Sports Person of the Week
Candelora Dons the Captain’s Hat as a Sophomore
Ava Candelora has earned the title sophomore captain for the North Branford girls’ soccer team. Ava is a relentless goalkeeper who refuses to quit. (Photo courtesy of Ava Candelora )
It’s not often that you see a sophomore named captain of a varsity team. However, that is exactly the case for Ava Candelora, a sophomore goalkeeper for the North Branford’s girls’ soccer squad.
At the start of her sophomore season, Ava was named one of the Thunderbirds’ captains alongside seniors Ashlee Amendola and Caty Dow. Ava is also North Branford’s starting goalie—a role that she’s always wanted to hold.
“I was a little scared. There are so many seniors on the team that really deserved it, too. When my coach announced me as one, I kind of freaked out,” Ava says of being named captain. “Right now, it’s cool. I appreciate it without a doubt. It’s just crazy. It’s only my second year on the team, and I’m already a captain. There’s a lot of weight to it.”
Ava started playing soccer by taking part in various clinics around the state when she was just three years old. In 5th grade, Ava joined South Central Premier, a team for which she still plays to this day. Ava wasn’t the biggest soccer fan at first, but once she reached 6th grade, she really started to enjoy the sport.
Ava’s 6th-grade season was the first year that she played goalie. Ava had been playing forward and midfielder, and she still saw time at those positions while transitioning to the net. As Ava started working with her Premier coach Jake Hackett—who is also head coach of the East Haven girls’ soccer team—she began to enjoy holding down the fort in goal.
“I never wanted to play goalie. My Premier coach put me in. He ended up doing a clinic with me, and we ended up just going with it,” Ava says. “I definitely like being a full-time goalie. It’s more in my comfort zone. When I played the field, I wasn’t fully comfortable with it. I wasn’t trained that well. It keeps me calmer, because I know what I’m doing.”
As a freshman, Ava joined the Thunderbirds and immediately saw varsity time. She played six games last year, including three in goal. Through that experience, Ava saw how fast the game was at the varsity level and gained a sense of what it would take to succeed.
This year, North Branford girls’ soccer welcomed a new head coach in Doural Scott, who already knew Ava from coaching with South Central Premier. Scott has been impressed with Ava’s netminding skills, as well as the leadership that she’s displayed as a captain. Coach Scott believes that Ava’s vision on the field is a huge boon for North Branford.
“It’s been really great coaching her this season...Every team that we played against so far, the coaches or referees always have something good to say about her,” Scott says of Ava. “She is just more determined. Anyone can play the game, but whoever wants it more is just going to have an edge. She has that edge.”
Ava is a tough player who won’t let the various bumps and bruises incurred on the field keep her down. Ava has dealt with a few injuries during her career, but as long as she can play, she plans on being on the pitch.
“I’m almost used to being hurt. Playing through it is something that comes naturally to me,” says Ava. “I have two older brothers, and they raised me to be tougher. They taught me to play through the pain. I take care of it when I get home and do what I can. But for me, it doesn’t matter. As long as I can play on it, I’m playing through it.”
As she continues her career at North Branford, Ava’s goal is to help the Thunderbirds build a winning culture. For Ava, soccer has become a way to grow as an athlete, create relationships, and learn how to bounce back from adversity.
“It’s big for me. All my connections are through soccer. Some of my closest friends are from soccer,” Ava says. “It is a huge thing that helped shape me. I played through a lot of struggles. For me, it’s a sign of strength.”