By Rick Menning
From the introduction of Ultimate to an awe-inspiring undefeated season by the girls' softball team — and tons of spirited play to go around from all the squads — The Foote School Falcons spread their wings and took flight throughout the springtime.
The fantastic display of focused resolve from all of the student-athletes featured a wide array of talents and technical know-how as each game and match showcased the best skill set among the sixth- through ninth-grade standouts.
Ready to take on all challengers in their maroon and gray uniforms, members of the baseball, lacrosse, softball, tennis, and Ultimate teams left the classroom each game day afternoon determined and armed for battle with their bats, gloves, lacrosse sticks, and tennis rackets. This year, there were also plastic (frisbee) discs among the artillery.
As those on the Loomis Street campus prepare to head out for the summer, there is one last 2022–23 school year tribute — this time to these springtime sports squads.
A season for the record books and memories to last a lifetime.
The undefeated Falcons girls' softball team started strong, finished strong and along the way provided a complete highlight reel of solid hitting, clutch fielding and outstanding pitching.
Nine games; nine wins. A total of 141 runs and 88 base hits. A barrage of offense that included 12 doubles, two triples and four home runs.
These girls also excelled with more than 50 stolen bases resulting from reading the pitcher, reacting to passed balls and wild pitches and knowing exactly when to take flight toward the next bag.
Fielding gems? Likewise not a problem with several double plays and key putouts by both the infielders and outfielders.
The need for fielding gems, however, was minimal thanks to the sensational 101 combined strikeouts by Falcons' pitchers Logan Slabaugh and Elaina Pakutka. That breaks down to about 11 strikeouts of their opponents per game.
As for the big blasts, Slabaugh ripped three rocket shots into the depths of the outfield to circle the bases. Then, in the season finale at Hopkins School, Shayann Bershstein unleashed a three-run bomb to put the exclamation point to win No. 9.
Co-coaches Chloe Shaw and yours truly saw teamwork and camaraderie rise to the forefront as the primary characteristics of the squad, which put forth one dominant result after another.
Ninth-grader Ally McCormack was a leader on and off the diamond as the team's primary captain, while Patutka (eighth grade), Slabaugh (seventh grade) and Willa Kennedy (sixth grade) excelled as assistant captains.
"I am so proud of all the girls for their incredible record and stats, but even more so for how they helped and supported each other regardless of experience and age," Chloe Shaw said. "Watching the more experienced players step up and lead, and watching the less experienced players learn and grow, was my favorite part of this truly unforgettable season."
Right out of the starting gate, these fantastic Falcons posted back-to-back shutouts over Choate Rosemary Hall and Hamden Hall while crossing home plate a combined 24 times.
And although Kingswood Oxford School broke through with five runs against The Foote School sluggers in the third game of the season, the Falcons answered with 21 runs of their own for the resounding result.
After again racing past Hamden Hall in their first road test -- during which Slabaugh struck out nine straight Hornets' batters and needed only nine pitches to retire the side in the second inning -- the true challenge to the girls' heart and determination rose to the forefront in game 5 against visiting Rumsey Hall School.
Pakutka showed incredible willpower inside the circle as the eighth-grader pitched all six innings while striking out nine and scattering five hits.
Ahead by only one run in the top of the sixth inning, and with the tying run on third base, a caught fly ball in foul territory by first baseman Ava Rose with two outs ended the nearly two-hour game.
The longest bus ride of the season was next on the schedule, but the nearly hour-and-a-half trip to West Simsbury didn't bother the Falcons as they soared to a 19-8 win against The Master's School. That was followed on the travel itinerary by an excursion to West Hartford to take on Renbrook School for a memorable experience on an artificial turf playing surface.
The Falcons felt right at home on this dazzling diamond and prevailed 16-3 for yet another fun trip on the bus back to New Haven.
Home-and-away encounters with The Hopkins School also produced a pair of victories. The later on May 24 -- a 17-3 triumph over the rival Hilltoppers -- sealed the deal to the undefeated season.
Full Count Award: Ally McCormack and Logan Slabaugh.
