May 9, 2023
by Molly Golden ’24
Many varsity football players found a new passion in lacrosse
Simosa Field is the proving grounds of the majority of Cheshire Academy athletics teams, but to the varsity boys’ lacrosse team and head coach Bill Mella, the turf is like their second home.
While there are several student-athletes who plan to play lacrosse the collegiate level, there are a few CA football players who use lacrosse as a cross-training season. Athletes such as Byrce Hrubiec ’24 and Scott Cunningham ’23 are varsity football players, but have committed to playing lacrosse in college.
Cheshire Academy fell into Hrubiec’s lap at the perfect time. He saw the strong lacrosse program and he knew it was meant for him. “We had — and still do have — a lot of great players. A lot of kids have been sent to very competitive college programs, from Division I to Division III. I wanted to be a part of that and the family here.”
Hrubiec dominates on the field, leading the team with as a strong defenseman. He’s a three-star athlete and one of the best there is in the Connecticut area. Inside Lacrosse had high remarks for Hrubiec: “Tough, really thick, good approach on-ball. The best player I saw all day.” Hrubiec is off to Fairfield University as a member of the of the Class of 2024 recruiting class. Until then, he’s ready for one more season on Simosa.
Varsity boys’ lacrosse features many rising stars, including freshman Jackson Van Ness ’26. Van Ness was planning on attending his local public high school until he saw an opportunity to come compete in a high-level lacrosse program. He spent his fall season playing football and knew lacrosse was going to be a good time. “I knew lacrosse was going to be fun because it was the same group of guys (who play football), and it’s a good group of kids.”
In addition to being on the field, Van Ness has become close with his teammates, regardless of class, in less than a year. “The captains made sure everyone felt included. I love how upperclassmen are friends with underclassmen, so no one feels left out”. Van Ness has his whole high school career ahead of him in lacrosse and in football as a member of the Class of 2026.
Senior captain Scott Cunningham ’23 started off as a football player who committed to trying lacrosse for one season. That was all he needed to realize how special the sport is. “I originally came to CA to play football and had a good year last year. I started to like the sport a lot more.”
As senior captain, Cunningham created a team culture of hard work and dedication, regardless of experience. “Be excited to go to practice every day and respond in a way that shows good work ethic. I want us to work hard and have fun.”
Cunningham is off to Wesleyan University this fall, competing in the NESCAC conference. As a defenseman and a long stick middle, he has a bright future ahead of him at the collegiate level.
As a football player, Jack McCluskey ’25 had no intentions of playing lacrosse, but after Mella was promoted to head coach in the fall and he knew most of the players, he thought he’d give it a try. “It was just a cool opportunity. I’m not a big lacrosse fan, but I had a great time playing this season.”
Many of the varsity lacrosse captains this season were also football captains in the fall. Seeing the change in environments was something McCluskey took notice of and liked. “The team and the environment made it so enjoyable; I don’t know if I would have played if it were not for the team.” As a member of the Class of 2025, McCluskey is excited for his upperclassmen years at CA starting in the fall.
“We Want Revenge”
Varsity softball vying a return to the Western New England Softball playoffs
Cheshire Academy’s softball program is historic. The Cats have won three championships within the past five years and have reached playoffs every season for the past 10 years. CA softball currently has won its last five games and is ranked third in the Western New England Softball League. With three games left in the season, the Cats are ready to make a push to the championship.
Leading the team is co-captain Juliana Janezic ’23, who has been a part of Cheshire Academy softball since her arrival in 2019. “I came to this school because of softball and the recruiting they had here,” Janezic said.
Janezic is one of three pitchers on the team and starts against teams like Choate Rosemary Hall and Loomis Chaffee School. She pitched a perfect game against Hamden Hall Country Day School with 13 strikeouts to reach an 11-0 victory. “As an upperclassman, I want to lead the team as a cohesive group. I want everyone to be as friendly as possible with each other. They don’t have to be best friends but they have to be teammates.”
Janezic leads the team with a 0.462% batting average and a .500% on-base percentage, as well as multiple home runs on the season. She will be attending the University of Scranton in the fall, where she will play softball at the NCAA level.
Along with Janezic is co-captain Sophia Scampalino ’23, who has been at CA since 2019. She was looking to join a winning team when she chose to attend CA. “I chose Cheshire Academy because their softball program was doing really well. They had three league championships under their belt and I was ready to go in as a freshman looking for the fourth one.”
