Field hockey team earns new found success
Something was brewing behind the trees that shield the Shelton field hockey team from curious onlookers this past season.
This wasn’t a case of head coach Jeff Napoli’s squad retreating to keep scouts from getting a look at the inner workings of a top-flight program. The opposite is true. Being the new program in town was getting old for Shelton, which practiced just off campus at Shelton Intermediate School.
“We could do it right and work toward improving, or we could sing the same old song,” said Napoli of his charges choosing to alter a course that registered an 0-47-1 record since switching from club status to becoming a full-fledged varsity sport in the fall of 2016.
Doing it right began with Shelton, which finished 2-11-3, playing Lyman Hall to a 2-2 draw on Sept. 19.
It was the first time Shelton had earned a point since 2017 when it finished 0-15-1.
After that tie, anything was possible.
North Haven was next on the schedule and had to bear the brunt of Shelton’s newfound confidence.
“We went in thinking we were going to win, and we just played awesome,” said senior co-captain Emily Zerella following Shelton history-making 5-2 triumph on Sept. 21. “We all came back because we wanted to help build the program,” Emily said. “I like how our morale is positive...We are all bonded as one team.
Senior captain Gianna Maurati said: “This definitely meant a lot because my junior year we were all like oh here we go ‘Another season losing again,’ and unfortunately that’s how it happened. This year we just started playing... It really meant a lot to me and the seniors. We’ve worked so hard these past four years.”
Shelton opened its season with losses to Masuk (4-0) and Cheshire (6-0).
“Year in and year out, it is a different group of seniors every time,” Napoli said. “For all sports, some players commit to getting better, but not really buying in. For us that commitment was good last year, and this group took it to an even higher level.
“This group has been determined to get better. They can see the improvement they’ve made, even if others haven’t. No one wanted to win more than these girls. They did it for themselves and each other of course, but they also did it for the school.”
In the historic win, Ava Gigliotti scored at the 25:17 mark. North Haven’s Christina DeAngelo tied it up with 21:11 left in the first half. Maeve Marks put Shelton back in front, 2-1. Keira O’Connor had the assist. The confidence began to grow after Amelia Nankervis made it 3-1, with O’Connor again garnering the assist.
Shelton led 3-1 with 13:22 remaining in the half, but that margin lasted only three minutes. Another North Haven goal made it 3-2 at the half. “It was a hot day and it (the weather) was wearing on both teams,” Napoli said. “We wanted to get a two-goal lead in the second half so we could drop a fourth defender and give our middies and attackers a break.”
Napoli’s wish was answered. But it wasn’t granted early or easily. Shelton’s Sam Rago took the score to 4-2 with 13:55 remaining to be played and Shelton had mustered some breathing room. Mary Falsetti and Amanda Kiman had the assists. Finally, with 4:12 on the clock, O’Connor added the final tally with Jackie Jenko getting the assist. Ashley Kearns completed an eight-save game in net and Shelton had its win.
The locals followed this up with a 5-4 overtime decision over Lyman Hall. “We were down 4-2 with 13:34 left in the game and the girls came back to tie it at four,” Napoli said. “In overtime, Maeve Marks ended the game with 6:29 left.”
Shelton jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Avalina Maurati, assisted by Cate Santa. Lyman Hall tied it with 9:18 left in the half and followed it up with a second goal with 3:40 remaining for a 2-1 lead at the break.
Shelton quickly tied at 2-all with a goal by Gianna Maurati at the 2:30 mark of the second half. The goal was again assisted by Santa, who assisted on all five goals scored. Lyman Hall scored twice in a row to pull the lead to 4-2 with 13:34 left in the game. Maurati struck again for Shelton with a goal at the 8:39 mark to cut the deficit to 4-3. Connor tied the game up, scoring a goal with 3:19 left in regulation.
After a four-year stretch without relishing a victory, the Gaelettes got to walk the walk of victors.
No one will walk the hallways prouder taller than senior captains Maurati and Zerella, or their classmates Kearns, Mia Dioguardi, Gigliotti, Marks, Nankervis, Rachel Brown and Mary Falsetti.
“We have 34 awesome girls,” said Napoli, who is assisted by Bill Maloney. “From the start we could see that all the players had bought in. We pumped up the intensity and the girls ran with it. All credit goes to these girls.”
Despite the winless seasons preceding this one, there was still a sense of leaving positives behind for future teams. Napoli mentioned Maria Curran, Gianna D’Angelo, Yasmeen Dabiran, Jessica Perley, Kaylee Persson, Alexis Thompson and Hayley Tranner among the 2018 seniors who set the table for this past season.
“Last year’s seniors brought the younger players along, and these seniors followed suit,” Napoli said. “When girls come out in ninth grade, they don’t know rules or even how to hold a field hockey stick. Together as coaches, captains and seniors, we need to go over fundamentals and strategy from the first day of practice.”
Among those teaching and improving were Kearns, a second-year starter in goal; Brooke Muller, Marks and Zerella on defense; O’Connor, Cate Santa, Nankervis and Rachel Kiman at midfield; and Gigliotti, Falsetti and Gianna Maurati on attack.
“We’ve been able to move players this year (because of added experience),” Napoli said. “We had seasoned defenders so we could move Amelia Nankervis to midfield.
“We had a deeper bench, so we could call on Mia Dioguardi and Mya Merenda on defense, Amanda Kiman and Sam Rogo at middle attack, and Rachel Brown and Avalina Maurati on attack.”
Ayar, prior to leaving the program after being named a school principal, instituted a field hockey club at Shelton Intermediate School.
“We had 25 to 35 girls give field hockey a look at SIS,” Napoli said. ‘The second thing we did was form a Parent Booster Club. This gives parent ownership in the program and helps with participation. Between those two factors, we had 14 freshmen come out for the team. They are playing at the javyee level, with a few sophomores playing both jayvee and varsity.
“Last year we had 34 kids come out and we had 29 uniforms to fill. This year John Niski (Shelton athletic director) told me to ask for 10 extra uniforms. We didn’t need to cut a single player.”