When the 2016 season ended, Branford girls lacrosse coach Jackie Ceccolini and her players knew they would return in 2017 and challenge for the CIAC Class M championship.
In 2016, the Hornets advanced to the Class M semifinals and lost to eventual champion New Canaan. Branford finished the season 16-4 and Ceccolini was returning many of her talented players for the 2017 season.
On Saturday, led by balanced scoring, a solid on-field defense and goalie Jillian Ciarleglio, Branford defeated Pomperaug 15-8 for the Hornets’ historic CIAC Class M title. In addition to being the Hornets’ first state title, Branford is the first SCC girls lacrosse team to win a state title.
“It feels amazing to be able to bring home the state title not only to Branford, but to the SCC,” Ceccolini said. “The SCC has grown in size and strength over the years, and the players and athletes are some of the best in the state.
“After last season, we knew we would be back vying for the championship. We did experience a few loses during the (2017) regular season, but I wouldn’t trade those loses for anything. The losses came with a learning experience and hunger for our team that paid off when we faced East Lyme (11-9 loss, season opener) and Pomperaug (13-12 OT loss, May 13)) again in the state tournament.”
In addition to beating Pomperaug in the Class M final, Branford avenged the East Lyme loss by beating the Vikings 16-13 in the semifinals.
“Our goalie Jillian Ciarleglio made one of the team’s biggest impacts in the tournament,” Ceccolini said. “As we moved into postseason play, she was seeing the ball really well. She made some unbelievable saves that helped swing the momentum of each game in our direction. I knew our team was in good shape during the championship game when my goalie came off the field at halftime smiling from ear to ear. She knew she had just played one of her best games to date.”
Ceccolini said Sophie Spencer also had an “unbelievable” tournament for the Hornets.
“The bigger the game the better Spencer played,” Ceccolini said. “She loves this sport and thrives off of the competition. Even with her unbelievable stats this season, she is one of the most unselfish players on the field. Spencer does whatever she needs to for the better of the team. Our defense was solid too. They were able to study the other teams we faced and adapt to their style of play. They made good teams question their game plan.”
The top scorers for the Hornets this season include Spencer (90 goals, 11 assists), Autumn McHenry (54 goals, 35 assists), Sabrina Torcellini (55 goals, 16 assists), Ashlee Smestad (23 goals, 44 assists) and LanLe Crotty (41 goals, 16 assists).
“The key for our team in the state tournament was to play our game,” Cecolini said. “When our team is firing on all cylinders, it is a pretty thing to watch out on the lacrosse field. The feeling of winning states has sunk in, but the excitement hasn’t ended.
“The town of Branford and lacrosse community in the state has been extremely supportive of us winning. Our team has felt like rock stars since bringing home the championship title.”
Baldassare earns Barron Award
George Baldassare, executive secretary of the Connecticut High School Lacrosse Coaches Association and director of boys lacrosse for Laxpower.com, will receive the CHSLCA Frank Barron Award for Lifetime Achievement in lacrosse.
The Frank Barron Award is given to someone to recognize their overall contribution to the game over a long period of time in the spirit of the name of the award and Frank Barron’s selfless contributions to the game over a long period of time. It is not given every year but only when a deserving candidate is available.
“It is a distinct honor for me to accept this prestigious award,” said Baldassare, a resident of Madison.
Baldassare has been with LaxPower since 1999. He was an assistant coach at Hand (boys lacrosse) from 1983-2010 and prior to that helped start the youth lacrosse program in Madison in 1981. He was an assistant general manager for the World Champion USA Under-19 team in 2003 and 2008 and also served a three-year term on the U.S. Lacrosse Board of Governors from 2001- 2003.