MERIDEN — Brothers and sisters of the pitch, how are we going to top 2022?
Led by All-Americans Samir Dishnica and Gabby Tirado, Cheshire put two teams in the state soccer finals last year, with Dishnica and the boys team winning it all in Class L.
Tirado and the Lady Rams, after getting past Southington in an epic quarterfinal decided by penalty kicks, was runner-up to Staples in Class LL.
Even with that defeat, it was a magical, albeit cold, afternoon at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford on Nov. 20.
So how to top it in 2023?
How about expanding the wealth? Of the 14 area high school soccer teams, 10 qualified for the state tournament last year, yet only the Cheshire squads and the Southington girls advanced beyond the first round.
Let’s say we go deeper in ’23, with all 14 teams making the show.
Heading in, we already know the new season will present a different look. While veteran coaches such as Cheshire’s Artur Branco and Sheehan’s Rob Huelsman are back, there are two new coaches on the area sidelines, Derick Madrid with the Wilcox Tech boys and A.J. Hodge with the Maloney boys.
Hodge replaces Dave Parness, who has shifted over to the Maloney girls program to fill the slot vacated by Eoin McClure.
Area teams suffered graduation losses. Area teams bring back their share of top players and welcome in the stars of the future. Here’s how it shapes up heading into Thursday’s opening day.
Boys 2022: 16-3-1, Class L state champions.
Key Losses: Samir Dishnica, Muluken Marchand, Kevi Sulollari, Colin Brown, Zachariah Chen and Nollan Kappus.
Key Returners: Senior co-captains Chris Rochefort and Elis Sulollari; seniors Will Stearns, Michael Mayano and Alex Clark; sophomore Jelique Panton.
Season Opener: Saturday vs. Simsbury at Farmington Sports Arena.
The Skinny: After falling short in the 2021 state final, the Rams broke through and went all the way in 2022. Is a repeat looming in 2023?
“We have a different group, but I think our players are very hard-working,” said coach Artur Branco. “There are different ways to win and we need to find the way that works for us.”
The Rams will also need to find a new goalkeeper. Senior Nolan Kappus was liined up to be a captain and goalkeeper before transferring to Choate. CHS will do battle in the SCC Oronoque Division with Jonathan Law, Hamden, Sheehan and Career/Hillhouse.
Girls 2022: 21-1-1, SCC champions, Class L state runners-up.
Key Losses: Gabby Tirado, Anna Hurlbut, Haley and Maddie Shaw, Helene Lopez and Allie Fox.
Key Returners: Senior captains Ally Corris, Eva Fiala and Ainsley Dziura; seniors Sophia Bates, Stella Tessier and Brianna Siniscalco; juniors Sienna Morin, Ava Sink, Olivia Beach, Leah Farrell, Leah Pisani and Theresa Zurolo; sophomore Abby Sink.
Key Newcomer: Freshman Charlotte Dziura.
Season Opener: Thursday at Amity.
The Skinny: The Rams turned over a quality senior class, but their expectations remain sky high. “It is high school soccer. Every year, you are going to graduate players who have done a lot for for your program,” remarked coach Kylee McIntosh. “It is now about people stepping up in those spots.”
The Rams will hold forth in the SCC Housatonic with Branford, Foran, Hamden and Wilbur Cross before bidding for a repeat conference tournament crown and another state run.
“I hope they learned from it,” McIntosh said of last year’s experience. “We played against some tough programs last year and I think it makes you better to play against that kind of competition.”
Boys 2022: 7-8-2, Class LL first round.
Key Loss: All-CCC South selection Tommy Sullivan.
Key Returners: Sr. CD Kofi Asamoah (captain), jr. CM Blake Benigni (captain), jr. CM Andre Peralta (captain), jr. CM/F Jonathan McAuliffe (vice captain) and jr. CD Nolan Marcuss.
Key Newcomers: So. CM Brady Jachym and fr. F Elisha Osei.
Season Opener: Friday at Hartford Public.
The Skinny: Rookie head coach A.J. Hodge is looking for his team to compete in every game, earn at least 10 wins, advance to the Class L state tournament and, once there, make a deep run. In particular, he wants the Spartans to be so dominant at home they turn Maloney and Falcon Field into “fortresses.”
Girls 2022: 6-8-3, Class LL first round.
Key Losses: All-CCC South selections Molly Marcuss and Eliyah Cloutier.
Key Returners: All-CCC South selections sr. GK Cassidy Colaccio and sr. MF Bria Benigni.
Season Opener: Thursday vs. Tolland at Falcon Field.
Boys 2022: 2-13-1, did not qualify for postseason.
Key Loss: Rolando Gomez.
Key Returners: Sr. GK Gabriel Dushi, jr. F Edwin Vazquez and so. S Efrain Brown.
Season Opener: Friday, home vs. Bloomfield.
