CHESHIRE — On any typical opening day for high school sports, spirits are high and smiles abound as athletes and coaches embark on a fresh, new season.
But Thursday was not your typical opening day.
During the Branford at Cheshire field hockey game, smiles were a lot wider, laughter and giggles were a little louder and emotions ran high at Cheshire High’s turf field.
The COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut Connecticut down in March and high school sports hadn’t been played since March 9. After months of wrangling with the issue of how to deal with the pandemic and bring sports back, with specific guidelines in place to ensure safety, sports returned and the Rams and Hornets couldn’t have been happier.
“My girls had some of the biggest smiles today,” Cheshire coach Eileen Wildermann said.
Lauren Houle had a goal and an assist to lead Cheshire to a 3-0 win over Branford.
“Today’s game, just being able to play because you never know with this COVID-19, meant more than a win or a loss. It ‘s about enjoying the game of field hockey,” Wildermann said. “Today brought back the normalcy we’ve been missing. We have to appreciate every game, appreciate each practice to practice, appreciate every moment because there are no guarantees with this virus. It can come back strong and shut things down again tomorrow, next week or next month.”
Cheshire dominated the game.
Hannah Jalowiec and Elise Hurlbert split goalie duties for the Rams and they didn’t need to make a save. Branford goalie Nina Shamus had 21 saves. Cheshire had 59 girls try out for the team and Wildermann doesn’t cut anyone. Experience is a strength for the Rams with half of the starters back from last season. The Hornets have 31 players on the team and 74 percent of the team is comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
Despite his team’s loss, Branford coach Pete Frye echoed the upbeat sentiment.
“It was a long road that we all had to take to get to this point and play a regular-season game,” Frye said. Two of his players don’t have COVID-19, but are in quarantine because about a week ago they were exposed to a person who tested positive. “We were all looking forward to playing here. Everyone is so happy just to be able to play.
“I told my girls how proud I was of them and how hard they worked to get here. I love playing Cheshire because they are always so good. They expose your weaknesses and show you where to focus your development.”
On Cheshire’s first goal, Houle took a shot off a penalty corner and Avery DePodesta re-directed it in the net for a 1-0 lead in the first quarter. Emily Curtis scored in the second quarter and Houle added a goal in the third for the 3-0 final.
“We were all so pumped up to play today,” Houle said. “Our goal coming into this season is to just have fun. Because of this pandemic we are appreciative just to have practice. With this pandemic everyone realizes how lucky we are to play. The most important part of today was just being able to be on that field and play. It felt so good to be out there.”