Storylines to watch
Can Staples win four straight Class L titles?
While Darien and others will likely have something to say about it, the Wreckers have the talent to make another strong run to win their fourth straight Class L title. In the last three seasons they have won two outright titles and were co-champs with Darien in 2016 (0-0 tie after two overtimes). The Wreckers have their share of talent returning from last season. The offense is led by Kyle Kirby (30 goals, 20 assists last season) and Laine Ambrose had nine goals and 14 assists. The defense is led by backs Grace Cooper and Hannah Paprotna. Staples went 22-1 last season and scored 112 goals and allowed only nine.
FCIAC tough overall in Class L
While Staples is the team to beat, and with most FCIAC teams in Class L, the Wreckers can expect a tough challenge from within their own league. The storyline to watch is what team will emerge as the top challenger? Among those who can challenge are Darien, Ridgefield, Fairfield Ludlowe and Wilton. St. Joseph is the only FCIAC team not in Class L and competes in Class M. Darien is the team to watch with its share of postseason success over the years with six Class L titles and four in Class M.
Last year’s Class L runner-up is in a rare position.
Cheshire, which lost 3-0 to Staples in the 2018 Class L final, has had its share of success over the years. Like most teams, the Rams typically lose top players from the previous season to graduation. But coach Eileen Wildermann is dealing with double-digit losses this season with 17 graduated from 2018. “It is definitely is a new position to be in,” Wildermann said. “Preseason has been really exciting with only three returning starters. I have been able to watch younger players step up to some big positions after having had such a good graduating class to learn from.” Among the standouts returning is defender Olivia Salamone.
Guilford tough again in Class M
Defending Class M champion Guilford, which defeated SCC rival Sacred Heart Academy 3-1 in the 2018 Class M final, looks tough to beat again this season. The Indians are led by forward Hannah Tillier and midfielder Maddie Epke along with Kitty Palmer, the Indians’ experienced coach who always produces a solid postseason game plan. SCC rivals Hand, Amity and Branford will be among the top challengers in Class M. Pomperaug, last season’s SWC tournament champion, is led by Jessica Evans and should challenge for the title. Avon, East Lyme, and South Windsor, which had solid post-season runs last season, should make an impact as well.
Class S wide open
Immaculate, led by midfielder Molly Coyle and CHSCA All-State goalie Lauren Oskam, is a favorite to repeat as Class S champion. Oskam, one of the top goalies in Class S, led Immaculate to a 3-0 win over Granby in the Class S final last season. Oskam had one of her best games in the Class S semifinals with 12 saves in a 4-3 overtime win over Stonington. Granby, Stonington and Canton are among the teams who should challenge for the title. But the Shoreline Conference will also make an impact. North Branford, Westbrook and Valley Regional have their share of frontline talent to make a strong post-season run.
10 games to watch
Hand at Cheshire, Sept. 12, 4 p.m.: Two fierce SCC rivals face off in a matchup to kick off the season.
Granby at Westbrook, Sept. 13, 3:30 p.m.: This could be a preview of the 2019 Class S final as two CIAC Class S powerhouses meet for an early season matchup.
New Canaan at Cheshire, Sept. 14, 11 a.m.: Rams vs. Rams. New Canaan, 11-4-0-1 in the regular season last season, visit last season’s Class L runner-up.
Darien at Staples, Sept. 18, 4 p.m.: One of the top FCIAC matchups of the regular season between two fierce FCIAC rivals. In 2018, Darien defeated Staples 2-1 in the FCIAC tournament final and the Wreckers got some revenge with a 2-1 OT win over Darien in the Class L semifinals. Staples went on to defeat Cheshire in the Class L final.
Westbrook at North Branford, Oct. 2, 6 p.m.: Another fierce rivalry game with two of the top teams in the Shoreline Conference meeting in October. North Branford defeated Westbrook 2-0 in the Shoreline Conference tournament final last season.
Darien at Hand, Oct. 5, noon: In what has become an annual regular-season FCIAC vs. SCC matchup, the FCIAC powerhouse Blue Wave and SCC powerhouse Tigers meet in Madison.
Branford at Staples, Oct. 19, noon: The Hornets, led by forward Molly Zaffino, get some valuable experience as the postseason approaches playing against one of the state’s top teams – Class L defending champion Staples.
Immaculate at Pomperaug, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.: This matchup between fierce SWC rivals is always exciting and the defending Class S champion Mustangs will likely be looking to get some revenge. Last season, Pomperaug defeated Immaculate 1-0 in the SWC tournament final.
Cheshire at Guilford, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.: At this stage of the season, 2018 Class L runner-up Cheshire, in a rare rebuilding season with 17 players lost to graduation, gets a solid barometer of where it stands heading into the postseason against a very talented and deep Class M champion Guilford.
