For many years, both Guilford and Hand have produced top quality girls’ soccer teams. With Branford now among both the Southern Connecticut Conference and state’s elite, the area has three schools that annually will be contenders for both league and state titles.
A year ago, Guilford finished 21-2 and defeated Branford (19-3-1) in both the Southern Connecticut Conference and CIAC Class L finals.Meanwhile, Hand won the SCC Hammonasset Division in two of the previous three years.
“I was very proud to have us and Branford play in the state finals,” said Guilford coach Scott McMahon. “The level we went to last year is pretty unprecedented in the league when we won the conference and the states in the same year.”
All three area head coaches credit the youth programs in their towns for the success of their teams. Each said that they see players coming from Premier teams and other top programs in the area. Some local programs are using outside sources as well.
Hand has a new coach this fall in Dave Dikranian, a 1991 Branford High graduate, who was an assistant coach for the 2005 Class LL Cheshire girls’ soccer team. Dikranian also has run the Victory Soccer Academy and has been the video coordinator for the Yale women’s soccer team for the last 10 years.
“Madison has had training companies and people like me come in to the youth programs,” said Dikranian. “After we trained them the youth team won the State Cup. Now those kids are freshmen at Hand and we have a strong freshman class.”
At Guilford and Branford, both McMahon and Branford coach Jen Kohut also credit the consistency of their programs for their success. McMahon has been at Guilford for 10 years, while Kohut is entering her 17th season.
“The consistency has really helped,” said Kohut. “I’m a (physical education) teacher in the building, so I can interact with them all day.The kids are also buying into my philosophy of hard work and team before self, which has given us success.”
What also is helping is that the youth programs in each town try to play the same style of soccer that the high school teams are.
“I don’t play a set formation every year, but they play the same style I like every year,” said Kohut.
In Guilford, McMahon may change up the way the varsity plays every year, but the junior varsity and freshman teams play the same style the varsity does.
“We’re altering our style a little bit,” said McMahon. “But the junior varsity and freshman teams can watch the varsity play and see the same thing. That’s another part of our success.”
While Guilford and Hand have been near the top of the SCC for years, Branford has taken a while to get there. While Guilford has played in 10 state title games and Hand five (including two against each other) Branford’s 2013 appearance in the Class L final was its first.
“Guilford and Hand have a long history, but we’re building a tradition here in Branford,” said Kohut. “It took a while to get the program up and running. Now, kids have bought into team philosophy at Branford High School.
Branford has 38 players on the roster this year, which is up from previous year.
“We have a really strong swimming and field hockey programs that have won state championships, along with volleyball, too,” Kohut said. “I’m competing against three other sports to get kids, but now they see they can play for a state championship in soccer.
Kohut added that she’s been getting more and more inquiries from college coaches. She’s had a half dozen Division I players over the years and more than a dozen that have gone on to play in college.
“This senior class has gotten a lot of calls from college coaches already,” Kohut said.
And for all three programs, it looks like those calls — along with some championships — will keep coming.