Team roster: Shayann Bershstein, Sasha Bindra, Natalie Curtis, Lola Giraldez-Greco, Willa Kennedy, Cora Lloyd, Avocet MacDougall, Ally McCormack, Dorothea Myers, Elaina Pakutka, Ava Rose, Esther Schonberger, Elizabeth Scott, Logan Slabaugh, Lucy Sunshine and Ava Vidal. The coaches are Chloe Shaw and Rick Menning.
Softball wasn't the only girls sport this spring with a high-octane offensive output.
In their six games, the Falcons' lacrosse players powered 51 goals into the back of their opponents' net along the way to a 4-2 record.
The charge was led by top scorer Jill Capasso, who was part of a true team effort as 17 players were involved in the season's scoring. Meanwhile, between the posts, goalie Poppy Shor averaged 18 saves per game.
In the Falcons' first game against Renbrook School -- which wound up being Foote School's most challenging opponent -- the spirit of perseverance and resolve was evident.
Despite missing some key players, and with many of those who were less experienced a little nervous over their newfound roles in the contest, the Falcons outscored the Hawks 5-3 in the second half.
And although it was not enough to rally completely back, the effort nonetheless set a very positive tone for the rest of the season.
That positivity shone like a spotlight in the second game against Pine Point, during which the Falcons' younger players took center stage and came back from a deficit to record the victory.
Confidence in their abilities and working together to achieve something they could build on made the Foote lacrosse squad a team to be reckoned with as they won four of their next five games.
Molly Romero and Lila Pisani did a terrific job as team captains, and coaches Megan Williams, Sheila Lavey and Lauren Luparia commended them as
"great role models for all of our younger players."
All in all, the team enjoyed a fun and productive season. The girls not only worked hard at the practices but also had some lighter moments which created super camaraderie and chemistry.
The 11 Award: Lila Pisani and Molly Romero (varsity); Amelia Andersson (junior varsity).
Team roster: Amelia Andersson, Slater Boms, Avery Bruce, Kayelyn Bruce, Sofia Caliendo, Jill Capasso, Maia Cort, Salome Del Rio, Claire Driver, Avery Earnshaw, Desi Freidah, Noor Gonzalez, Chase Gore-Grimes, Pelin Kayaarasi, Gracy Kreitler, Zee Lang, Molly Larsen, Luciana Lombardi, Aggie McPartland, Nora Miller, Larissa Niejelow, Lila Pisani, Caitlin Reilley, Eve Reilley, Molly Romero, Alex Rouwenhorst, Annabel Sheehan, Poppy Shor, Cordelia Thompson and Tessa Wilhelm. The coaches are Megan Williams, Sheila Lavey and Lauren Luparia.
Speaking of closing out the season on a high note, the Falcons boys' baseball team won two of their last three contests including a victory in a rematch against Country School.
Consistent improvement was the name of the game throughout the spring schedule, and a dramatic win against Renbrook School was a major bright spot to the campaign.
"(The boys) had just a complete turnaround in all aspects of the game on the field," said Joe Reiser, who was joined by Michael Valente and Ethan Schoenherr on the coaching staff.
Down to their final out and trailing by one run, the Foote student-athletes rallied behind the versatile performance of Max Anestis. The eighth-grader came through with a clutch hit and scored the game-winning run to propel his squad. He also earned the 'W' on the bump.
Then, in a rematch against Hopkins School in the season finale, the Falcons played with heart and determination but fell just short versus the Hilltoppers.
Hopkins had beaten Foote 7-1 earlier in the year, but this time around it took a late rally to overcome the Falcons' early advantage.
Reiser noted that after starting the season with 10 on the roster, the team lost its catcher to an injury in the first inning of the first game.
For the next two weeks, the Falcons took the field with only nine players. Additionally, nearly half of those on the team were new to the game of baseball. However, thanks to the leadership of ninth-grader Charlie Sudmyer and eighth-grader Max Anestis, the Falcons continually gained experience and confidence.
Golden Glove Award: Max Anestis.
Team roster: Max Anestis, Will Eden, Emeka Forman, Lorenzo Graham, Zachary Huber, Eli Lopez, Lukas Roberts, Charlie Sudmyer, Eli Wilderman and Gus Wit. The coaches are Joe Reiser, Michael Valente and Ethan Schoenherr.