Avon at Southington, Nov. 5, 3:45 p.m.: A pair of CCC rivals meet. Last season, Avon won its first CCC South title with a 7-0 record after getting a 5-1 win over Southington.
Central Connecticut Conference
2018 Champion: No tournament. Avon 7-0 last season.
Favorites: Glastonbury, Hall and Avon.
Players to Watch: Mary Norman, Glastonbury, Sr.; Allie Crawford, Hall, Jr.; Morgan Saylor, South Windsor, Sr.; Megan Gilbey, Avon, Jr.; Cora Nagle, Simsbury, Sr.
Outlook: Led by midfielder Mary Norman, Glastonbury only graduated four players from last season and is one of the teams to beat. While most CCC teams graduated a lot of talented seniors, other teams with returning frontline talent and depth who will contend include Hall and Avon.
2018 Champion: Darien defeated Staples 2-1 in FCIAC tournament final.
Favorites: Staples, Darien, Fairfield Ludlowe, Ridgefield, Wilton
Players to Watch: Tess Albrecht, Norwalk, Jr.; Laine Ambrose, Staples, Jr.; Bella Carrozza, Ridgefield, Sr.; Grace Cooper, Staples, Sr.; Tala Garcia, Darien, Sr.; Olivia Hahn, Wilton, Sr.; Molly Hellman, Darien, Sr.; Kyle Kirby, Staples, Sr.; Hannah Paprotna, Staples, Sr.; Ashley Zolin, Greenwich, Sr.
Outook: Defending Class L champion Staples lost some key players from last season. But the Wreckers are still one of the teams to beat. Defending FCIAC champ Darien also graduated some key players from last season but as usual is another favorite for the league title. Fairfield Ludlowe and Ridgefield will improve from last season and Wilton will challenge with the addition of Mike Pallister as head coach who previously coached at Princeton University.
2018 Champion: Guilford def. Cheshire 3-1 in the SCC tournament final.
Favorites: Amity, Branford, Guilford, Hand.
Players to Watch: Ana Carney, Amity, Sr.; Maeve Connors, Hand, Sr.; Tess Csejka, Amity, Sr.; Maddie Epke, Guilford, So.; Payton Rahn, Amity, Jr.; Kennedy Richard, Hand, Sr.; Olivia Salamone, Cheshire, Sr.; Jacqui Sandor, Hand, Sr.; Hannah Tillier, Guilford, Jr.; Molly Zaffino, Branford, Sr.
Outlook: Amity has emerged as a key contender with its talent and depth. The Spartans are led by three-sport standout Csejka who has committed to play field hockey at Boston University. They also have two solid goalies who will both see action – senior Ana Carney and junior Peyton Rhan. Defending Class M champ Guilford is the favorite with its experience and returning starters, including Tillier and Epke. Hand (midfielder Jacqui Sandor) and Branford (midfielder Molly Zaffino) both have talented starters. Cheshire, which lost to Staples in the 2018 Class L final, finds itself in the unusual position of being in a rebuilding season with 16 players lost to graduation and only three returning starters. Defender Olivia Salamone is a key returning player for the Rams.
2018 Champion: North Branford defeated Westbrook 2-0 in the Shoreline Conference tournament final.
Favorites: North Branford, Old Saybrook, Valley Regional, Westborrok
Players to Watch: Ali Barrett, North Branford, Sr.; Wendy Bowden, Old Saybrook, Sr.; Ava Galdenzi, North Branford, Sr.; Lauren Horne, Westbrook, Sr.; Kelli Jacobson, North Branford, Jr.; Riley Millburne, Valley Regional, Sr.; Kendall Orlowski, Westbrook, Sr.; Elena Peterlik, Valley Regional, Sr.
Outlook: While the league has been dominated by North Branford and Westbrook, coaches believe the challenge for the title is more wide open than in the past. Old Saybrook and Valley Regional have also emerged as solid contenders with their frontline talent and depth.
2018 Champion: Pomperaug defeated Immaculate 1-0 in the SWC tournament final.
Favorites: Pomperaug, Immaculate, Newtown
Players to Watch: Molly Coyle, Immaculate, Sr.; Jessica Evans, Pomperaug, Jr.
Outlook: Like many teams statewide, Immaculate and Pomperaug lost some key players from last season to graduation. But as usual both teams are poised as favorites to win the league title. The defending Class S champion Mustangs, led by midfielder Molly Coyle, will likely be seeking some revenge for a pair of losses to the Panthers last season, including 1-0 in the SWC tournament final. Among the key returnees for the Panthers is junior Jessica Evans, who assisted on the game-winning goal in the SWC final. Newtown, which advanced to the Class L semifinals last season, is another contender for the title.