BRISTOL - On Friday, Bristol Central girls lacrosse head coach Kyle Phelan got a glipse of where he wants his program to be, as he saw Newington up close when his Rams dropped a 13-3 contest to their CCC opponent.
After four consecutive seasons of struggling to sub-.500 records and not reaching the state tournament, Newington is on its way back up the ladder.
The Indians are peaking at the perfect time and will be heading to the postseason with at least eight wins.
Indians head coach Allison Hoffman built the program back up in her second season, and Phelan sees her success as something his team could emulate a bit as the Rams wrap up their first season as a solo program after having been a co-op with Bristol Eastern for the last four years.
“They’re getting back to where they were. ... They’ve always been good,” Phelan said of the Indians. “They have a great youth program. Hats off to them. They just keep reloading. Every year they have five or six freshmen come in that are contributors.
“I grew up in Bristol ... and we always kind of had good, solid games against Newington in every sport. We’d like to see the Bristol youth program take off like other programs around us and get to the point where we are just bringing in six kids a year who have a lot of experience.”
And that’s something the program is now aching for heading into the second offseason as a standalone program. This season, the Rams had a lot of players in their first year playing the sport. Those freshmen hear about lacrosse, Phelan says, and love it once they begin playing.
The coaching staff has had to teach fundamental aspects of the game to those players and slowly work their way up, but it’s a good first step in building the program.
“We are back to having a lot of beginners, and we are back to starting a new program being just Bristol Central,” Phelan said. “We do have a little bit more experience, but it’s gonna take time to get the numbers and overall team skill level back up.”
Despite not being part of the same team anymore, Lancers head coach Kayla Policarpio is experiencing the same kinds of things at Bristol Eastern. Policarpio spent the past two seasons as an assistant on Phelan’s staff and is now leading the charge on her own, just like Phelan.
“We have a lot of kids who this is their first year playing at Central and Eastern. Kayla has the same kind of skill levels that start out,” Phelan said. “[Kayla and I] talk about what we both have and what we both lost. She’s got some great athletes over there. We’ve got some good athletes over here. We have a little more of the experience, but we lost a little bit more of the explosive, [speedy] athletes. That’s what’s over [at Eastern].”
Phelan also graduated a good class from 2018, a mixture of Central and Eastern seniors, and that takes a toll, he says.
“The split [of the co-op] is a double whammy,” Phelan said. “You lose athletes from both schools, and you lose good senior athletes.”
It’s almost like both teams have had to start from scratch. Luckily, Phelan says, Central had a good junior bunch who are seniors now. Out of the six seniors, four have played all four years.
“The seniors are a good group,” Phelan said. “They’ve been around a while and put in their dues, and they are a good group of leaders. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them. We’ve had problems that have been resolved by the captains, which you look for as a coach. You hope the captains are looking out for the betterment of the team, and they have. We have a good group. I’m excited about what they do after high school. I think they’re gonna be successful in whatever they choose to do.”
The seniors - Jayda Almodovar, Allison Jessie, Jade Longo, Corinna Marsh, Erika Santilli and Ashley Watson - have laid the foundation moving forward for a group of sophomores and juniors who look at those six as role models.
Most of the sophomores have played in the Bristol youth program. This group of eight will be Central’s first cycle of players who have gone grown up in the youth league, from sixth and seventh grade all the way through high school.
“The sophomores and juniors I’m really excited about. That group is something we’re all looking forward to,” Phelan said.
Phelan saw the potential in two specific instances this season.
One came during the season opener against Enfield, a first-year varsity program, on April 4. The coaches put in place a new defense and some new offensive plays, and the Rams executed well, leading to a 12-2 victory.
The second moment came on May 3, in what was perhaps the Rams’ best game of the season. Against Middletown, Central found itself trailing 3-1 early and Phelan burned a timeout. Something clicked during that huddle, and the Rams let loose, rebounding and securing a 14-7 victory on their home turf.
It was that type of momentum-seizing win that could potentially be a springboard for this young, growing group of Rams.
“They saw the adjustment, and they were able to execute it on the field, which was something I was really proud of the girls for,” Phelan said. “I’m hoping they realize we don’t have to do just one thing. We have to make adjustments with what we’re playing against, and we can be successful when we do that.
“Our sophomores and juniors, the younger kids, are making a big jump this year, and we can see it already. We’re looking forward to the future.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or