Scampolino has been a captain alongside Janezic for two seasons. “I want to create that positive environment for new players and help anyone.” This season, Scampolino boasts a .417% batting average along with a .533% on-base percentage. With less than three weeks until playoffs, Scampolino hopes to finish what she started at CA and win a championship to end her CA softball career.
CA softball is one of the most welcoming teams on campus. Student-athletes interested are always welcome to join the team and learn a new sport — just like Maya Tenne ’23, who joined softball last year after her good friend and alumna Jordan Shannok ’22 encouraged her to be part of the team. “When I heard there might not be enough players for a team, I wanted to do anything I could to help. I’ve never played softball so I thought it would be a fun opportunity to learn a new sport and meet new people.”
Tenne was assigned outfield and has consistently improved since her first season. As a 12th grade student and new player on the team, she has learned to preserve and found new confidence in herself. “I can offer a lot more to a team than I knew, especially in a sport that I’m new to. I am still able to help people if need be and give positive energy.”
In addition to seasoned veterans on the team, the Cats have some rising stars among them. including Kaleigh Durkin ’25. Durkin enrolled at CA in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, ready for a competitive atmosphere and a great environment to thrive in. “I chose CA softball because of the culture and the community. Everyone is learning every day and trying to get better every single day.”
Durkin is only in her second year on the team but makes has made an impact as a leader in the infield as a shortstop and catcher to Kathryn Copperthite ’24. “What motivates me is to work hard and be the best I can, every single day. If I don’t do my job then that impacts the team.” Durkin leads the team in batting average with .545% and an on-base percentage of .667%, as well as multiple home runs this season.
Last year, the Cats squeezed into the playoffs as the eighth seed, but lost their spot due to a rain delay. “We want revenge. We want to be in the playoffs this year. We were knocked out in the first round last year because of rain and we want to come back this year and win that championship,” Durkin said.
The Cats have three more games left this season against Kingswood Oxford School, Worcester Academy, and Williston Northampton. Victories in those games leave the Cats in a great position for a high seed in the Western New England softball playoffs.
“We’re a Family”
Varsity girls’ lacrosse is a melting pot of stars and soon-to-be stars
At Cheshire Academy, the spring season and lacrosse go hand in hand. For many CA student-athletes, lacrosse is their main sport — and they’ve been waiting all academic year to showcase their hard work, effort, and dedication.
This year, the team is led by interim head coach Sarah Lasoff-Hodge. “Our team could run this program by themselves. Leah Harris, Maddy Olmstead, and Grace Maurice are great leaders,” she said. Lasoff-Hodge has been a longtime assistant coach to the program since her arrival at CA in 2018. She stepped up as head coach this year, with math teacher Nicholas Joaquin serving as assistant coach.
Grace Maurice ’23 is one of only two four-year student-athletes on the team. For Maurice, deciding to attend CA was easy. “The coach in 2019 had reached out to me. I really love the campus here and everyone was so welcoming to me. Growing up here, I want to make the team better and have everyone work together as a family.” In a recent win over Wilbraham & Monson Academy (April 5, 19-7), Maurice scored 6 out of the 19 goals the Cats put up against the Titans. “We like to do a lot of team bonding and getting the team closer, like a family.” Maurice will continue her lacrosse career in the fall at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Senior tri-captain Leah Harris ’23 is also working to create a family-like culture on the team. As a transfer student, she was welcomed onto the team with open arms, allowing her to grow both as a person and as an athlete. “We all work together as a team. Coming here as a new student, it was very welcoming despite joining a new team and new coach.” Alongside the other captains, Harris is creating a welcoming culture on the team. They are looking to have communication between teammates to help everyone grow on and off the field. “I want to see improvement both on and off the field, with everyone meshing together as one family.” Harris is off to Frostburg State University in the fall to continue her career in lacrosse.
Girls’ lacrosse also has a couple of rising stars on the roster who are ready to take on the reigns and continue the program’s success. One of them is Kayla Murphy ’25, who reclassified to take her game to the next level. CA has been the perfect fit. “I thought attending CA would serve as a new opportunity for me to continue my lacrosse career, at a higher — and more challenging — level.” Murphy is a reliable force on the field, recording multiple goals per game this season. She also describes the team as a close-knit group that helps each other grow. “We play for each other and we play for the team. No one plays for just themselves; we show up for each other and try our best.”
