Graduating senior Blake Mamaclay won the George Brinley Award, an annual honor given to the most outstanding senior male athlete at Newington High School.
“The coaches vote on it and I think one of my coaches recommended me for it, so I feel honored,” Mamaclay said about receiving the prestigious award, “It goes to someone that exemplifies all there good qualities, like sportsmanship, courage, and perseverance.”
Throughout his four years at Newington, Mamaclay displayed all of those traits on the soccer field during the fall and volleyball court in the spring.
He was fortunate to have the same pair of head coaches for his entire tenure and that stability allowed him to flourish in both sports.
“Both my coaches had big influences on me. Coach [Jeff] Brunetti is a really levelheaded guy. After games we’d talk about what we would need to improve on in practice. He really looked after me as a freshman,” said Mamaclay, “Coach [Curt] Burns basically set me on a path to success. At the summer strength and conditioning he worked with me and he made me the setter.”
Soccer has always a part of his life, but before high school Mamaclay wasn’t too familiar with the sport that would ultimately make him a champion.
“I started playing volleyball as a freshman,” added Mamaclay, “My friend Tyler Callahan influenced me to start playing. I was actually thinking about doing track at first, but he’s the one that said---if you want to win a state championship, come out and play volleyball. And who wouldn’t want to do that?”
The decision to play volleyball paid off, as Mamaclay and his teammates won 82% of their games and were crowed state championships in 2014 and 2015.
“I’d have to say the best moment was winning back-to-back state championships. Winning one is tough enough, but coming into the second year we were kind of marked off because we just lost three all-state players. Our setter was gone and I was stepping in,” he recalled, “We really worked hard for that and we definitely earned it.”
In his two years as the team’s starting setter, Mamaclay racked up 1645 assists, averaging over nine dimes per set. He credits his success to Burns, along with the other coaches and mentors that helped him hone his craft.
One of those mentors was the team’s equipment manager, Heldor Guedes. Guedes was not only in charge of equipment, but he’s also championed the team through his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game.
“He’s helped me out a lot since my freshman year,” Mamaclay said of Guedes, “He’s been one of my biggest supporters and I really couldn’t thank him enough.”
On the court, he played with some of the state’s best players and formed some of his closest friendship. Last year he teamed with Dante Phillip and the duo became a lethal one-two punch.
“He was my go-to guy during the volleyball season. We really bonded this year, on and off the court. He was definitely a great teammate,” said Mamaclay, “I really didn’t know him that well before my junior year and I really didn’t get a chance to talk to him a lot until this year, but we became pretty good friends and we had really good core chemistry.”
Mamaclay and Phillip are two of a handful of talented seniors that will be departing, but the graduating setter believes the program will continue to be strong.
“I think the guys here are going to do a great job. All of them are so committed and so hardworking. I could definitely see another state championship within the next two years from these guys.”
The volleyball court is where he enjoyed the most success, but the soccer field was his first love.
“I’ve basically been playing my entire life. My dad was a big soccer guy and he coached me all the way until eighth grade and he’s helped out with summer league, so he’s been a big influence,” he said about his father, Geoff Mamaclay, “He was always the one pushing me. When I wanted to give up, he would tell me to keep pushing through and to give it another week. I think that really helped me out, because it motivated me to do better.”
All the help and hard work has paid off. Mamaclay not only blossomed into an accomplished athlete, but he also graduated with honors. Now he prepares for life after high school, but the idea of not returning to the halls of NHS in the fall hasn’t sunk in just yet.
“I still feel like I’m in high school. I wake up every day thinking I have to work on my summer packet or something, but there‘s no more summer packet to work on,” he joked, “I’ll miss the sports, because that was something I looked forward to and I‘ll miss seeing my friends every day. It just really hasn’t hit me yet, I don’t think it will hit me until I actually move into college.”
The charismatic and outgoing graduate will undoubtedly make new lifelong friends at his next academic stop, which is over the river and through the woods.
“I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people and living on campus,” said the soon-to-be Eastern Connecticut State University student, “I like the environment up there. My sister [Hanna] actually went there. She just graduated this year, so I’ve kind of been around it for four years.”
He received an academic scholarship and he hopes to help start a club or intermural volleyball team at Eastern. He’d like to continue to compete athletically while he works on his degree in Behavioral Analysis. His ultimate goal is to obtain a Master’s Degree in psychology.
The Newington native, who currently works at Footprints on the Berlin Turnpike, will soon be trekking east, but he’ll always have the memories of four great years Newington High School. It’s only fitting that the bottom of the award he received described Mamaclay as an “inspiration to his teammates and the student body.”
That’s something Mamaclay is proud of.
“You always hear people say to put the team first and I really think that’s what it means to be a good teammate. You may not be having a great game, but if you’re putting in the hard work to do something else to inspire your teammates, like let them know that they did a good job, that really goes a long way.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin