WALLINGFORD — Like countless high school athletes across the country this year, Sheehan girls lacrosse players were saddened by how the spring season turned out. After working hard to prepare in the offseason, the coronavirus outbreak kept them from taking the field.
“It was definitely disappointing for everybody to not play in the spring,” reflected Sheehan head coach Charissa Zbikowski.
While the pandemic is still ongoing, Zbikowski was thankful to discover a way this summer to have her girls play the sport they love. Fifteen Sheehan players teamed with three other local girls to form the Wallingford West Side squad, which competed in the “Dream League.”
Playing among 10 teams, Wallingford finished with a 4-4 record. Due to missing players at season’s end, the squad forfeited its last two games.
“We looked at the Dream League as a great opportunity for the girls to get on the field,” stated Zbikowski.
The Dream League was established through the James Vick Foundation, a 501C(3) non-profit organization that offers sports programs, leagues and resources for young men and women.
“James Vick’s vision was to provide free sports for all athletes,” explained Zbikowski. “His son CJ is running the organization in his memory.”
To participate in the Dream League, players, coaches, and volunteers had to be tested for COVID-19. They also had to follow safety guidelines on the field.
“They did a lacrosse league last fall,” said Zbikowski. “The Amity girls coach, Jenna DeRosa, told me that they were going to do a league in the summer because we missed our season in the spring.”
Along with Sheehan girls, the Wallingford squad also featured a player from rival Lyman Hall, Claire Riccitelli-Pestana.
“It was fun to have her on the team,” said Zbikowski. “When you have another high school in the same town, it is natural to have a rivalry with them. That (playing Lyman Hall) is one of the games we look forward to every year.”
Sisters Maggie and Molly Donegan, who will both attend Hotchkiss School this fall, additionally competed for the summer team.
“It was good for our players to play with different people,” added Zbikowski.
The Wallingford squad enjoyed a suspenseful summer season. Three of the team’s four wins came in overtime. After kicking off with a tight win over Amity, Wallingford twice beat North Haven by a single goal.
Zbikowski felt that the opening victory set the tone for the season.
“Amity is always a good competitor,” stated Zbikowski. “We actually did a virtual challenge with them during the pandemic. In that event, Amity won the underclassmen (section) and then we won the upperclassmen challenge, so I expected it would be a close game with them.”
In another highlight this summer, Wallingford honored Sheehan seniors Kaylee Drobish and Marissa Galicia before playing North Haven for the second time.
“It was awesome to see them play one last time,” said Zbikowski. “We didn’t think we would have that opportunity.”
The team sent the seniors out on a high note, as Jayna Mackenzie scored the game-winning goal to beat North Haven 12-11 in overtime.
“We had confidence having won our first two overtime games,” recalled Zbikowski. “North Haven actually got possession first, so we were nervous, but we got the ball back and scored to win the game.”
Wallingford also earned a road victory against Shelton. The team fell twice to Hand and also lost games against Guilford and Branford.
“Those are traditionally strong lacrosse programs (in the Southern Connecticut Conference), so I was pleased with how the girls did,” said Zbikowski.
Zbikowski has enjoyed witnessing the growth of lacrosse in Wallingford. In 2007, she started a club co-op team with players from Sheehan and Lyman Hall. As the schools generated more interest for girls, the rival teams split up to form their own teams and both became varsity sports in 2014.
“We are still a relatively new program,” Zbikowski said of her Titans. “In the beginning, I had to teach everyone the basics, but now we have a youth program that does well. Most of the girls now have played, so we can work on more advanced skills.”
In 2019, the Titans advanced to the Class S quarterfinals, where they lost 10-5 to eventual champion New Fairfield.
“That was huge for the program to look at how far we’ve come,” said Zbikowski. “Going forward, we definitely want be competitive in the conference (SCC).”