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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    North Branford tops Stonington 4-0 for Class S field hockey title

    Stonington goalie Madison Allard (97) dives to stop a shot from North Branford's Sophia Toto (1) off a penalty corner in CIAC Class S field hockey championship game action Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Wethersfield High School. The top-seeded Thunderbirds rolled to a 4-0 win over the third-seeded Bears. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Stonington head coach Jenna Tucchio, second from left, comforts Brianna Plew (13) after the Bears’ loss to North Branford in CIAC Class S field hockey championship game action Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Wethersfield High School. The top-seeded Thunderbirds rolled to a 4-0 win over the third-seeded Bears. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    North Branford's Alivia Schmidt (7) splits Stonington goalie Madison Allard (97) and Emily Obrey (6), back, to score on a rebound in CIAC Class S field hockey championship game action Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Wethersfield High School. The top-seeded Thunderbirds rolled to a 4-0 win over the third-seeded Bears. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Stonington's Megan Harris (8) hits the ball past North Branford's Lindsey Onofrio (4) in CIAC Class S field hockey championship game action Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Wethersfield High School. The top-seeded Thunderbirds rolled to a 4-0 win over the third-seeded Bears. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    North Branford's Alivia Schmidt (7) reacts to a clear attempt by Stonington's Emily Obrey (6) in CIAC Class S field hockey championship game action Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Wethersfield High School. The top-seeded Thunderbirds rolled to a 4-0 win over the third-seeded Bears. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    North Branford's Riley Cole (28) and Stonington's Paige Goebel (9) tangle battling for the ball in CIAC Class S field hockey championship game action Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Wethersfield High School. The top-seeded Thunderbirds rolled to a 4-0 win over the third-seeded Bears. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Wethersfield — When North Branford lost to Stonington during the regular season, there were two ways the Thunderbirds could have reacted. One would have been to get angry after the only loss in an otherwise perfect season.

    “Like anything else,” North Branford coach Babby Nuhn said, “when you have something like that, you either put your head in the sand or you say, ‘What can I do to get better?’

    “A good player and a good team will respect that (1-0 loss) and then learn from it. Another team, some players will be mad. We took it as thank you for helping us see our weaknesses and let’s grow from that.”

    North Branford got better, exponentially better.

    The top-ranked Thunderbirds toppled Stonington 4-0 Saturday in the Class S state field hockey championship game at Wethersfield High School, the second straight title for Nuhn’s team and the sixth in program history.

    It was the second straight championship victory against No. 3 Stonington, with North Branford winning last year’s title game 2-0.

    Stonington (17-3-1), looking for its first state championship since 2013, couldn’t recapture the magic of the 1-0 regular-season win over North Branford or the pure joy of Wednesday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over No. 2 Canton in the snow.

    North Branford’s Keana Criscuolo broke a scoreless tie with 1 minute, 5 seconds to go in the second quarter Saturday and the Thunderbirds (21-1) peppered Stonington goalie Madi Allard with five penalty corners in the third quarter, 12 in all, outshooting the Bears 14-3.

    Criscuolo finished with two goals and two assists, while Sophia Toto and Alivia Schmidt also had goals for North Branford in a dominant performance.

    That left the competitive Allard, the star of Wednesday’s shootout round in the semifinals – stopping four straight Canton opportunities – to plan what she would do differently if the Bears had another opportunity to play North Branford.

    “I would like another chance, yeah,” said Allard, a senior, who only began playing field hockey her freshman year of high school. “They were pretty good. It was a rough time to block them today.

    “I think we could be more aggressive on them. I think we could really block them out and go straight at them instead of playing back more. ... I think we both were different teams (from the first time they played). I think they came out more aggressive and we could have been more. A very different team than what we originally played.”

    Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio, who has won a state championship as a player and as head coach for the Bears, also had a few “what-ifs” in her mind.

    Tucchio said the dynamic North Branford performance wasn’t anything she didn’t expect.

    “I knew they were going to come to play,” Tucchio said. “Unfortunately, today wasn’t our day. I don’t know. I don’t even know what to say to be honest with you. There’s got to be some magic potion or something that lets you play your best game or play confidently.

    “There’s got to be some magic potion for you to have to play like that on a day like today. It felt like we were in a good head space, but when the whistle blew, it just wasn’t there today.”

    Stonington graduated 10 seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad, returning only Emma Spathakis at left back and Allard in goal, and still won the Eastern Connecticut Conference regular season and tournament titles.

    “I’m so proud,” said Allard, whose younger sister Hailey was her backup in goal. “We grew so much as a team. I think (the younger players) really pushed themselves to be great this year. They’re doing awesome. I think they’re going to be even better next year.”

    Nuhn, meanwhile, recalls another North Branford-Stonington matchup in a final. Stonington, with Tucchio as a freshman, won the 1987 Class M state championship over the Thunderbirds 2-1.

    “Jenna has the gold medal to prove it,” Nuhn said. “There’s a lot of history and it’s all very good. I love the Tucchio family and I mean that. Her mom and her dad and Dodger, her dog, and of course, her sister.

    “... And then the championship, it just culminates the year. This championship is for today, this year and a reflection of the camaraderie; they supported one another.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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