Sports Person of the Week
DePino Honored to Be Part of T-Birds’ Dynasty
Senior captain Gianna DePino helped the North Branford softball team continue its tradition of excellence with another Shoreline Conference title and a run to the Class S state final this spring. (Photo courtesy of Gianna DePino)
When she first started playing softball, Gianna DePino looked up to the older girls on her team and wanted to be just like them. In her senior year with the North Branford softball team, Gianna got that opportunity and helped lead the T-Birds to their seventh-straight conference title and an appearance in the state final as a captain this season.
Gianna started playing softball when she was eight years old. Many of Gianna’s friends were playing the sport, and she decided to follow their lead. As she watched the older athletes on her team, Gianna was all-in on softball and knew that she wanted to be in their shoes one day.
“It immediately clicked,” says Gianna. “I played with a lot of the older girls. I looked up to them a lot. I immediately knew I wanted to be like them. I worked hard to get there.”
After beginning her career in North Branford’s recreational league, Gianna started playing travel softball for the Connecticut Impact in 4th grade. She joined the Shoreline Sting in 5th grade before competing for CT Gators, who are now the CT Hornets, from 6th through 8th grade.
Gianna continued growing as a softball player at every stop. Not only was she gaining valuable experience, Gianna was also getting insight from numerous players and coaches who had more experience. Gianna says that her time in travel softball played a big role in what she’s accomplished thus far.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now without travel ball. It’s a whole different level than just playing for the town,” Gianna says. “The first year I started playing travel, I grew as a player a lot. Without the knowledge from different coaches and players, I would not be where I am.”
New to the sport, Gianna moved all around the diamond and learned how to play every position with the exception of pitcher. Gianna primarily played first base during her tenure with the Thunderbirds, but was capable of slotting in at any other spot on short notice if necessary.
“When I first started playing travel, I was new to the sport. I didn’t have a lot of experience at all the positions. I was always getting moved around by my different coaches,” says Gianna. “It helped me in the future. I was able to play wherever, because I had experience at every position. Now, I can play anywhere.”
When she joined the North Branford softball squad as a freshman, Gianna mostly played JV, but did see some time in a few varsity games. At first, it was scary for Gianna to face the level of competition that high school softball brings. However, much like her time at the rec level, Gianna’s teammates welcomed her to the team, and their support made the transition that much easier.
“It was very nerve-wracking being the youngest on the team, but the girls and the coaches made us feel very welcome. I appreciated how welcoming everyone was. It makes you feel comfortable and helps you play your best,” Gianna says. “It wasn’t a huge transition, but it was definitely a different level of softball. I felt I was able to keep up, even if I wasn’t the best on the team.”
After her sophomore season was canceled, Gianna returned to North Branford as a junior, newly minted as the team’s starting varsity first baseman. Gianna was excited and knew she was capable of succeeding at the varsity level. The T-Birds featured several athletes who Gianna had grown up playing with at the rec and travel levels, making her feel eager to contribute to the varsity squad on a full-time basis.
Gianna held on to her starting varsity role heading into her senior season. This year, North Branford posted an overall record of 20-8, won its seventh-consecutive Shoreline Conference championship, and then advanced to the title game of the State Tournament for the second year in a row. North Branford claimed its latest conference title by earning a 7-2 victory versus Old Lyme in the Shoreline final. In order to defend their crown, Gianna says that the Thunderbirds had to put in the work, always have each other’s backs, and make sure that the dugout was anything but quiet.
“We need to get excited and stay up at all times. This was the second Shoreline championship game I competed in and, this year, we definitely worked harder for it considering where we started,” says Gianna. “We just come together as a team, support each other, pick everybody up, and be loud.”
After joining the team as a quiet freshman, Gianna has broken out of her shell during her tenure with the North Branford softball program. Over the years, Gianna became more of a leader and wanted to create the same type of environment that her captains had made for her. With her newfound leadership, Gianna earned the title of captain this year and led the T-Birds alongside fellow seniors Bella Hills and Hanna Senerchia.
“I was very excited to be named captain. I know that the girls looked up to us, because I looked up to them when I was a freshman,” Gianna says. “I just wanted to give them an example of somebody who is supportive and will work through tough situations. Hopefully, they can do that when they become juniors and seniors.”
Head Coach Nick DeLizio says that Gianna always brought a strong, competitive attitude to the North Branford softball team. Gianna was always looking to be the best teammate she could be, helping everyone in the Thunderbirds’ dugout improve alongside her.
“Gianna brought a special kind of toughness and competitive attitude to the program. She thrived on being the best teammate she could be by being a positive role model,” says DeLizio. “Gianna was able to make connections with all the players, and she treated them with kindness. She was a pleasure to coach, and it’s players like her that make coaching worth it.”
Gianna is going to continue her softball career at the University of New Haven, where she will pursue a degree in health science. Gianna has always wanted to play softball in college, but never knew if she would get the chance. Now, officially on her way to becoming a college athlete, Gianna is excited and beyond appreciative for the opportunity.
Gianna understands what it means to be a member of the North Branford softball program. The Thunderbirds have become a perennial powerhouse in the Shoreline Conference and are accustomed to making deep postseason runs. Gianna feels honored to be a part of such a strong team, but knows that success doesn’t come without hard work. As she moves on to the next chapter of her life, Gianna feels proud to have shared all of her accomplishments with her T-Birds’ teammates.
“Playing for North Branford is an honor. We competed for years and became a great team,” Gianna says. “Everybody wants to beat North Branford. I’m extremely grateful to be able to play for them.”