Thrills were certainly one of the components that made the season a successful one for the tennis singles and doubles competitors representing The Foote School during this season's matches.
Jam-packed with highlights and major achievements, the netters in the maroon and gray uniforms did their school proud.
"Whether it was the massive improvements of our team leaders, the 9th grade, or the smiles shared by doubles partners as they started clicking and working together, the students shared the same level of pride that I have on their behalf," said Ross Holzschuh, who was joined by Lara Anderson and Anne Lu on the coaching staff.
As is the case with the other Falcons' spring sports teams, the latter part of the season brought higher heights in terms of knowledge and skills.
"By the end of the season, everyone had a fundamental understanding of the game and, as a coach, that's the best feeling," Holzschuh continued.
In terms of the above-mentioned thrills, the Falcons' doubles pairs had a few situations where the match went to a tiebreaker. That occurs when the score is deadlocked at the end of a set.
"Though we didn't win them all, each (point) was played hard and they provided the type of excitement that had coaches and spectators cheering and chomping nails," Holzschuh noted.
With such efforts come great awareness of team play and supporting each other when a point or two is on the line.
"The chemistry of the team was really solid as the season progressed. You could see it best during practice when playing games like Doubles Monarch of the Court, where there would be playful chatter and laughter," Holzschuh said. "It was a firm reminder that we're not here to just win tennis matches, but to instill a sense of joy in the game."
Coaches Award: Gus Larsen. Hustle Award: Levi York and Ignacio Granada (doubles). Golden Racquet Award: Sid Sirhari.
Team roster: Maya Abeles, Justin Aseme, Lexi Baez, Michael Batsu, Quinn Byron, Nathan Dai, Bradley DeCew, Ezra De La Cruz y Carmin, Jake Fasano, Sammy Fisher, Jamie Ganter, Max Garsten, Aiden Gomez, Ignacio Granda, Lucian Halpern, Kaya Heeger, Kachi Ikepeazu, David Ionescu, Sophie Jeleca, Elias Joseph, Daven Kaphar, Isla Kelly, Gage Lang, Gus Larsen, Owen Lasater, Jai Makam, Will Matouck, Avik Patel, Jackson Shaw, Teddy Shin, Eric Silva, Sid Srihari, Prince Starling, Luhao Tang, Rohin Turaga, Owen Whang, Lydia White, Fiona Wiman, Tyler Witkowsky, Levi York and Maryam Zagmout. The coaches are Ross Holzschuh, Lara Anderson and Anne Lu.
Although the newest team in The Foote School's spring sports family didn't play any games against other schools to get a jump on the learning curve, there was plenty to be excited about going forward.
A non-contact sport that involves flinging and catching a plastic disc (frisbee), ultimate points come from passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. Players must not take steps while holding the disc; and interceptions, incomplete passes and passes out-of-bounds are turnovers.
A total of 14 student-athletes formed the inaugural coed roster, and while there was no official action there were many scrimmages that had the players showing good competitive spirit.
Practices were held twice a week, and there were also two clinics with one featuring a guest appearance by former Foote School teacher Jake Burt.
"This was a very supportive team with a range of experience and abilities. We also had many who were playing ultimate for the first time," noted Andrew Zielinski, who was joined by Colin Maher on the coaching staff. "They all worked together to build fundamental skills."
The team took part in a very thoughtful discussion to determine qualities they wanted to celebrate through the various team awards.
The "DISC" Award (determination, intelligence of the basics of the game, selflessness, cooperation): Ari Lopez.
The "STALL" Award: (sportsmanship, teamwork, positive attitude, leadership, love of the game): Alden Neuman.
The "HUCK" Award (hustle, upbeat, commitment, kindness): Zahabiya Khoka.
Team roster: Emilia Adams, Tal Berkowitz, Zachary Brenner, Pablo Cruz, James Elliott, Abe Harris-Sturges, Zahabiya Kohka, Ari Lopez, Alden Neuman, Raven Pitskel, Ameya Queen, Will Shipley, Fisher Smith and George Thompson. The coaches are Andrew Zielinski and Colin Maher.