NEW HAVEN >> Mia Ciardiello and Alex McCraven were both integral parts of the Hopkins girls soccer team that won the Western New England Prep School Class B regular-season championship in 2013. Both players were freshman.
Eight starters departed, but with the two sophomores leading the way, another successful season was in the offing, right?
Wrong. The Hilltoppers went 5-9-1. Ciardiello mentioned team chemistry being a major issue. McCraven cited a lack of leadership. Whatever the issues were, it ended up being a long season.
“After the first two games, it (the struggle) wasn’t that surprising. Our team dynamic wasn’t nearly as strong as it was freshman year,” Ciardiello said. “It was really frustrating and disappointing. I knew we could be better than we were, but it wasn’t coming together for us.”
Will last season serve as a learning experience? Motivation? Ciardiello and McCraven, now junior co-captains, say yes to both. Joined by senior goalkeeper Claire Yin, the two midfielders are hoping for a turnaround in 2015.
“I think we have a lot of young players who experienced last year and didn’t want to go thru that type of season again,” McCraven said. “There are a lot of girls itching to do well this season.”
Whether that ends up being another WNEPSSA title remains to be seen. Longtime Hopkins coach Gerard Casanova feels last year’s experience will also be helpful. Also, Yin returns in goal after missing more than a full season with a knee injury.
Sonnoe Fitzsimonds stepped in for Yin in goal at the end of 2013 and played there all of last year. Now she returns to the midfield to make for an explosive trio with Ciardiello and McCraven.
Ciardiello, from Guilford, was an All-WNEPSSA performer a season ago. She tends to be vocal on the field to her teammates, providing instruction any time she can.
“Even though I say the same thing over and over again and people get sick of hearing my voice, I think it can only help us,” Ciadiello said.
Casanova sees Ciardiello as “very, very gifted. On the ball, she is small physically, but she makes up for that with very good touch on the ball. She’s very fast, very skilled and fearless.”
In 2004, another Guilford kid, Caroline Walden, ended up setting the school record with 67 goals and earned both the CGSCA Player of the Year and NSCAA Connecticut State Player of the Year. She went on to start 63 of 65 games at Boston College, mainly as a defender, and was a second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection her senior year.
But even Walden didn’t commit to BC nearly as early as Ciardiello committed to Villanova – a year ago this month. She hasn’t wavered on her decision, but still can’t sign a national letter of intent until November of 2016.
Ciardiello chose Villanova over another Big East Conference school, Providence, that was also courting her.
“I’m the same soccer player as I was last year, but being so young tom make (a college decision), that could be hard for some people, unless you really know what you want. I love Villanova, love everything about it. I knew that when I committed and know that now. I think the only thing that could ever change my mind about it would be something non-soccer related.”
McCraven, a Cheshire resident, is hoping to land in the Ivy League. If not, several Division 3 schools that combine athletics with top-shelf academics.
McCraven calls Ciardiello “the maestro of the team. She does a really good job keeping everything organized.” But MCraven’s presence will be just as important in determining Hopkins’ success.
“Alex is very solid and is also very physical,” Casanova said. “I think we are going to do well, much better than last year. Where that leads us, I don’t know.”
We already know what Ciardiello and McCraven have set their sights on.
“We think we can go all way to the WNEPSSA (title) with the talent we have,” McCraven said. With the right leadership this year, we can improve on our record and take the league (title).”
Joe Morelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter @nhrJoeMorelli.