore’s goal secured a win for junior goalie Matthew Patkoske, who have ten saves in the tourney shutout.
Wethersfield coach Rob Jachym greets sophomore defender Owen Ahmetovic during pregame introductions prior to game vs Newington
Newington boys’ soccer defeated Wethersfield 1-0 last Monday night at WHS, giving the Indians a share of the conference championship and assuring them a spot in the state tournament.
It was the team’s fifth win in six games, completing a total turnaround for a team that just two weeks earlier was searching for answers after losing their fourth straight game, a 2-1 home loss to Plainville on Oct 15, leaving their tournament aspirations in dire straits.
Despite the four-game skid, head coach Jeffrey Brunetti remained optimistic about the team’s outlook heading into the final six games of the season.
“I love this team and I’m excited about their skill and what they can do in games. We’re going to keep plugging away until the end of the year,” Brunetti said after the loss to the Blue Devils, which dropped the Indians to 3-5-2.
Brunetti had the confidence in his players and they delivered, winning five of their final six and showing that they could compete with any team in the state.
“We always had the belief in them,” Brunetti said following the win over Wethersfield, “Defensively we’ve played good collectively and played well when we’re under pressure. It’s all about the collective effort and them buying into what we’re trying to achieve.”
Senior goaltender Nick Cox was incredible against Wethersfield, saving a dozen shots and playing a nearly flawless game between the pipes.
“After we lost four straight, we knew we wanted to get in the tournament. We wanted to show that we’re a good team and that we can play with a champion’s mentality. We played like that today,” said Cox, who credits Brunetti for being a calming voice during the midseason adversity, “ I know he believes in us and he’s confident even when we’re down.”
It took less than a minute for the road team to provide Cox a lead he would not relinquish.
48 seconds into the match, Adam Khadrani hammered home a midair shot after receiving a great setup pass from Christian Amaral.
The last 79 minutes of action featured several shots on goal from the Wethersfield attackers, all which were all thwarted by Cox and his defensive mates.
“They battled. It’s a rivalry game and they earned it,” Wethersfield coach Rob Jachym said of Newington’s effort, “We didn’t hand it to them, they came out here and defended really well and they got the job done.”
Wethersfield fired a array of shots on goal, featuring several near makes but none closer than Antonio Capossela’s shot from 75 feet out late in the first half. The senior captain made perfect contact with the ball but the shot when a tad shy, ricocheting off the crossbar with 3:30 left in the half.
Eagles leading scorer Max Karkos, who finished the regular season with 17 goals, Marco Capasso, Anis Kukic, and Riley Carlson all had multiple chances to tie things up in regulation but all their attempts were either off the mark or saved by Cox.
“I was an attacking player myself so I put a huge emphasis on it and right now it seems like nobody can put the ball in the net, and it’s feels like it’s contagious,” Jachym said of the team’s late-season offensive woes, “The goal seems tiny right now. It’s just one of those things and I hope that we can snap out of it.”
The Eagles averaged 3.3 goals per game over their first dozen games but managed only a total of three goals over their final four regular season games.
Despite the scoring slump, the Eagles still finished the regular season with one of the better records in the conference (12-3-1) and earned a bye in the first round of the state tournament.
Defensively the team was sound and, after giving up the early goal, keeper Francesco Gionfriddo was clean the rest of the night.
“We play really nice soccer. We knock the ball around, we keep it on the ground, we move, we get crosses in, but right now it’s not resulting in wins” Jachym said of the team’s overall play this season, “We’ve done it, against strong teams we played really well but I told them right now we might have to roll our sleeves up and play a little more direct and force some mistakes by our defense. We didn’t see this early on and all of sudden some of these things are coming to light now.”
For Newington it was their defense which allowed them to close out the season with three straight wins, all shutouts.
Cox protects the net but gave credit to the defenders in front of him, “They’re the reason why I don’t give up goals. Trey (Sadler), Evan (Sanford), Alex (Dipaola), they’re all just working so hard. Davis (Basha) is always on their best player and doing a phenomenal job.”
Both Cox and Brunetti praised sophomore Manassah Dalomba, who was a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive end against Wethersfield.
“Manassah is a work horse all over the field. He’s just something special,” said Cox.
“You see how much the kids love him on this side,” added Brunetti, “He’s just at a different level with his mentality and he’s the nicest kid in the world, which is great. He works hard at practice and it’s just great to have him. He is the energizer.”
Newington’s win also avenged a 2-0 loss to the Eagles at NHS earlier this season, which started the Indians four-game skid.
It was another factor that made Monday’s victory at WHS even sweeter.
“We can’t put too much importance on any single game, but they were aware of the situation tonight. So I think it did amp up the work rate, which was important in getting that early goal. Fast starts are important,” Brunetti stated.
As the finals second ticked off the clock at Cottone Field, Wethersfield fired up a desperation shot that was fielded in midair by Cox, who dropped to the ground. The final save wrapped up a memorable night for the goalie and his teammates, who put the finishing touches on an incredible turnaround.
“When I got that ball and I had the fall I knew that the game was almost over. I embraced it and it felt so good when that buzzer rang and that we were conference champions,” recalled Cox.
Brunetti added that the season-finale win was the result of the team sticking together through adversity, “One of the things that I told them was that we believe in them but they have to believe in themselves and each other. There’s a definite belief within the program.”
Megan Kelleher- Wethersfield (Volleyball): Kelleher is a consistent force in the middle, leading the Eagles with 30 blocks this fall. The senior captain finished the regular season with 123 kills and 41 aces, including an 85% serving percentage. The middle hitter came up with a team-high five aces in a crucial late season win over Rocky Hill.
Mark Rodriguez- Cromwell (Cross Country): Rodriguez has been a steady force for Cromwell, placing near the top of the leaderboard all season. The junior started his season by breaking the home course record for a Cromwell runner by over 30 seconds. At the Wickham Invite, Rodriguez ran one of the fastest times ever for a Cromwell runner (16:35) and then at the Shoreline Championships, hosted by Cromwell, he finished 4th overall with a blistering time of 16:08, earning him 1st team All-Conference honors for the third straight year. At the State Class SS meet, Rodriguez placed third overall, leading his team to a 2nd place/runner-up finish as a team, which was the team’s highest finish since in over 50 years. His efforts at the state meet earned him All-State honors for the second straight year.
Ella DePase- Newington (Soccer): DePase posted back-to-back shutout wins over rival Rocky Hill (1-0) and Wethersfield (2-0). The shutouts were the sixth and seventh for the freshman goalie, who received offensive help from Alyse Karanian, Olivia Mullings, and Reagon Pelton, who accounted for the goals in the wins over the Terriers and Eagles.
Shaun Gaskins- Middletown (Football): Gaskins ran for 64 yards and two touchdowns in Middletown’s 16-6 win over E.O. Smith last Friday. The junior running back also made an impact defensively as a linebacker, registering an interception and four tackles as the Blue Dragons improved to 5-3.
Emily Messina, Sydney Budaj, Lilli Cartiera, Emily Murphy, Clarissa Nock- Wethersfield (Field Hockey): Messina, Budaj, Cartiera, Murphy, and Nock have protected the backend for an Eagles team that won 15 of 16 regular season games. The five defenders helped preserve eight shutouts and head coach Colleen Budaj praised them for their consistent work, “[They’ve] done an excellent job at limiting scoring opportunities. [They] each compliment the others style of play and strengths, making them a strong unit as a whole.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin