MADISON — Listening to Hand girls lacrosse captains Taylor Scully, Riley Kokoruda and Emma Valdez and Hand boys lacrosse captains Kevin Hughes and Nate Palumbo after their practices on Thursday, it’s easy see why these are their “glory days” at Hand High.
It’s certainly an exciting time for the boys and girls lacrosse teams as both will play in their respective CIAC Class M championship games on Saturday. The sixth-seeded Hand boys face No. 1 New Fairfield at McMahon at 10 a.m. The top-seeded Hand girls face familiar SCC foe and defending champion No. 2 Branford at Law at 2:15 p.m.
Both teams used the same combination to get where they are today — hard work, teammates pushing teammates to help everyone improve, experience, talent, depth, team chemistry and a camaraderie that has led to a family-type atmosphere.
“These are the glory days for us, for both teams, at Hand,” Hughes said. “We have received so much support from everyone at school. Administrators, teachers, especially teachers, and students have all wished us luck in the game. We expect a big crowd of fans at both games.”
The Hand boys are back in the Class M final for the fourth straight year. New Canaan defeated Hand for the Class M title the last three seasons, but the Rams moved to Class L this season and the Tigers, especially the seniors, are poised to finally win the elusive title, albeit against a tough Rebels team.
“Our team, both teams, have worked hard all season to get to where we are today,” Hand boys coach John Orlando said. “Lacrosse is a very important part of this community. The youth lacrosse kids look up to the high school players, so for both the boys and girls getting to the final, it’s a big deal for everyone.
“For us (boys team), because our defense is so tough our offense had a hard time competing with them in practice and that helped make us better. We also had a tough schedule with some big wins and solid play against some very good teams.”
Palumbo said the boys team has some unfinished business.
“We need to win this game,” Palumbo said. “All of us on this team, we’re close. The seniors all grew up together and we’ve played a lot of years together. We’re all focused for this moment. The coaches have us prepared and we have great support from our fans.”
Scully and All-American Kokoruda combine to make a formidable 1-2 scoring punch for the Tigers. Valdez leads a very strong and deep defense.
“It will be a great day if we can both come away with the Class M championship,” Hand girls lacrosse coach Kevin Siedlecki said. “Our principal, our AD (athletic director) and teachers are all on top of this, showing support. They understand how special it is for both our teams be in the final the same season.
“And there is support from the kids in school because they understand that this is special and that it matters to us.”
Kokoruda, Scully and Valdez said everyone at the high school understands both the boys and girls teams are in the Class M finals.
“For me, I’m just so proud of my team and to have been through this special season with them,” Kokoruda said. “People in school understand this and give us their support. A lot of people are trying to find ways to get to the boys game in the morning and our game in the afternoon.”
Valdez said the boys and girls lacrosse teams are supporting each other as well.
“This is our time,” Valdez said. “We’re all family here and we support each other. Both teams worked hard to get here.”
Scully expects a tough game with Branford since both teams typically play hard-fought, close games.
“Branford will be tough but we are prepared,” Scully said. “We’re getting a lot of support in school especially from all our teachers. Our teachers talk about us and the boys being in the final all the time.”
While there is support at school, Hughes said he has sensed another impact with both teams getting to the finals.
“It’s great to see the support at school,” Hughes said. “The teachers’ support has been great. But more than that, with both of us getting to the final, I see the boys team and girls team really appreciating each other,” Hughes said. “We know the hard work that went into this for both teams and it’s a process we share.”