The Skinny: Coach Martin Cheney and his boys expect to have a productive campaign. While they lost sweeper Rolando Gomez to graduation, Efrain Brown steps into the position and other returning players have shown growth from previous seasons. Gabriel Dushi is already proven himself in net. He was All-CCC South a year ago.
The team goal, said Cheney, is to put together a competitive season and secure enough victories to qualify for a Class L state tournament berth.
Girls 2022: 1-13-1, did not qualify for postseason.
Season Opener: Tuesday at Lewis Mills.
Boys 2022: 6-8-3, Class L first round.
Key Losses: Aric and Angel Gavilanes.
Key Returners: Seniors Krystian Colbert, Eric Lopez and Cristian Sanchez; juniors Alexis Lozano, Conner Nettleton, Alex Ruiz, Joey Schwall and Will Vega; sophomores Kevin Reyes, Stephan Williams and Adam Zandri.
Key Newcomers: Freshmen Aiden Burke, James Breau and Eder Perez.
Season Opener: Friday at Platt Tech.
The Skinny: There were two major offseason developments for the Wildcats. Former assistant coach Derick Madrid moved into the head coaching position with the departure of Clinton Tebbetts to Shelton and All-State player Krystian Colbert returned after spending last season playing club soccer.
Wilcox did graduate All-Conference players in the Gavilanes twins, but are in good position to realize the team goals of making both the CTC and Class M tournaments.
Girls 2022: 14-4-0, CTC Nutmeg Division champs, Class M first round.
Key Losses: Kierra Trelles and Christina Betune.
Key Returners: Sr. F Katherine Arichavala (captain), sr. MF/F Angela Zandri (captain), sr. D/MF Melissa Bacuilima, jr. S/MF Jeduailyz Quintero (captain), jr. GK Joyce Vecchitto, jr. MF/GK Azayla Yearwood, jr. MF Katreen Chen, so. MF/F Eliana Lopez, so. D/MF Illiana Rivera.
Key Newcomers: So. D/MF Celeste Cortez, so. D/MF Brianna Cusimano, fr. D Yamileth Aguilar, fr. D Gianna Volo, fr. MF Daryelis Sierra-Ortiz.
Season Opener: Thursday, home vs. Goodwin Tech/Innovation.
The Skinny: The Wildcats bring back a ton of wealth from last season’s first-place CTC Nutmeg Division team and also get a strong infusion of rookies, including Gianna Volo, who will start at center-defense alongside returning All-CTC sweeper Jeduailyz Quintero. Up top, Arichavala (12 goals), Zandri (10) and Lopez (6 assists) are all coming off All-Conference seasons.
Add it up and coach Chuck Ubaldi is brimming. “Each fall brings new challenges and we are looking forward to this year’s version of Wilcox girls soccer,” he said. “Playing the beautiful game and respecting all involved are hallmarks of our program. Win, lose or draw, I am always proud of our program and the student athletes that bring their effort, energy and teamwork to the pitch.”
Boys 2022: 6-7-3, Class LL first round.
Key Losses: Bradley Eng, Brian Ludden, Noah Richert and Ethan Germain.
Key Returners: Sr. F Damir Cirikovic (captain), sr. CM Noah Panarella (captain), sr. CM Tommy Bissoni, sr. F Alex Longo, sr. D Dylan Farr and jr. MF Evan Jekubovich.
Key Newcomers: Sr. D Brian Bregu and jr. D Dalton Messina (captain).
Season Opener: Saturday vs. Westhill at Farmington Sports Arena.
The Skinny: Southington’s graduation hits were primarily on the backline. Ludden was the goalie, Eng and Germain both defenders. Richert was the center-mid.
The Blue Knights return 12 players with varsity experience, led by All-CCC West selections Damir Cirikovic and Noah Panarella. Cirikovic, the striker, led SHS in scoring. He’ll deploy this fall with winger Alex Longo and attacking midfielder Evan Jekubovich.
“Our goals this year remain the same as always: Survive in the toughest soccer division in the state (CCC West) and make the state tournament,” remarked coach Austin Magaro. “The talent is there, but the question lies in our schedule. There’s not an easy game on the card and nothing is going to be given to us. We’re going to lean on our experience and leadership and play some Blue Knight soccer. If all things go to plan, we’ll be playing in November.”
Girls 2022: 11-4-4, Class LL quarterfinalist.
Key Losses: Jessica Carr, Sophia Scalise, Sage Carmody, Avia Burns and Riley Wolf.
Key Returners: Sr. D Riley Prozzo (captain), sr. MF Julia Rusiecki (captain), sr. GK Margaret Miller (captain)), jr. D Claire O’Neill (captain), sr. MF Taylor Borchard, sr. D Anna Erickson, sr. F Makayla Steele, jr. MF Taylor Walwyn, jr. MF Lily Cooper, jr. MF Claire Eigo, jr. D Kendall Edwards, jr. GK Sophia Gonzalez, jr. MF Lily Vera and jr. MF Ashlyn Kenefick.
