Hornets Meshing Effectively on the Field
Freshman Raiyn Fries netted a goal when the Branford field hockey squad notched a 3-0 road win versus Lyman Hall on Oct. 22. The Hornets improved to 4-3 with the victory. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Alisa Gueco is leading the Hornets’ field hockey team alongside fellow senior captain Andrea Amarante in the 2020 fall season. They are the only two seniors on a young club that has lots of potential. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Freshman Ellie Wieland is making key contributions in the midfield for the Branford field hockey team thus far this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
With just two seniors on his roster, Branford field hockey Head Coach Pete Frye felt that the 2020 season was the “perfect opportunity” to get some of the Hornets’ younger athletes more playing time, so they could gain an understanding of what it takes to succeed at the varsity level. Branford’s up-and-comers are meshing effectively with the two senior leaders and have helped the Hornets win three of their last four to improve to 4-3 this season.
Branford had a pair of road games on last week’s schedule. The Hornets took a 6-0 loss in Guilford on Oct. 19 and then rebounded with a 3-0 victory at Lyman Hall three days later.
Even though Branford was on the wrong side of the outcome against Guilford, Coach Frye was impressed with that fight that his team displayed while facing the defending SCC and Class M state champions.
“We’re very young. We would have to play a nearly perfect game in order to beat them,” said Frye. “We really played well in the first half. I was very happy with the way our team competed, but they just kind of wore us down, and they pulled away. But we’ve seen where the bar is now. We know where we have to get to. It’s a matter of us raising our game and getting closer to that bar.”
Three days later, the Hornets hit the road to face Lyman Hall and came away with a 3-0 victory. Branford scored all three of its goals during the first half of the game. Sophomore Scout Engstrom put the Hornets on the board when she scored on an assist from junior Nora Longway in the first period. Freshman Raiyn Fries made it 2-0 when she netted an unassisted goal during the second period. Later in the frame, senior captain Alisa Gueco scored on an assist from Engstrom to put Branford up 3-0.
Junior goalie Nina Shamas made one save in net to get the shutout for the Hornets, who outshot Lyman Hall by a 9-1 margin. Coach Frye said that sophomores Lauren McCarthy and Aryana Wilson and freshman Ellie Wieland turned in outstanding performances in the bounceback win.
“I was happy with the rebound. It was really more of a possession game for us,” Frye said. “Our defense played really well, but our offense possessed the ball a whole lot. It was nice to see in a game like that. You’re holding the ball and not giving the other team many opportunities. Our offense really stepped up.”
When Branford plays its JV games, Coach Frye has noticed that opposing teams rarely have any freshmen in their lineups. However, this year, the Hornets’ varsity squad is starting three freshmen in Fries, a forward; Wieland, who plays in the midfield; and Mia d’Amuri, a defender.
Meanwhile, Engstrom has been leading the sophomore corps with her performances at forward, while junior Longway is also making key contributions to the Hornets’ offense. Lauren Kendrick, Gianna Bozzi, and Wilson are also sophomore starters for Coach Frye’s squad.
Frye saw those players get some valuable playing time during last year’s run to the Class M semifinals—an experience that prepared them for bigger roles this season. With Frye having previously coached the field hockey team at Walsh Intermediate School, he’s been working with many of these athletes for the past several years and knows that they have a ton of potential.
“These sophomores are the ones I started coaching at Walsh when they were 5th-graders. This is my sixth year with these kids,” said Frye. “Next year and beyond, there really is no ceiling for these kids. Right now, seven of my starters are either a freshman or a sophomore. I don’t think any other JV team has that, and those are my varsity starters. The experience they’re getting this year is invaluable.”
As the younger players continue improving, Branford is also receiving great leadership from Gueco and Andrea Amarante, who are both senior captain forwards for the Hornets. As the team traversed through a long offseason and began an atypical regular season, Frye found that Gueco and Amarante are exemplary leaders through both their actions and words.
“They are literally the hardest workers at practice. They have a very calming influence on the team, which is really necessary when you have such a young team. It’s nice to have that balance,” Frye said of his senior captain duo. “Normally, field hockey lasts three months. With COVID, we have stuck together for six. It has been a long season at this point, and it has been nice having such quality people leading us through it.”
The Hornets have three games remaining on their regular-season schedule. After that, the Southern Connecticut Conference is slated to host a fall tournament experience. No matter how the rest of this season plays out, Coach Frye feels glad to see so many younger players shining in the spotlight, and he knows that the experience they’re gaining this year will pay some serious dividends in both the postseason and down the road.
“The freshmen really aren’t freshmen anymore. Now they’ve seen everybody. We’ve played all these teams already. We know what they are. Now is this time where we start to put some things together,” said Frye. “It would be really nice to beat one of these teams. I want to be that team where we put things together, and other teams are like, ‘I don’t really want to play Branford.’”