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The Branford boys' soccer squad couldn't quite repeat last year's feat of reaching the Class L State Tournament semifinals, yet Paul Hunter's Hornets still put together a historic campaign, one in which they won the Southern Connecticut Conference Oronoque Division and reached the SCC Tournament final for the first time in program history.
Branford's regular season featured a 12-game unbeaten streak that led to a record of 10-2-4, including a mark of 7-0-1 in the Oronoque, earning the Hornets the title outright after they shared it last year and marking the program's third division title in Hunter's four seasons.
Then in the postseason, Branford blanked Guilford 3-0 in the SCC Tournament, followed by a stirring 3-2 victory versus Amity that saw the Hornets allow the tying goal with one second left in regulation before Max Condon's goal won it in double overtime. This win sent Branford to its first-ever SCC final, where it lost to Fairfield Prep 1-0. After that came the Class L tourney, in which the Hornets beat East Lyme 2-1 before losing to Farmington 3-2 and finish at 13-3-4.
"It was a great season. I've known our seniors since they were 12 and their growth over the last four years has been immense," said Hunter. "Our guys brought great desire and commitment with a never-say-die attitude that was encapsulated in the win against Amity. Every time we stepped on the field, we felt we could win. You couldn't have asked for a better group of kids to work with. It's been a wonderful time."
Hunter was assisted by JV coach Mark Harris, as well as Bob Faulkner, about whom Hunter said, "A lot of our success was due to the boys' preparation before the season started and I give credit to Bob Faulkner for teaching the kids what it takes to win."
Six of those kids earned All-Oronoque First Team honors in senior captain central-midfielder Jaryd Hobbs (9 goals, 6 assists), senior goalie Jared Keck (19 goals allowed in 21 games with 9 shutouts), senior central-midfielder Paul Habelow (2 goals, 10 assists), senior captain sweeper Uli Pino, senior captain stopper Connor Bradshaw (6 goals, 1 assist), and sophomore forward Condon (14 goals, 3 assists). Hobbs and Pino both made the New Haven Register All-Area team, were named All-State, and were additionally chosen to play in the Senior Bowl with Bradshaw and Habelow. On top of that, Hobbs was an All-New England honoree, was chosen as the SCC Scholar Athlete for October, and named the Hornets' co-Most Valuable Player with Keck, a first-year soccer player who was selected as Branford's Most Improved Player.
"Jaryd Hobbs was the driving force at both ends of the field and was paramount to our success," Hunter said. "Jared Keck came to use with raw talent, was willing to learn, and picked up everything as he went along. You would have thought Jared had been playing goal since he was 10."
Hunter then discussed the contributions of his other All-Oronoque athletes in Condon (who was named Most Promising Underclassman), along with Habelow and captains Pino (who suffered a torn ACL against Prep) and Bradshaw, the latter who won the team's Hustle Tough Guy Award with senior defender Will Radulski. Hunter also had some fine things to say about Radulski and the squad's other senior captain in midfielder John Ainson.
"Max was a Premier player with Oakwood last year, but he came to us this season and proved a big scorer who can finish with the best of them," Hunter said. "Paul is a workhorse who ran the show with Jaryd by distributing the ball with his unbelievable vision on the field. Uli sacrificed being a central-midfielder to play sweeper and succeeded as an anchor back there and Connor was a relentless worker who would shut down the other team's best forward every game. Will had a fabulous year and played like a pit bull; nobody wanted to be on his side of field. John had some injury problems, but did a great job of inspiring his teammates by giving them a pat on the back when they needed it or by getting in their face when they needed it."
The Hornets' featured two other seniors in midfielder/defender Edgar Ortiz and defender Nick Reed. Also on the roster were juniors Justin Waters (a defender who will captain the team next fall), Evan Buckman (defender), Andrew Malonis (midfielder), Hunter Duval (midfielder), and R.J. Giammattei (forward); plus sophomores Billy Bustos (goalie), Aaron Radulski (forward), Jack Pottenger (midfielder), Zach DiNoto (midfielder), Michael Caminear (midfielder/defender), and Joe Roca (midfielder).