Evan Daddona had a rather unusual decision to make about where he wanted to spend his next four years.
Southington High’s All-State goalkeeper, the heart and soul of maybe the school’s finest soccer team, narrowed his college choices down to two — the University of Hartford and Western New England University in Springfield.
Hartford is a well-established Division I program in the America East Conference guided by head coach Tom Poitras (58-55-22, 7 seasons). Poitras, a Southington native, has guided the Hawks into four America East championships games since 2011.
Western New England is a Division III school.
The 2017 Hawks roster featured nine players from outside the U.S., but maintained a local flavor with nine from Connecticut. Hartford played Yale, Dartmouth, Northeastern and UMass this year.
The Golden Bears play in the Commonwealth Coast Conference composed of Division III schools from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Of the 31 players on their 2017 roster, 14 are from Massachusetts and nine from Connecticut.
Forces were in place on the part of both schools vying for his commitment but he opted for the challenge of Division I and Hartford.
Why would an accomplished Connecticut keeper explore the polar opposites in the college soccer realm and not consider anything in between?
“It was tough because I loved both, academic-wise and campus-wise,” Daddona said. “After I got the academics out of the way, it came down to D1 or D3. It took a lot of thought. I’d probably get a lot more playing time at D3 but I always wanted to play at the highest level.”
The thought of competing at a national or professional level probably crosses every player’s mind, particularly those like Daddona who have worked hard and succeeded at the youth and scholastic levels.
“I love the game so much I want to see how far I can take it no matter how small the chances are, and they are really small,” Daddona said. “It would be a dream but I have to be realistic. I’d love to play professionally but the chances are so small and I know that going into it.”
WNEU coach Devin O’Neill watched Southington gain a milestone result two seasons ago in a 0-0 tie with perennial Class LL title contender Farmington. O’Neill was there to watch ex-Blue Knight defender Brian Doyle, now in his sophomore year at WNEU.
“It was my best game all season,” said Daddona, a sophomore at the time.
“He was impressed with me and it sparked my interest. I had been in contact [with O’Neill] quite a bit and at the beginning of the year they made a push.
“I made an overnight visit and we really got to like each other but it was one of those tough decisions. I was beyond impressed with the academic side of both schools. Both have great business programs (his intended major). I knew I would be receiving a great education either way.”
But Daddona had a longer relationship with University of Hartford goalkeeper’s coach Mirza Harambasic and the Hawks’ other assistant, Mike Kulas. They trained him in the program at Farmington Sports Arena (FSA).
“I’m really close with all three of their coaches,” Daddona said. “Mirza was my goalkeeping coach and was my team’s coach three years ago. I got to work with him every day. He saw me as a person as well as a player, which coaches look for.”
They hadn’t needed to look much further than how Daddona handled adversity this season at Southington.
In the second match of the season, Daddona went to clear a ball and his left hand smashed into the face of his defender Kieran Tindall. Daddona broke his wrist and appeared to be out for the year, but returned when his doctor said he would clear him to play but at a field position where he wouldn’t have to use the hand.
Not only did Daddona shore up a defense weakened by injuries to Tindall and Cam Zegzdryn but made a key stop in front of an open net to secure a win over Avon, just over a month after the injury.
Daddona said Harambasic kept Poitras apprised of the keeper’s progress. He was invited to Hartford’s day camp for a week.
“Mirza said for me to come to campus because we like you,” Daddona said. “We’re looking to take you but we want to see you with the other players. I got to meet them and Poitras kept in touch. He came to see me during the high school season and wanted me to come up after the season.”
Daddona met with Poitras on December 18 where “all the hard questions” were asked.
“I talked it over with my parents then called him back,” Daddona said. “I called him the next day.”
Jimmy Slayton of Wethersfield, presently a sophomore, is the incumbent starter for the Hawks. Daddona aspires to follow in his footsteps.
“My competitive nature makes me want to take my game to the next level,” he said.