WALLINGFORD — It’s about the soccer. Of course, it is. It’s right there in the name.
Arguably more than that, though, The Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament is about family. Nothing like a two-year absence to serve as a reminder.
After being sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and again in 2021, TWIST returned this weekend for its 36th edition with the vibe of a reunion — not just for the brothers and sisters in arms who run the two-day extravaganza, but for the de facto cousins who come trucking in from out of state to compete.
And sometimes, there are reunions within reunions.
“Hey, let me show you something,” TWIST co-director Dave Rodriguez said Sunday afternoon while manning tourney headquarters at Choate.
He went to his phone, scrolled to a photo of two women: Nancy Tosney and her grown daughter Shannon.
Nancy was wearing a 1996 TWIST shirt. (Her husband Dennis was a one-time Wallingford soccer coach.)
Shannon played in her share of TWISTs, starting in 1985 at age 11, before going on to play at Lyman Hall and the University of New Haven.
This year, Shannon’s son Christian played in his first TWIST, also at age 11.
Small world? Not really, given the number of teams that play across Wallingford on the third weekend in August.
A TWIST world? Most definitely.
“Just standing here, it’s non-stop,” Rodriguez said. “Folks just pulling in. ‘Oh, my God, I haven’t seen you.’ It’s like a reunion every five minutes.”
That had a way of making the pain-in-the-butt moments that invariably arise at events such as this happily bearable.
“And that’s what makes it a better, right?” Rodriguez said. “You only see people once a year.”
It had been a long three years since TWIST last played at Choate and the two Wallingford high schools and several Wallingford town parks. The pandemic not only put TWIST in dry dock for 2020 and 2021, it curtailed the travel soccer world in general.
The Wallingford Youth Soccer Club, which stages TWIST, kept its teams active as best it could in the face of the shifting protocols that shaped youth sports over those two years.
As the U16 boys coach Danny Dominguez remarked, “Stayed busy some way, somehow. We kept the boys together however we could, whatever the provisions were that we had to keep to just keep them on the ball and keep that passion alive in them.”
On Sunday, there was reward for Dominguez and assistant coaches Jesse Reynolds, Declan Turbett and Corey Flynn. Their Wallingford Warriors won the U16 boys division final 3-0 against the North Stars.
It was the first TWIST title for Dominguez, who up until Sunday was a frequent runner-up in his TWIST playing days and again in his seven years of coaching.
Ditto for team captain Nico Cardona, a TWIST player since age 8 who is now at Sheehan.
“It’s a little emotional,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “I’ve taken second place in this tournament more than anyone who’s played in this tournament.
“I’m thankful for my boys and my coaches.”
Cardona is also thankful just to have the tournament back. After all, some youth sporting events never emerged from the COVID tunnel.
“We had no idea (if TWIST would return),” Cardona said. “Yeah, there was a slight fear that (2019) was my last time ever playing the TWIST tournament.
“It’s a big thing. I grew up in Wallingford,” Cardona added. “That’s part of Wallingford soccer. Not knowing it it was ever coming back, yeah, that was scary.”
This weekend, there was nothing to fear but whatever fear opponents could throw into you. Cardona and the Warriors were one of 12 teams that stared it all down. That’s how many won division championships out of the approximately 80 teams that descended on Wallingford for the 2022 revivial.
Six divisions were decided solely by pool play, including the U10 boys, where the Wallingford Blizzards went 3-0-1 to emerge triumphant. Also winning their pools were the Red Devils FC (U11 boys), FC Attackers (U11 girls), PSC Dynamo (U13 Division I boys), GFC Summer (U13 girls) and GVSC 2006 (U19 girls).
Six were settled by championship games. Along with the Warriors, Wallingford had one other team reach the finals: the Lions in U13 Division II. There, the locals lost to GVSA, 4-0.
The North Stars collected boys championships in U11 Division II and U14. The U17-19 boys final saw East Hampton edge West Haven 2-1. Another Connecticut squad, Wethersfield, was tops among the U12 girls.
The Wallingford U16 Warriors, in their 3-0 championship victory, got a pair of goals from Matias Zuniga and one from Will Glenny.
Then there are the memories. Those are harder to quantify, but will likely prove easier to remember.
“I’m a homegrown player,” Dominguez said. “Playing in TWIST is something I and the boys always look forward to. That’s everything; that’s our tournament. To be able to come up and win it is just something you won’t forget. It goes with you.”