St. Joseph carves out outstanding season
Leeland Gray knew what he was undertaking when he took over the St. Joseph girls lacrosse program back in November. The Cadets were coming off consecutive three-win seasons and he was a first-time varsity head coach.
What Gray also knew was that his assistant coaches Dave Ivanovich and Riley Smith were as committed to winning. The final piece needed was for the players to climb on the bandwagon.
Having always been a proponent of a "Dream To Achieve" mindset, Gray met with the team captains to establish program, team and individual goals for the season, and to change the lacrosse program's culture and mindset.
One of the player's dreams at the time was to make states, which is no easy gig when you're the only Class S team competing in the FCIAC. For example, this year the FCIAC is home to 6 of the 12 remaining teams in the state semifinals.
St. Joseph reached its goal and then some.
Led by seniors Susie Vazzano, Robyn Pelletier, Lindsay Lucifora, Christina Psaras, Tricia Diaz, Carly Michalka and Emily Buccigross, the Cadets won three consecutive tournament games out of the 15 seed to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2004.
Somers High, the third-seed, used a strong second half to end the Cadets’ season by winning a 12-10 decision in Southington on Tuesday night.
“The last two years were three wins a season,” Gray said. “There’s no need to hang our heads. When you go further into the playoffs, the loss hurts more, when you get to the semifinal and the finals.
“When St Joe's hired me as the coach, I was both a "newbie" high school coach as well as a "newbie" high school head coach. The program had a rough go of it during the past several years and had not made states since 2007.
“We installed a zone defense. That helped tremendously with some discipline in the defensive end. And we focused on stick skills.”
Buccigross in goal, who had five saves in the finals, led a stellar defense.
Michalka, Psaras, Halle Grabowski, Samantha Dyson, Lucifora and Mikaela Trafecante helped the Cadets deny the opposition during an 8-8 regular season.
The Cadets’ offense spread the wealth.
In any given game or situation, Pelletier, Vazzano, Amanda Lopez, Lucifora, Abbey Ivanovich, Diaz, Annie McNeil and Kate Condron would come through with a goal.
Lopez scored five goals for St. Joseph versus Somers.
Vazzano tallied a pair. McNeil, Lucifora and Pelletier scored one goal each.
“The last two years were three wins a season,” Gray said. “There’s no need to hang our heads. When you go further into the playoffs, the loss hurts more, when you get to the semifinal and the finals. I’ll cry tomorrow. No sulking. I’m a ‘power of the positive’ kind of guy.”