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    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    High school notes: Clarke ‘thrilled’ to take over as Fitch girls’ soccer coach

    One of the hardest things for Aly Clarke about taking over as the head coach for the Fitch High School girls’ soccer team is that Clarke can no longer play for the Falcons, with whom she spent her career.

    Clarke, a 2015 Fitch grad and The Day’s 2014 All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year, was a two-time all-state pick for the Falcons before going on to earn Little East Conference honors twice at Eastern Connecticut State.

    She is in her first season coaching at Fitch, which was 1-14-1 last season and has yet to record its first win under Clarke.

    “It was a little rough, to be honest,” Clarke said after Fitch’s opening day 9-0 loss to a talented Chariho (Rhode Island) team in the opening round of the Josh Piver Tournament.

    “But it was a really good learning experience. They are learning that they need to take care of their bodies and really prepare in the offseason before the season comes. ... I will definitely say the girls have bought in to what I’m trying to do, the culture I’m trying to instill.”

    Clarke said the players have so many questions.

    “It’s just so much information,” she said. “We’re trying to kind of build off that.”

    Clarke, whose father Todd is also a former Fitch all-stater in soccer and serving as her assistant coach, graduated from Eastern in 2019 with a degree in psychology. She is currently a kindergarten teacher at Oakdale Elementary School.

    She said that Fitch athletic director Marc Romano reached out to let her know there was an opening as the Falcons head coach. She was hired in February.

    “I’m super, super excited,” Clarke said, “just to come back and coach where I played, just trying to change the culture. I was thrilled when they offered me the job.

    “I want to make sure these girls realize how lucky they are and just enjoy the moment, be able to build something. It means more to me because I went there. I would never ask them to do something I haven’t done. I want to instill that positive and winning culture.”

    Clarke said her message to the team was that the loss to Chariho was one game. Her goal in leading the Falcons, she said, is bigger than just soccer.

    “I want to create young women that are going to be successful,” Clarke said. “I’m excited and hopeful. The first thing, let’s use (the Chariho loss) as a learning experience. Not everything was negative. We physically weren’t ready. Maybe we didn’t eat breakfast. Maybe we didn’t run enough during the summer.

    “That was one game. We have a whole season left.”

    ‘A great vision’

    Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association executive director Joe Canzanella died suddenly Friday at the age of 71, leaving a void state-wide after serving as a staunch advocate for the coaches and players he represented.

    “Huge loss for all coaches, athletes, umpires, parents, communities in Connecticut,” said longtime North Branford field hockey coach Babby Nuhn, who worked with Canzanella for the CHSCA.

    “I am absolutely heartbroken with Joe’s sudden passing. His loss is exponential. He brought the CHSCA to a higher level. He had a great vision and worked tirelessly with everyone to embrace excellence. He was amazing, a wealth of knowledge with his great personality.”

    Previously, Canzanella served as citywide athletic director for New Haven Public Schools, as well as coaching and officiating.

    Ledyard athletic director Jim Buonocore served with Canzanella on the CHSCA executive committee. Buonocore echoed Nuhn’s description of Canzanella, also referring to him as “tireless” and citing his unwavering positivity.

    “He had an uncanny ability to connect with people from all walks of life and his energy was infectious,” Buonocore said. “His greatest attribute in my eyes was that Joe was a leader of people, whether it was young people or adults. Joe Canzanella’s positive impact on athletics in our state will be felt for a long time.”

    Bearcat of the future

    When Emilia Podeszwa arrived as a freshman on the Waterford High School softball team, she was ... nervous. Now she’s a senior and looking forward to a career as a Division I athlete after committing to play softball at Binghamton University.

    The shortstop for the Lancers’ Eastern Connecticut Conference championship team last spring and one of the captains elected for next season, Podeszwa is a defender this fall for the Waterford girls’ soccer team, which was unbeaten heading into Tuesday’s matchup with Bacon Academy.

    “It’s a great academic school and I really like the coaches and the facilities,” Podeszwa said of Binghamton. “Growing up I played a lot of different sports. I didn’t realize I wanted to play softball in college until a year ago.

    “I really love soccer and I did gymnastics before that.”

    Podeszwa, whose father Chris is an assistant baseball coach at UConn, said she’s always listening to him talk baseball around the house — “I’ll just pick up on stuff,” she said. She also credits Waterford softball coach Andy Walker and Rebecca Hall, who coaches her with the Rhode Island Thunder.

    “I think it’s just my mentors and them supporting me,” she said of what got her to the Division I level.

    Podeszwa plans to major either in environmental science or psychology at Binghamton. The Bearcats were 29-18 last season, 13-7 in the America East Conference.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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