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Article Published December 10, 2020

Pilato Finishes Four-Year Varsity Career in Style

By By Dan Fappiano

For the past four years, Isabella Pilato has been a difference maker for the East Haven girls’ soccer team. A varsity starter since her freshman season, Isabella finished her career as a senior captain who earned All-SCC Division B honors at the midfielder’s position.

Before she stepped foot on the soccer field, Isabella was on the ice, playing in hockey. After playing soccer with some neighbors in the backyard, Isabella decided to join the East Haven youth league. There, Isabella was coached by John Gildersleeve, who proved crucial in terms of her development on the pitch.

“I owe so much to him for teaching me and guiding me up until the high school seasons. He has done so much for me and continues to support me and the entire team at every game,” Isabella says of Gildersleeve. “I really don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have him as a coach in my early years of playing soccer.”

Isabella found that playing soccer came naturally to her. She enjoyed all the running while competing alongside a group of teammates who would become her family. At age 10, Isabella started playing for South Central Premier—a program that she still plays for today. By playing Premier and in the East Haven youth league, Isabella gained a great understanding of what it takes to be a leader.

When she reached high school, Isabella promptly earned a spot in the Yellowjackets’ varsity lineup. While it was a little nerve-wracking to play at such a high level as a freshman, Isabella felt more comfortable as the season progressed and was focused on playing her style of soccer in every game.

“It was intimidating, playing with older girls and getting thrown in there. But I adapted well. I played my game,” says Isabella. “I just did what I was doing in practices and performed as well as I could. It reflected in games. I was always just pushing myself, and I always had the team to support me. Everyone was excited and happy for me.”

By her junior year, Isabella was flourishing as a midfielder and doing so with additional responsibility after being named one of the Yellowjackets’ captains. She was selected to the All-SCC Team as a junior.

Isabella continued in her captain’s role during the 2020 season, leading East Haven with fellow senior captains Aimee DiVerniero and Angelina Munoz. Isabella says that being named a captain for her junior season made her feel like a senior, and she felt proud to have the support of both her teammates and coaches.

“It was such an incredible feeling. It boosted my confidence,” Isabella says. “Usually, you get named a captain as a senior. I felt like a senior. I felt like I had people that looked up to me. I knew that they could come and talk to me, because I was still in their grade level. I had played with them before.”

As she finished out her senior season, Isabella and the Easties squared off against Wilbur Cross in the first round of the SCC Division B Tournament. Isabella recorded a hat trick by scoring three goals for East Haven, helping the team come away with a 4-1 victory.

“That game was so important. You don’t know when your last game is going to be. Playing with your whole heart in every single game is something that’s very important,” says Isabella. “It was our last win. We all played together as a team. Having those three goals doesn’t even matter to how well we played together as a team. Everyone scored those goals together.”

Isabella’s freshman season at East Haven was also Jake Hackett’s first year as the team’s head coach. Hackett told the freshmen that they were going to shape the culture of the program going forward. Hackett says that Isabella played a key role in helping the Easties achieve that goal through both her soccer skills and top-notch leadership.

“Bella was already a leader. She was one of the most talented players we had. The moment you see her play, you can see her immense level of talent,” Coach Hackett says. “She treats everyone in the program, whether they be varsity starters or JV, with respect. She sees the value in every player. She’s more than just a leader. She would never ask someone to do something she wouldn’t do herself. It’s a special quality.”

Isabella has been playing with many of the same East Haven teammates throughout the past decade. She says the connection that she formed with those players is like no other and made the Yellowjackets that much stronger.

As she moves on from East Haven, Isabella has plans to continue her soccer career at either the Division II or III level in college. No matter where she goes, Isabella knows that soccer will always be one of the things that defines the essence of her as a person.

“Soccer is what describes me. It’s basically what makes me, me,” says Isabella. “I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t play soccer. My weekends have been filled with soccer since I was little. I’ve had practices throughout the whole week. I can’t even imagine what my life would be.”