Azaria Naccarato ’25 returned to CA lacrosse this season with her sister, postgraduate Delisianna Naccarato ’23. Azaria uses her sister as a motivator to develop and grow on and off the field. “She pushes me to become a better person and player all around. She motivates me to continue playing in college and to become a great athlete.” Azaria came to CA in 2021 from New York looking for a great team and a great environment. “I heard great things about the program and the community. It drew me in and I wanted to play for the team.” As a 10th grade student, she is looking forward to continuing her career at Cheshire for years to come.
Coach Lasoff-Hodge also uses her program as a cross-training option for many CA athletes. “We have people coming to girls’ lacrosse from other sports for cross-training.” Student-athletes like Cecilia Torres ’26, Izzy Medeiros ’25, and Ava Kijewski ’24 are playing lacrosse as a way to stay active for their main sports in other athletics seasons. “Lacrosse is the ultimate cross-train from other sports and we are happy for anyone who wants to come for extra cross-training.”
Varsity girls’ lacrosse is currently 8-2, putting up an average of 14 goals per game. Entering the last weeks of regular season play, the Cats are looking ahead to the playoffs, ready to make a long run to hopefully reach a championship win.
“A Band of Brothers”
Varsity baseball is all in this season
Spring has sprung in Cheshire, Connecticut. This means spring teams have hit the fields at Cheshire Academy. Most notably, the varsity baseball team has had a rocketing start to this season. With an undefeated record of 4-0 and out-scoring opponents 57 to 18 over four games, the team, under the tutelage of head coach Anthony Giano, could be creating something magical at Alumni Field this spring.
A Cheshire native, Ryan Bulger ’24 has been attending Cheshire Academy for his entire high school career. While CA’s academic program is helping him grow and develop to be ready for the next level, baseball is an added perk for Bulger. “CA baseball has a really good culture being built right now with a new coach,” he said.
Giano took on the role of head coach two years ago. As Bulger puts it, “The biggest thing Giano stresses to us is that we are going to make mistakes, but as long as we put in the effort and trust ourselves, we are going to be a lot better.” Giano has been with CA baseball since 2015 as an assistant coach before being appointed as head coach in 2021. Alongside Giano is Pete Katynski, an assistant coach who also has an extensive coaching background.
After a rocky few seasons, upperclassmen leaders have been looking to revive the team and create a culture. Dylan Kennedy-Fujah ’24 is one of those leaders. “We try to build a brotherhood and have a bunch of leaders on the team,” he said.
Many of the baseball players are members of the classes of 2023 and 2024. Captains AJ Soldra ’23 and Anthony Tirado ’23 and many others use their leadership to establish a healthy culture, and to keep the team’s spirits up both on and off the field. “Maintaining that focus really helps us put a bunch of runs on the board. When we’re on the ball and on the field, our whole dugout is up when we’re at bat, it really gets us going and helps us generate our success.” Kennedy-Fujah has had an impressive start to the 2023 season for himself, with an on-base percentage of 0.486% and seven home runs and RBIs. As an outfielder, he’s averaging a 0.9% fielding average to start the season.
Success has come quickly and has stuck for the Cats, as they started the season with a strong offense resulting in a 4-0 record. The Cats outscored their opponents 57 to 18 with an average of 14.25 runs per game. A powerful offense led by Jayden Novak ’24, a College Of Charleston commit, has made many regional and national showcases as a catcher. He is looking to extend his talents even further at CA. “With everyone working together, we’re starting to get the bats going, which is good. We have a good pitching staff behind us so thats really helpful too.” Novak has made an impact with an on-base percentage of 0.524%, eight RBIs, and five home runs in only four games.
Starting at a new school may seem daunting for some, but not for Soldra, a first-year at CA who has gotten right to work for the Cats. In a recent 13-1 win over Wilbraham & Monson Academy, Soldra had three home runs on the day. “As far as the work ethic goes, it is attention to detail and making sure everyone is continuing to work hard. We never want to get complacent.” Soldra — a New Jersey Institute of Technology commit — and Tirado have created a culture of hard work and focus at all times. Soldra has had an explosive start to the season, with an on-base percentage of 0.500%, seven home runs, and one RBI in the early start of the season for the Cats.
CA baseball has one expectation for the season: a championship win. Bulger says it best. “The obvious expectation is to win it all and to win a ring. We are looking the best we have in a couple of years.” Cheshire Academy is currently holding first place in the Western New England Prep Baseball League, with schools such as Williston Northampton and Salisbury close by in the standings. The Cats have had two championship wins since 2015 and are looking to add a third this season. CA has some big, meaningful games coming up, Salisbury School on Saturday, April 22, and a series against Canterbury School on April 26 and April 28.