Stonington plays No. 1 North Branford in Tuesday's Class S field hockey semis

Stonington's Miranda Arruda, left, who has score a team best 24 goals, will help lead the No. 4 Bears into Tuesday's Class S field hockey semifinals against No. 1 North Branford on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at East Lyme High School. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Stonington's Miranda Arruda, left, who has score a team best 24 goals, will help lead the No. 4 Bears into Tuesday's Class S field hockey semifinals against No. 1 North Branford on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at East Lyme High School. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Stonington — Jenna Tucchio, Stonington High School field hockey coach, can speak to the true meaning of reaching a state tournament semifinal perhaps more than anyone … because there was a time she couldn't do it.

Tucchio had just taken over as Stonington's head coach in 2004 and the Bears reached the quarterfinals of the Class S state tournament, suffering a 3-1 loss to Nonnewaug. Then came 2005 and more of the same, a 1-0 loss in the quarters to Granby Memorial, then the two-time defending state champion.

“How do we get out of the quarterfinals? It was like this big mystery,” Tucchio said this week with a laugh at the memory of herself then, turned part spy, part detective to figure it out.

“(Haddam-Killingworth), North Branford, Granby, Canton … it was like a secret society, a little club. If you didn't belong, you couldn't go to the semifinals. You think of all these crazy things. I still do a lot of scouting, but at the time, I was trying to see any hockey I could, go up to Glastonbury, Shepaug was really big. I'd go out and see a lot of hockey to try to see what that X factor was. What are their coaches doing? There's got to be something missing.”

Fourth-seeded Stonington (17-3) will face No. 1 North Branford in the semifinals of the Class S state tournament at 6 p.m. Tuesday at East Lyme High School.

And the Bears are certainly not newcomers to this spot.

Including back-to-back championship game appearances in 2012-13, the Bears have reached the semifinals in five of the last six seasons, including three straight from 2012-14. They lost 3-0 to eventual co-champion H-K in last year's semifinals, also at East Lyme.

Tucchio's team was the 2013 Class S state champion.

It was the 2008 team which finally broke through to the semis, getting what Tucchio called the monkey off her back, despite the fact Stonington didn't win the Eastern Connecticut Conference title that year for the first time in more than a decade.

It was in 2008 the Bears won their quarterfinal game 3-1 over Northwestern Regional, thus creating another problem entirely in facing powerful Granby in the semis.

“I had a tremendous amount of athleticism, all the speed we had. They were naturally athletic. They brought a lot to the field on the their own,” Tucchio said of 2008. “They were my caffeinated group … so excited. … I was super-excited. I wanted to have a good showing.”

It shows how the expectations have changed at Stonington.

This year, the Bears won their quarterfinal game Thursday 8-0 over Lewis Mills, taking advantage of their speed and their ability on Stonington's artificial turf, which was installed in 2013.

Stonington is led by junior Miranda Arruda with 24 goals and four assists, followed by seniors Trinity Lennon (16 goals, 8 assists) and Hannah Pratt (14 goals, three assists). Lennon, midfielder Abby Flakus and center back Colette Dreher (who took over for all-stater Emma Miller) were named first team all-conference.

North Branford (19-0-1) defeated fellow Shoreline Conference opponents Old Saybrook (3-1) and Westbrook (6-0) to reach the semis. Junior Amy Raucci had three goals in the win over No. 8 Westbrook and sophomore Ali Barrett had two. The Thunderbirds are coached by Babby Nuhn, in her 44th season.

“It just goes to show how much we've grown as a team and how much I've grown as a coach,” Tucchio said of the way the Bears have maintained their standing as a perennial semifinalist. “Wherever we are in the season, my kids are ready for that moment.

“Now we expect to be there. We can't wait to be there. It's kind of ingrained in them now. … I have a lot of confidence in the girls and their ability to focus on our game and put aside all the hoopla. I have a lot of confidence we can do that.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

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