Cougars Complete Turnaround by Claiming Conference Crown
The Haddam-Killingworth boys’ soccer team blanked East Hampton by a 1-0 score to win the Shoreline Conference Tournament championship at East Hampton High School on Nov. 16. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Colby Whitehead (hoisting trophy) and the athletes on the Cougars’ boys’ soccer squad rejoice with the conference cup after earning a 1-0 win versus East Hampton in the Shoreline final. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior goalie Cal Braren makes a crucial save to keep East Hampton off the board during H-K’s 1-0 victory over the Bellringers in the title bout of the Shoreline Conference Tournament. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Members of the H-K boys’ soccer team celebrate with Cole Merriam after he scored the only goal of the game in the Cougars’ win against East Hampton in the Shoreline Conference final. Pictured are junior captain Ben Williams (No. 10), junior Isaac Barrera (11), junior Jayden Zaitoun (back), Merriam (2), and senior John Kowal (5). (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior Timothy Carter helped the H-K boys’ soccer team rebound from a 2-14 season in 2019 to go 8-3-2 and win the Shoreline Conference title in 2020. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Less than a minute into the action of the Shoreline Conference Tournament championship game, senior goalkeeper Cal Braren did what he does best—make a crucial save in a huge situation for the Haddam- Killingworth boys’ soccer squad. Braren’s save set the tone for a day that saw the Cougars claim the Shoreline Conference crown.
H-K completed a huge turnaround from last season by notching a 1-0 victory over East Hampton in the final of Shoreline Conference Tournament at East Hampton High School on Nov. 16. Freshman Cole Merriam scored the only goal of the game to help the 6th-seeded Cougars defeat a 4th-seeded East Hampton team that they had taken a 6-4 loss to during the regular season.
Braren wound up making seven saves in net for H-K, which finished with a record of 8-3-2 in its first year with Head Coach Mike Mead after going 2-14 last season.
“Cal Braren honestly saved the day on multiple occasions,” said Mead. “It was an unreal performance out of him, and he could easily be one of the best keepers in the conference.”
H-K and East Hampton played scoreless soccer through the first half of the Shoreline Conference final. With about 20 minutes left in the game, freshman Cole Merriam broke the tie by scoring a goal when he played a shot off of a deflection that had hit the side of the net. Braren and the H-K defense kept the Bellringers off the board the rest of the way to secure both the shutout and the conference title.
“Besides Cal’s save in the opening minutes, it was a defensive battle, dealing with tough field conditions and strong defensive sides,” Coach Mead said. “We broke through with the freshman phenom Cole Merriam in the second half. After that, we packed it in and held off many corners and shots from the outside to hold off for the win.”
Earlier in the tournament, the Cougars claimed a 3-1 victory at No. 3 seed Old Lyme in the Shoreline quarterfinals on Nov. 11 and then doubled up No. 7 Portland by a 4-2 score in a semifinal game on Nov. 13.
In the quarterfinal contest, senior captain Colby Whitehead scored two goals, while junior captain Ben Williams also chipped in with a goal for H-K. The game was tied at 1-1 with 15 minutes remaining, when Merriam drew a penalty kick that Whitehead converted to give the Cougars the lead for good. Three minutes later, Williams scored on an assist from sophomore Tyler Perry to put the game out of reach.
In the semifinal game, senior John Kowal scored two goals for H-K with Whitehead and senior Timothy Carter netting one goal apiece. The Cougars were up 2-1 when Merriam drew another PK that was converted by Whitehead to give H-K a two-lead lead. Shortly thereafter, Carter beat a defender and scored H-K’s final goal of the game in an eventual 4-2 victory.
The athletes in the H-K boys’ soccer program are senior captain Colby Whitehead; fellow seniors John Kowal, Timothy Carter, Nate Marchetti, Niko Yepes, Alexander Blair, and Cal Braren; junior captain Ben Williams; fellow juniors Leevard Reddy, Isaac Barrera, Ryan Mucciaccaro, Jayden Zaitoun, and Aidan Law; sophomores Agostino Luzietti, Tyler Perry, Calvin Napoletano, Samuel Carter, and Jack Straka; and freshmen Cole Merriam, James Marchetti, Dylan Churky, Michael Broccoli, Luke Staskelunas, Luke Hedges, Benjamin Werner, John Paul Dowlin, Owen Staskelunas, Tyler Gagliardi, Ryan Ruggiero, and Andres Montes.
Whitehead had six goals and five assists, while Williams had six goals with eight assists for H-K this season. Merriam scored seven goals to go with two assists on the year. Along the way, Coach’s Mead’s team outscored its opponents by a differential of +17.
While Mead was pleased that the Cougars captured the Shoreline title, he still felt disappointed that some teams had to bow out of the tournament due to COVID-19.
“Hearts out to Morgan and Valley,” said Mead. “They are two strong sides that could easily be here, but with how we were playing, we were up for any challenge.”
Even though he wishes that every team could have been able to compete, it means everything to Coach Mead that he got to see his team succeed on the Shoreline Conference’s biggest stage.
“I mean, the smile on the kids’ faces speaks for itself. The amount of hard work and dedication from all sides it takes to overcome a season like last year, put it behind us, and strive for something great is everything, especially when you get the end result we did,” Mead said. “The amount of heart it takes for a group of kids to do what they just did...there are no words. To have to complete the task of being a head coach for the first time during this pandemic definitely didn’t make this job any easier, but we had such a good group and a strong support system in all the parents that followed every guideline thrown at us. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The 2020 season is one that Coach Mead and his players will forever remember. The Cougars not only played through a pandemic, they made H-K history by completely flipping the script from the 2019 campaign.
“For that one moment when we lifted that trophy, everyone involved was able to forget about everything going around us,” said Mead. “It’s something myself, the parents, and the players will hold on to for the rest of our lives.”