North Branford field hockey edges Valley Regional for fifth straight Shoreline Conference title

The North Branford field hockey team won its fifth straight Shoreline Conference championship with its 2-1 victory over Valley Regional on Thursday.

The North Branford field hockey team won its fifth straight Shoreline Conference championship with its 2-1 victory over Valley Regional on Thursday.

Mike Madera / For Hearst Connecticut Media

CLINTON — No one needed to tell Olivia Toto about the history of the North Branford field hockey team under the direction of long-time head coach Babby Nuhn.

Just in case Toto needed to be reminded, the Thunderbirds entered Thursday evening’s Shoreline Conference championship game as the four-time defending champs.

Toto made sure the drive for five ended correctly.

Positioned perfectly in front, Toto scored 3 minutes, 9 seconds into the fourth quarter, leading second-seeded North Branford to a 2-1 upset victory over top-seeded Valley Regional in the Shoreline Conference championship game at the Indian River Complex.

“I was definitely thinking about the four-peat,” Toto said. “We did not want to ruin the streak. We were able to pull through in the end.”

The league championship is the Thunderbirds’ sixth in seven attempts since 2014, and the second against the Warriors, who they also defeated in 2017.

“It’s been a beautiful journey,” Nuhn said of the fifth consecutive league title. “The best part is we did it by coming back. Valley Regional is a very talented and very deep team. We came back from a 1-0 deficit. We have had depth all season. What I mean is the numbers are low, but their heart is so big. They were able to dig deep inside.”

For Valley Regional, the loss was the team’s first of the year and dropped the Warriors to 16-1-1. It also ended Valley’s eight-game winning streak, which started after a 1-1 tie against North Branford earlier in the regular season.

“We struggled to get going with our offense,” Valley Regional coach Beth Powers said. “They are a very talented team. It is always hard the third time you play a team.”

The Warriors and Thunderbirds squared off twice in the regular season with Valley winning 1-0 and the two teams playing to a 1-1 tie.

Despite dominating a majority of the first half, North Branford found itself trailing 1-0 at the half as Valley scored with 2:13 remaining in the opening half.

Picking up the pressure, the Warriors were awarded a corner shot. The ensuing play saw senior Mia Alio score off a scramble in front for a 1-0 advantage. Valley had the only four shots of the second quarter after North Branford had held Valley without a scoring opportunity in the opening quarter.

The goal by Alio was all the scoring on the night for Valley Regional as the Thunderbirds did an exceptional job on Shoreline Player of the Year Abby Amara. The senior was limited in her scoring opportunities as the Thunderbirds collapsed around her.

“We played them two other times this year and we were able to build off that,” North Branford senior captain Braeden LeBeau said of containing Amara. “We had a very thorough scouting report. She (Amara) is a great player. We watched her and learned from her. We were ready.”

After the Thunderbirds held the Warriors without a scoring opportunity during a North Branford penalty, North Branford got the equalizer when sophomore Sophia Toto scored in front 3:31 into the second half.

“We just dug deep,” Nuhn said. “We have great senior leaders. Their selflessness shows. They are hard workers. We also have a huge staff. They are the best of the best. They are very dedicated.”

The Warriors put on the pressure to end the third, but it was North Branford which took the lead for good 3:09 into the fourth. Alone in front, Olivia Toto got a high shot past Valley Regional goalie Fallyn Belisle for the eventual winner.

“It was great to get the ball up there,” Olivia Toto said of the winner. “We just stuck with it. We never gave up. We had a lot of opportunities. We were able to come together.”

The Thunderbirds had two final obstacles to overcome as Valley had a pair of corners within a 1:30 span in the final five minutes. The defensive efforts by the Thunderbirds did not allow Valley a quality scoring opportunity on either and North Branford sealed its fifth consecutive league title.

Valley Regional was looking for its first league title and fell to 0-3 in Shoreline championship games.

Player of the Game

Olivia Toto, North Branford: Senior created opportunities all game and was finally rewarded when she scored the eventual game-winner early in the fourth quarter.


“I think we just have great team chemistry. We lost almost all of our starters from last year. We did not know what to expect. We are more like sisters. We have that off the field and it transfers on the field.” — Braeden LeBeau