It may not have been the senior season she would have envisioned a year ago, but Bella Pilato will take it just the same.
Pilato, a four-year starter, had six goals and six assists in nine games. The center-midfielder was named to the New Haven Register’s all-area team.
But the season wasn’t about the statistics, or the glory. It was the opportunity to just get on the field and play, an opportunity cherished by many high school athletes being able to compete during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was great being able to have that final chance to play with the girls I grew up playing with and have that final closure as well,” Pilato said. “For my generation, for most of us, this (pandemic) has been one of the hardest things (to go through). It has made me more mature.”
Pilato is friends with some of the girls on last year’s basketball team that had its state tournament cut short. She said the same thing happened to her brother Michael, who plays for the hockey team at Notre Dame-West Haven. The players knew well ahead of time there would not be a state tournament to play for this fall.
East Haven reached the Southern Connecticut Conference Division B semifinals, losing to eventual champion Guilford.
Dealing with all of the issues of staying safe and healthy just to have a season during the pandemic was one thing. Dealing with field issues was another.
On Aug. 27, a microburst helped destroy Crisafi Field, the turf field used by East Haven’s fall sports teams. The girls soccer team ended up using the outfield of the softball field for both practices and games.
“It seemed like nothing was going our way for our senior season. We made what we could out of it. I’m happy we got in what we could. It was definitely a memorable season,” Pilato said. “It definitely makes you more grateful for everything you actually have.”
Said East Haven girls soccer coach Jake Hackett: “We could have sat there and been sad. Instead, we put in the work. Day after day, the kids worked as hard as they could to make something out of the season.”
Hackett’s first year as coach coincided with the start of Pilato’s career with the Yellowjackets. He talked with the group about “wanting to rebuild the program from the ground up.”
A two-year captain, Pilato finished her career with 23 goals and 34 assists. She was a two-time All-Southern Connecticut Conference and coaches all-state selection.
“She bought in from day one. She worked hard, played almost every minute of every game. She got better every year, an example to other girls on the team what hard work looks like and what leadership looks like.”
Pilato owns a 4.28 grade point average and has been an honors student every semester. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Pilato was involved in Unified Sports.
“I felt like being able to share some things I love doing like sports with people who can appreciate it, too, was something unique. To be able to assist, to help teach them things I love doing, it was very eye-opening.”
Said East Haven athletic director Anthony Verderame: Bella is what every athletic director hopes to have in an athlete. She is the perfect student, an amazing teammate and extraordinarily civic and community-minded. It’s great to have athletes like Bella Pilato representing the town of East Haven.”
Pilato will soon be representing the University of New Haven. She verbally committed to play for the Chargers on Dec. 26.
She said it was the only school she really considered. Pilato attended soccer camps at the West Haven-based college early on in her high school career.
She liked what New Haven coach Laura Duncan had to say at those camps and formed a bond that has led to one of the most important decisions she has had to make in her young life.
“(The coach) was a huge part in choosing where I’d go. If you are not comfortable with talking to your coach, it’s not going to be the place for you. Those camps showed how she coached and how she (interracted) with everyone. It influenced me more to go there.”
Pilato said UNH was the only place she really considered going. After an unofficial visit, it only enhanced her desire to play soccer there.
The 17-year-old Pilato plans to major in business finance. Pilato said she will play “anywhere (Duncan) puts me.” Hackett believes Pilato will be a factor in the program.
“Bella will be like every other freshman fighting for minutes. With the work Bella puts in and the amazing drive and passion she has for the game, I think she will do well and be an asset to Coach Duncan’s program,” Hackett said.