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Former E.O. Smith Kessel Set The Standard
Lori Kessel was a great soccer player in the early 1980s. She had 50 goals when E.O. Smith won the first CIAC-sanctioned girls title in 1980, including four in a 5-0 victory over Windsor Locks for the championship.
Kessel graduated from high school in 1983 with 163 career goals and played soccer at UConn for a couple of seasons, her career never really taking off. She left school, went about discovering life.
One day she was helping out at a soccer camp at Connecticut College. Next thing you know she enrolled and was playing soccer for the Camels.
But this wasn't just a few years later. This was 2001. Kessel was 37."[Soccer] was all fun and everything," she said. "But I always wanted to run track. I looked at the record books and thought I could at least score some points for the team."
She scored, all right. Here she was, in her late 30s, running track against girls half her age.
"The team was wonderful," Kessel said.
Some of the other competitors' parents weren't.
"They'd say it wasn't fair," Kessel said. "I'd say, 'What's not fair? I'm 20 years older than your kids.' "
Kessel still holds four records at Conn College, two indoors (200 and 400 meters) and two outdoors (400 meters, anchor on 4x400 relay team).
Her greatest attributes might have been speed and strength. And grit. Who goes back to college in their 30s, competes against kids half their age on a reconstructed knee and graduates with a double major? Kessel had knee surgery in 1988 and has five screws and no miniscus but plenty of moxie.
"It makes you wonder what I might have done on a good knee," she said.
Kessel first made history as part of that dynamic E.O. Smith program.
She doesn't remember all that much about the day 28 years ago that she scored four goals or the 50 she had that season.
"I have to credit my teammates," Kessel said. "They gave me the passes and I was able to shoot very hard."
She also credits renowned UConn men's soccer coach Joe Morrone, whose daughter Missy was on that 1980 team. Missy had the other goal in the championship game.
"Joe is very dear to me," Kessel said. "He started the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association for girls and because of him we were able to play. There was a core group of us who grew up together playing in town."
The beneficiary of all that was E.O. Smith. That state title wasn't just any game. It was the team's 58th consecutive game without a loss, a state record at the time.
E.O. Smith was coached by Len Tsantiris, in his 28th season as women's soccer coach at UConn, where he has more than 460 victories.
"There weren't as many high school teams back then," Tsantiris said. "And there weren't as many good players. We had more of the good players than anyone else. Today there is more parity among the schools and players."
He remembers Kessel for what she was.
"She was a big-time player," Tsantiris said. "As good as you could get at that time. Very dominant."
Missy Morrone Taintor was, too. In high school and college. She would go on to become a two-time All-American for the Huskies.
"The whole team was good," Tsantiris said.
Morrone Taintor, whose son is a freshman soccer player at E.O. Smith, was a sophomore on that 1980 team.
"We didn't have the competition there is today," she said. "But it was fun to be a part of the group. We grew up together."
On Saturday, girls will walk onto the field for state title games.
Kessel will be at work at Allegra Farms (allegrafarm.com) in East Haddam, a livery stable owned by her fiance, John Allegra.
Never a dull moment.