The COVID-19 pandemic impacted fall high school sports teams throughout Connecticut and the North Branford field hockey team was no exception, dealing with a early season quarantine that impacted practices and the start of the season.
For the Thunderbirds, the team took the mantra “one day at a time.”
“For months, it was a wait-and-see situation,” North Branford coach Babby Nuhn said. “So, we took the mantra “one day at a time” to savor each and every time we stepped on the field. We always knew it might be our last.
“When you think about it, that is a scary thought. Everyone in our society has had to deal with adversity and real-life situations, way too fast for some of these young student athletes.”
Despite the challenges, the Thunderbirds persevered and capped their season with a Shoreline Conference championship. Olivia Toto and Mia Oliverio scored the goals in a 2-0 win over No. 2 seed Old Saybrook in the title game on Nov. 10.
“I am absolutely thrilled our team was able to practice and play throughout the fall and even to have a Shoreline championship game to seal it with an impressive 10-0 record,” Nuhn said. “We were quarantined early in the season. We lost two weeks of being together as a team, to develop a new system, figure out positions, get into shape, work together as a team, to set boundaries, to do many things.
“During those weeks it was important to maintain each players’ mental well-being. That was a specific goal. We played a few “games” (scavenger hunt, and Kahoot!) via zoom-google web meetings to keep us together having fun, laugh and to maintain a sense of team unity.”
Toto, a left wing, led the team with 13 goals and seven assists, while right wing Oliverio had seven goals and an assist. The defense allowed only three goals the entire season and goalie Sofia Votto had nine shutouts.
“The way COVID had impacted sports made this title more special this season,” Votto said. “Our team struggled in the beginning of the season with COVID cases on the team ourselves. That caused a delay, but after overcoming that obstacle it felt amazing to get through it and win the title.”
Among the top defenders were Emma Serenson and Gabby Gibilisco and some of the top midfielders were Amanda Nuzzo, Aly Kendrick and Lindsey Onofrio. Braeden LeBeau and Sophia Anastasio were among the top playmakers at forward.
“COVID had an immense impact on sports and really put our team and many others through various difficulties.,” Anastasio said. “Winning the Shoreline title during this tough time with COVID made this win special. We overcame so many challenges as a team and worked extremely hard to win the title. I am so appreciative that we even got to have a Shoreline tournament because there was so much uncertainty this year.”
Center back Kelli Jacobson contributed on both ends of the field. She had a goal or an assist in every game and went on to have 12 goals and five assists.
“This championship means so much to me,” Jacobson said. “Being able to win four Shoreline Conference titles throughout my high school career has allowed me to see that hard work does pay off. My team and I are so proud of our hard work and determination. During these hard times it has helped show us to never give up because it will all come together in the end.
“Many of my teammates had to work hard alone and for many high school athletes that is hard. But this title shows how dedicated and committed each player on the North Branford field hockey team is.”
Nuhn said the overall success was due to everyone contributing.
“There is absolutely no doubt that all seven senior players and senior manager Ella Taylor were the glue to the success this season,” Nuhn said. “A big shout out to Evaun Boatman, our goalkeeping coach, who also helps with many drills and Kathy Galdenzi, who is always running specific drills. Our athletic director, Lori Connelly, contributed too going to extreme limits with thousands of extra hours for meetings, paperwork, communication, support, and everything else.”