A reflection on a unique fall athletics season


Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells

Paul Cooper celebrates with the NE-10 championship, West Haven, Nov. 6, 2021.


“We are the Chargers,” the university fight song goes. “We will never fall.”

This mirrored how the student body, despite facing countless challenges including dealing with the coronavirus, quarantining, online classes and the ever-shifting nature of the world, was able to persevere and make it through.

Having personally covered each of the university’s fall sports this season, there was a special feeling surrounding athletics this semester. From football’s Saturday game days at Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium, to soccer matches under the Kathy Zolad Stadium lights and volleyball matches in Charger Gymnasium, New Haven students were treated to standout seasons from each sport.

It was, for many reasons, a season to remember for New Haven’s fall sports. While it was their first time taking to the field since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the closest to normal for university students since the start of 2020, our teams gave us even more reason to be excited.

It started with the first home football game of the year, where thousands of students, parents and alumni filed into Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium. Yes, they knew that the Chargers expected to be good this year, but they attended for the feeling and ambiance of a football game that has been taken from everyone over the past two years.

They went on to be treated to a 10-2 (8-0 in conference) season, marked with a conference championship and an NCAA first round win; that’s a lot of time singing the fight song.

Football wasn’t the only standout sport at DellaCamera this season. Field hockey, in just their fourth season as a varsity program and coming off a 5-13 year in 2019, were strong competitors in the NE-10. Riding one of the conference’s best defenses, led by graduate goalkeeper Keira Integlia, field hockey had two wins over ranked teams, including a first round playoff victory over the NE-10’s second-seeded Bentley.

Women’s rugby also got their first action as the newest varsity sport, posting a 2-3-1 record in the program’s first season. They had two home games against Manhattanville College, both of which they won.

At Kathy Zolad Stadium across the street, the New Haven soccer teams welcomed successes of their own. The women’s team, with a young group preparing for the future, got much needed experience that will help them in the coming years. Along with that, graduate goalkeeper Paige Davis etched her place in program history, finishing third in career saves and second in saves per game.

The men’s soccer team made their first postseason appearance since 2010, finishing with a record above .500 for the first time since 2000. They were led by freshman sensation Pau Santanach, who won NE-10 Rookie of the Year and was a First Team selection. Their season highlights also included a near upset against Franklin Pierce University, the No. 1 team in the county, and a narrow loss to second-seeded American International College in the NE-10 Quarterfinals.

Members of the volleyball team during the NE-10 championship, Springfield, Mass., Nov. 20, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

Women’s volleyball was the final sport to end their season, making it to their 15th straight NCAA Tournament. The team’s youth, led by freshmen Macy Brown and Sophia Leon-Tabor was paired with older leadership by Emily Barry, Asiya Way and Jessica Akiona, creating a dynamic that made the team fun to watch. There were moments where Akiona could single-handedly take over a match, as she did in the NE-10 Semifinals, or when Brown totaled 20 kills in the NCAA regional match.

The emotions from each team will always stand out; they can never be replicated no matter how hard one tries. The excitement of quarterback Connor Degenhardt connecting with receiver Dev Holmes, the strength of an Akiona spike and the wonder of a Santanach goal is all boosted by a single thought; they are each Chargers.

Perhaps it took nearly two years away from these sports to realize this. Sports have the power to captivate and “wow” the audience, and our fall sports did just that this season.