Cheshire High School boys’ soccer head coach Artur Branco waited 30 years to stand atop the state of Connecticut. In the Class L final on Nov. 20 of last year, he coached CHS to a 3-1 victory over Xavier at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford.
The win earned Branco’s first state title. For the Rams, it was their first crown since back in 1988.
“It was a great culmination of a lot of things for the program,” reflected Branco. “I was so happy for all of our players, coaches, parents, administrators, and supporters like the (Cheshire) Soccer Club.”
The championship was made sweeter by the fact that the year before, Cheshire had come up just short, 3-2, against Farmington in the Class LL title game.
“It isn’t easy to get there two years in a row. To make it back and win was a great feeling,” explained Branco.
In returning to the field this fall, the Rams are tasked with filling the roles of nine seniors. The graduating class was integral to Cheshire making the state finals in the last two seasons.
“We have a different group, but I think our players are very hard-working,” said Branco. “There are different ways to win and we need to find the way that works for us.”
Chris Rochefort and Elis Sulollari will play big roles as senior co-captains.
“They have to be leaders on the field,” stated Branco. “We are working in some new players, so we need them to set the example for everyone.”
The captains believe that dedication, passion, and hard work will be keys for the season.
“It feels good to lead the team in our senior year,” said Rochefort.
Sulollari’s older brother Kevi was also a quad-captain last fall.
“It is big shoes to fill,” stated Elis. “I want to live up to what he did for the team.”
The Rams graduated their top-three scorers in Samir Dishnica (28 goals, 19 assists), Colin Brown (12, 11), and Kevi Sulollari (12, 8). The boys captained the Rams with Muluken Marchand, who had seven goals and four assists in 2022.
Dishnica was the first CHS soccer player to receive U.S. Soccer Coaches All-American since 2007. He also received All-Class L, Class L Final MVP, SCC Player of the Year, and All-SCC First Team.
Kevi Sulollari joined Dishnica as All-Class L and All-SCC First Team. Marchand was also an All-SCC First Team honoree, while Brown and senior Zach Chen made the second team.
Dishnica (Clemson University-South Carolina), Sulollari (Bentley University-Massachusetts), Marchand (Roger Williams University-Rhode Island), and Luke Banach (St. Joseph University) have moved on to college teams. Brown is also running track at Sacred Heart University.
For this year, senior Will Stearns (10 goals, six assists) and Sulollari (three, nine) are the top returning scorers. Stearns netted the opening goal in the 2022 Class L title game.
Seniors Ryan Hays (goal) and Alex Clark (assist) also started games last season.
“Will, Alex, and Ryan all got a lot of experience last year with Elis,” reflected Branco. “That will help them coming back as seniors.”
Senior Michael Mayano had two goals and two assists last fall. Since his older brothers Andrew and Matt have graduated from the program, Mayano will be the last member of the family to play for the Rams.
“When you have a family come through your program, it is a great feeling because you can build connections with them,” explained Branco. “The Mayano family has been very involved for a long time. (The father) John Mayano has been president of the parent’s group for many years and we can’t thank him enough for what he has done.”
Junior Dom Parete posted four goals and an assist in 2022, but he is currently sidelined with a knee injury. As a key newcomer, sophomore Jelique Panton has brought in technical skill and speed in the mid-field.
From the senior class, Daniel Braylyan (goal), Jaiden Hatton (goal), and Jasen Thomaswick (assist) added their first points last fall.
On defense, graduates Jack Markarian, Chen, Marchand, and John Tarca contributed heavily for the Rams. Rochefort returns to supply leadership in the back.
When Nolas Kappus was injured to start last season, Tarca stepped up as the goalkeeper.
Kappus was slotted to be the starting goalkeeper and a tri-captain, but he transferred and reclassified at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford. With the position vacated, Braylyan, junior Luke Hayden, and sophomore Aldo Fernandez are competing to be the starting goalie.
Braylyan and Hayden were field players last year.
“Nolan’s exit was tough for us,” reflected Branco. “We need people to step up and support them in that position.”
Last year in the SCC semifinals, the Rams came up short 1-1 (4-3 in penalty kicks) against Fairfield Prep, but Cheshire rebounded to win the state title.
For this season, the Rams will open with seven straight road games before playing Hamden in the home opener on Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. Of their last eight games in the regular season, seven will be at Alumni Field.
On Saturday at Farmington Sports Arena, the Rams kick off against host Simsbury at 5:30 p.m.
“I think we have the potential to have a great year,” said Rochefort.