Sports Person of the Week
Saldutti Scores Goals in Droves for North Branford
Jake Saldutti turned in a stellar junior season with the North Branford boys’ lacrosse team. An attacker, Jake netted 38 goals in just 12 games for the Thunderbirds. (Photo courtesy of Jake Saldutti)
It didn’t take long for Jake Saldutti to fall in love with lacrosse and then learn to excel at the sport. This spring, Jake put together an impressive junior season with the North Branford boys’ lacrosse team that saw him lead the Thunderbirds in scoring.
As Jake looked to make the leap from JV to varsity last year, his sophomore season was canceled due to COVID-19. Still, Jake practiced in his backyard every day. Jake set up a net and a bounce back that he would use to pass to himself in order to sharpen his skills for the 2021 campaign.
“I was just looking forward to junior year. I wanted to be better than everyone,” says Jake. “If this was the time that everyone was taking time off, this was the perfect opportunity for me to work and get better.”
All of those hours in the backyard paid off as Jake, who was promoted to the varsity squad as an attacker. Unfortunately, in the T-Birds’ first game of the season, Jake sustained a left ankle injury that sidelined him for six games. Despite missing time, Jake went on to score 38 goals with 11 assists this year. During his time on the sidelines, Jake tried to be a leader and support his team.
“I only got to play 12 games, but I still managed to lead the team in scoring,” Jake says. “A lot of the new guys had to step up and play. I just kept telling them that they were on the field for a reason. Go make plays out there. That’s what we did.”
Head Coach Dave Carpenter was impressed with Jake’s output as a junior, especially considering that his attacker missed some time. Coach Carpenter values Jake’s intelligence on the lacrosse field and believes that the T-Birds will be relying on him a great deal next season.
“Jake is a great kid on and off the field. He’s always doing the right things. He has a great lacrosse IQ and knows where to be at all times,” says Carpenter. “We expect big things from him his senior year, and hope he continues to build off of a great junior campaign.”
Jake’s journey in lacrosse began when he played in North Branford’s rec league in 2nd grade. Jake was introduced to the sport by his neighbor Sal Carlo, who played lacrosse at Notre Dame-West Haven. Jake liked learning all the skills that are necessary to succeed in the sport.
“I was originally put into baseball at a young age. It was just too slow for me,” Jake says. “One of my neighbors was playing lacrosse. He was one of the first kids I ever played with. From there, I just got into youth lacrosse. I’ve been playing ever since.”
Jake played youth lacrosse until 5th grade, when he joined Team 203, a travel program that competes against teams from throughout the Northeast. Playing travel lacrosse helped Jake learn the speed of the game and prepared him for the rigors of the high school game.
“The competition in travel is way harder,” says Jake. “It just made me even better when I went to play for North Branford.”
Jake spent most of his freshman year at North Branford on the JV level, but joined the varsity squad on occasion. Jake felt that he had the skills to match up against varsity athletes, although he was still taking on players who were bigger and stronger than him at the time. Jake says that his freshman year showed him the type of competition that he would be facing with the T-Birds and how to adapt to that challenge—an experience that paid big-time dividends for him this year.
“I was 14 playing against 17- to 18 year-olds. They had the size,” Jake says. “Their speed was so much quicker than mine, but I felt skill-wise, I was up there with them. For me, it was just getting as strong and as fast as them.”
In addition to playing lacrosse at North Branford, Jake has been a member of the T-Birds’ boys’ basketball since his freshman year. While the two sports may seem vastly different, the skills that Jake has learned from playing each sport translate on both the turf and the hardwood.
“They’re two different sports, but there’s a lot we do in both of them. In basketball, we do drills and work on our quickness. It carries over to lacrosse,” says Jake. “Getting that first step past a defender in basketball and lacrosse is pretty much the same. It’s just you’re either doing it with a stick or a ball.”
As Jake enters his senior year, his goals are to help North Branford make deep runs in both the Shoreline Conference and State tournaments next spring. Jake says the only thing he loves more than playing lacrosse is being able to play lacrosse for North Branford.
“I love lacrosse. I think it’s the best sport ever created,” says Jake. “I love playing for my hometown. I love representing North Branford and the Thunderbirds.”