Those who know North Branford field hockey coach Babby Nuhn understand she has historically shied away from publicity.
Nuhn prefers to keep herself and her team under the radar. Nuhn bristles even more when you ask her to talk about herself, when you refer to her as a field hockey legend or icon or mover and shaker when it comes to Connecticut field hockey. Asking Nuhn to talk about herself, and the conversation quickly turns around with the focus on her players and coaching staff.
Sometimes, though, it is tough for the North Branford field hockey team to stay under the radar, like this season’s team. Through their first 13 games the Thunderbirds went 13-0 and did not allow a goal, outscoring opponents 67-0.
On Oct. 23 the Thunderbirds traveled to fierce Shoreline Conference rival Westbrook and came away with a hard-fought 2-2 tie. On Saturday, the Thunderbirds returned to their winning ways with a 6-2 win over Shoreline Conference rival Haddam-Killingworth.
Overall, the Thunderbirds are now 14-0-1 and have outscored opponents 75-4. The idea of having such a dominating regular season never entered Nuhn’s mind in the preseason.
“I never predict before the start of the season,” Nuhn said. “It is more about trying to develop a positive harmony with each and every player to make the chemistry work effectively. We do many team-bonding events as well as volunteer in various community activities. We are small in numbers but much more importantly we are big in heart and determination.
“As you know, I am not into the publicity. Honestly, it has been a full team unity approach for our success on and off the field. Yes, going 13-0 was a terrific start to the season. But our energy is taking it one day at a time. The real test is where we stand in one month (playoffs, Shoreline Conference tournament and CIAC Class S tournament).”
On offense, it’s been a balanced scoring effort with multiple scorers and multiple playmakers. On defense, it’s creating back-line chemistry where communication is key between goalies and on-field defenders. It’s that bond that Nuhn and her coaches develop that historically has limited goals and shots on goal by opponents.
“We have a full balanced group of players who find the back of the net,” Nuhn said. “Our seniors Ali Barrett, Bianca D’Onofrio, Ava Galdenzi, Melanie Norton along with junior Kelli Jacobson and sophomore Olivia Toto lead the way for us. Another senior, Alyssa Waligroski, has been a great defender along with Avonlea LeBeau, Norton and Jacobson. Our other juniors Aly Kendrick and Gabby Gibilisco add to our defense. (Senior) goalie Jaime Matthews has truly stepped up her game.”
“Our senior class has stepped up tremendously and taken ownership of the team. They have set the tone to stay focused, but also relaxed. The unbeaten-unscored streak we had did not become a ‘thing’. Sometimes, streaks become a negative aspect and teams play scared, afraid to mess up. I feel we play each game focused on the team opposite us, not distracted.”
Each season, Nuhn prides herself on developing the team concept and her players buy into it completely.
“Off the field, our senior class is fun-loving and spirited,” Nuhn said. “But once on the field, they compete with a fierceness. We also have a skilled set of underclassmen making strong contributions. We pride ourselves on our unselfish contributions made by everyone on the team. As we say, all 11 play offense, and all 11 play defense. Forwards are expected to block free hits, and defenders are needed to support our forwards. Our goal is to cover for one another and stay focused on every play.
“Also, kudos have to go to all the coaches Evaun Boatman, Lori Connelly, Kathy Galdenzi and our middle school coach Danielle Pannone.”
The Thunderbirds have had their share of postseason success with three Class S titles and an M title. This season’s players have put together an impressive regular season with the potential for a very deep postseason run. Nuhn likely had a little bit to do with that success too, setting up that postseason potential.
AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE
As the postseason approaches, heading into Tuesday’s action there were still five unbeaten teams combined in Class L, M and S.
Newtown, led on offense by Katie Goyda, is the last unbeaten team in Class L at 16-0. Defending Class M champion Guilford is 14-0 and Wethersfield is one of the top teams in the north at 13-0.
In Class S, there is North Branford at 14-0-1 and another top team in the north is Granby at 11-0-1.
The SCC tournament begins with quarterfinals on Saturday at higher seeds (matchups, times TBA), semifinals are on Tuesday at higher seeds and the championship game is at Guilford on Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. Defending champ Guilford is the top seed, Amity is No. 2, Mercy is No. 6, Sacred Heart Academy is No. 7 and Hamden is the eighth seed. Hand, Branford and Cheshire have also qualified but their seeds are to be determined.
The FCIAC tournament starts with quarterfinals on Friday at higher seeds (matchups, times TBA), semifinals at higher seeds will be on Monday at McMahon at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and the final is Nov. 7 at McMahon at 7 p.m. Darien is the defending champ and has eight FCIAC titles in the last 11 seasons. Darien, Staples, Norwalk, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Wilton and Greenwich have qualified. FInal team is to be determined.Seedings are to be determined.
The South-West Conference tournament starts on Saturday with quarterfinals — No. 6 Masuk at No. 3 Pomperaug, 6 p.m.; No. 7 Bethel at No. 2 Immaculate, 4 p.m.; No. 5 New Fairfield at No. 4 New Milford, 2 p.m.; No. 8 Barlow at No. 1 Newtown, 5 p.m. Semifinals will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. at higher seeds and the championship game will be Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined. Pomperaug is the SWC defending champion.