While the football team - undefeated this season until a recent 14-0 loss to Fitch - deservedly grabs most of the school's sporting headlines locally and statewide, other Whaler fall teams have enjoyed a spike in success this fall.
The girls’ volleyball team, winners of five matches in the last three years, is 9-7 and a state tournament qualifier. Quantum leaps have come in soccer, which is enjoying a renaissance for boys and girls in different ways thanks in large part to its new home - the renovated turf surface at Cannamela Field.
Both teams were forced to practice and play across town at last year while Cannamela was under reconstuction. Roster numbers and spirit has increased for both sides, while the boys are enjoying their best season in over a decade.
The boys’ team entered October without a loss at 4-0-2. Despite entering the rigorous part of its schedule, the Whalers have hung tough to post a 9-5-2 record, qualifying for their first state tournament since 2001.
Senior midfielder Pat Hanrahan leads the area in assists with 11 to spearhead the complete turnaround from 1-14-1 record a year ago. The Whalers have posted rare victories over Waterford, 1-0, and Stonington, 2-1, during the impressive run.
"Our captains have stepped up big so far (Pat Hanrahan, Romer Ochoa and Brayan Mora), but it really has been a team effort with everyone stepping up and fulfilling their roles perfectly," New London coach Chris Vamvakides said. "Certain players are stepping up when starters have gone down and really done a nice job filling in."
New London’s girls’ soccer team has also hit the win column, a relative milestone considering the Whalers, who graduated all-time leading scorer Chanel Johnson last year, have been listed as an “at-risk” program by the ECC because of nine first-year players on the squad and five second-year players. The team won two games this season, one more than last year.
It is challenging for us to compete against teams that consist of players who participated in youth soccer programs," NL girls' coach Christine Sipala said. "But I am really proud of my team."
Sipala listed three juniors: Anyssa Dhaouadi, Jennifer Blanchette, and captain Giselle Shuleshko as team leaders. Two sophomores, Bryanna Parkes (3 goals) and Bianca Timpano, are two of the more experienced players who dictate offense from center midfield."
The Whalers beat Grasso Tech twice for their only victories in 13 games, but Sipala said that isn't the measuring stick she uses to gauge success. The team creates games within a game, setting a goal to score twice or help goalkeeper Tamixa Sandoval make 10 saves.
"The real story is that every day I work with a group of 20 girls who demonstrate sportsmanship, character, and tremendous work ethic," Cipala said. "Despite playing in some frustrating games, the girls always show respect towards players on the other teams. The girls remain eager to learn more about soccer and continuously impress me with their optimistic attitudes."
New London graduated nine seniors, including the three-time All-State Johnson, from last year's one-win team.
"I have a core group of sophomores and juniors who will be able to lead the team again next year," the coach said. "We have made excellent progress in terms of building individual foot skills, learning how to play different positions, learning how to pass, etc. I am looking forward to having more wins next year."
Team spirit remains high despite the mounting losses. The team has made commitments to academic achievement and community service.
No team has made as big a jump as volleyball, which won just once last year. First-year coach Kristin Talley and assistant Tom Poblete have instilled a business-like approach to what was a casual program for years.
"I am ecstatic about the girls making states this year," Talley said. "I wanted to make sure that the girls took the team and the sport seriously, which would (as I hoped) have translated into other teams in our conference taking us seriously."
Preseason conditioning, after school study sessions, team dinners and fundraisers have brought the program closer together. The girls even designed their own warmup sweatshirts.
"All of this, the idea of thinking as a team or unit, has allowed them to play well together," Talley said. "They see each other’s strengths and help each other out with their weaknesses. This has also boosted their confidence, they know they know how to play, can play together and keep up with the excellent teams and are able to defeat the others."
Diana Montalvo, Arlene Martinez and Elyona Gonzalez keyed the Whalers' 3-0 win over Putnam Friday to rise to 8-5.
With third-year athletic director Jeff Larson, new principal Tommy Thompson and director Lou Allen at the helm, New London is striving for excellence in a wide range of sports other than the male sport staples of football, basketball and baseball. The usually quiet sports of boys' track and boys' tennis have made recent strides - track finished second in the 2010 Class L states and tennis making the state tournament last year - before this fall turnaround.
"I think New London is making a shift in terms of creating a cohesive group of coaches who are also teachers and involved with the kids outside of just sports," Talley said. "This translates into people who are determined to make them great students and athletes. While the following two sports have their merit and some incredible athleticism, there is more to New London sports other than just basketball and football."