Key Newcomers: So. midfielders Abbie Patavino, Emily Bafuma, Paige Doonan and Gianna Mathews.
Season Opener: Friday, home vs. Manchester.
The Skinny: The Lady Knights always graduate a ton of talent. The latest group featured All-New England midfielder Jessica Carr, who is now playing at UConn, as well as fellow collegians Sophia Scalise (Holy Cross), Sage Carmody (Curry) and Avia Burns (Post).
That said, the Lady Knights always bring back a ton of talent. The latest group features All-State defender Riley Prozzo, who has committed to Boston College. SHS also returns an All-CCC West goalie in Margaret Miller and All-Conferece honorable mentions in Julia Rusiecki and Claire O’Neill.
It’s an experienced and well-balanced group of six seniors and eight juniors, plus four arriving sophomores, who should continue the winning tradition at Southington.
“It’s always tough to adjust to replacing a player like Jessica Carr, All-State and All-New England player for the past several years. Jess controlled our midfield and you just don’t replace that type of leader overnight,” remarked coach Mike Linehan. “Yet we are very optimistic on the 2023 team, with hope to return to the state tournament for the 10th consecutive year.”
Boys 2022: 6-8-3, Class M qualifying round.
Key Losses: All-SCC Second-Teamer Vinny Carbone.
Key Returners: Senior captains Oliver Brown, Nico Cardona and Carter Lagasse.
Season Opener: Tuesday vs. Branford at Choate.
Girls 2022: 12-6-1, Class M second round.
Key Losses: Kate Casorla, Olivia Platt, Sydney Cuticelli, Casey Deans, Nele Koepfer, Alondra Lopez and Lyndsey Bunnell.
Key Returners: Sr. MF/D Olivia Cassesse (captain), sr. MF Mia D’Angelo (captain), sr. MF Talia Crispino (captain), sr. GK Trinity LaValley (captain), sr. D Camryn Jambor, sr. MF Alina Santore, jr. MF/F Stacey Casorla, jr. MF/F Amber May, jr. MF Layla Yan, jr. D Ava Cote, jr. D Gabby Reddy, so. D Savannah Ferris, so. D Kate Frazier, so. D Haley LaValley, so. GK Meghan Keating, so. MF Natalia Piscitelli and so. MF/D Julia Luna Zyskowska.
Key Newcomer: Fr. D McKenna Liu.
Season Opener: Tuesday at Cheshire.
The Skinny: Rob Huelsman enters his 17th seasosn on the Sheehan sideline and there’s no sign he’ll be foregoing his trademark shorts any time soon, even on the coldest nights.
For good reason: The Titans remain a hot commodity despite graduating All-Stater defender Sydney Cuticelli and All-State middie Kate Casorla, who led the Titans with 12 goals and six assists. They return a strong senior class that features the sure hands of Trinity LaValley in net (30 saves) and deft touch of Mia D’Angelo in the midfield (4 goals, 8 assists). Also, junior middie Stacey Casorla had five goals and four assists last year as a sophomore.
“We graduated a strong senior class last season that set some excellent examples for the returning upperclassmen that come into this season with experience at the varsity level to help guide the younger sophomore and freshman class to fill some of the empty positions left open from last year’s senior class,” Huelsman noted. “This year’s team is willing to put the work in every day to improve each week and return to the Class M state tournament.
Boys 2022: 1-11-4, did not qualify for postseason.
Key Losses: All-SCC First-Teamer Morgan Stone and All-SCC Second-Team Nick Toma.
Season Opener: Saturday at North Haven.
Girls 2022: 2-13-1, did not qualify for postseason
Key Losses: Emma Jacobs, Calli Casula, Kelsey Newman, Shea Barron and Shianna Reeves.
Key Returners: Sr. MF Rosie Turbett (captain), sr. D Madison Carpenter (captain) and sr. F Alynn Martin (captain); jr. MF Madelyn Buccheri; so. MF Ellie Madancy and so. MF Abby Laffin.
Key Newcomers: Fr. F Lucia Pires, fr. MF Amy Sicilia and fr. D Anna Goad.
Season Opener: Friday, home vs. East Haven.
The Skinny: The Trojans will miss Emma Jacobs, who made All-SCC First Team a year ago, and all their departed seniors. Injuries further bit into LH. Turbett (knee) and Laffin (hip) are both yet to return from injuries suffered last season.
They can’t get back soon enough. The SCC Hammonasset schedule features Mercy, Sacred Heart Academy, West Haven and North Haven. “Our schedule is never easy, playing powerhouse private schools like Sacred Heart and Mercy,” remarked coach Tony Crane. “But we will give all we can.”