The National Football League’s biggest stage is set and once again fans of the New England Patriots have a reason to celebrate. The team is aiming to capture their third Lombardi Trophy in the past four seasons and sixth title overall. It’s been a mind-boggling run for the Patriots, who are making their eighth Super Bowl appearances since the turn of the century and this Sunday many locals will again gather to watch the most predictable reality show on television. Here are five tips for Patriots fans who are hosting a Super Bowl party. Have fun with it and remember that strawberries and nightshade vegetables are strictly forbidden, they are the work of the devil.
Rocky Hill defeated Newington 57-53 at RHHS last Thursday night behind 18 points from Will White and 13 apiece from Andrew Dimatteo and Ryan Robinson. White has been on fire lately and prior to the Newington game he was coming off a season-high 23 points in a 65-46 victory over Lyman Memorial and the then poured in another 18 point last Friday night in a 47-40 win over New Britain for the team’s third straight victory. Dimatteo added nine points, nine rebound, and five blocks in the victory over New Britain, which improved Terriers to 6-4.
Newington ended the week with a 60-35 loss to Wethersfield on Friday night, dropping the Indians to 2-9. Mike Mozzicato scored 28 points for the Eagles, who won their fifth straight game and improved to 7-2. Wethersfield has back-to-back home games against Hartford Public and Southington this Thursday (2/1) and Saturday (2/3).
Cromwell closed last week with a thrilling come-from-behind 52-51 win over Creed, improving their record to 7-3. The Panthers managed only three points in the second quarter, but outscored the Howling Wolves 39-15 in the second half to pull off the rally. Reese Reyes had 12 point and six rebound and front court partner Gabe Charleston added 10 points and seven rebounds. Next up is an important home date with powerhouse Old Saybrook this Friday, Jan 26. The conference clash will be proceeded by the Alumni Game, which will feature past players from 1959-2017 and will start at 5 p.m. Varsity action tips at 7 p.m.
Wethersfield earned their sixth straight win, defeated Newington 53-44 last Friday night. Nicole Gwynn was magnificent with 15 points, eight rebound, eight steals, and five assists. It was the team’s second win of the season over the Indians, also winning 58-25 on Dec 13. Next up for the Eagles is a home game against Middletown on Thurs, Jan 25 at 6:45. The Indian will look to get back on track against Platt at NHS that same night and time.
Rocky Hill ended the week 8-2 after downing New Britain 57-36 on the road last Friday and earning a resounding 46-13 home victory over Montville on Saturday. Nikki Lukens led the way with 18 points and Aleksa Peterson added 11 in Saturday’s win. The Terriers will have a tough home test this Thursday, Jan 25 against Bristol Eastern.
Cromwell girls ended last week riding a six-game winning streak after KO’ing Creed 41-16.
Entering the week, the Wethersfield/Middletown/Rocky Hill/Plainville team has won four straight, which includes a 3-1 victory over the Newington/Cromwell co-op team on Jan 13. The Eagles led 3-0 heading into the final period behind a pair of goals from Trevor Piecewicz. Piecewicz also assisted on the other goal, which was tallied by Ben Mroczka. Junior goalie Jack Peckrul stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced. Spencer Pryzbek scored the Indians lone goal and goalie David Mix sent back 23 shots in defeat. The Indians ended the week on a high note, defeating Bolton/Coventry/Rockville 7-3 thanks to a goal and three assists from Kyle Bucher. The Eagles and Indians will again meet again on Sat, Feb 3 at the Newington Ice Arena. Faceoff is 6:45.
(Lee Schwartzman and his Eagles swimmers and divers are aiming to regain the conference title in 2018)
A year ago boys’ swimming and diving at Wethersfield failed to win a conference title for the first time in a decade.
The team’s resolution this year is to reclaim their rightful spot atop the conference mountain.
“There’s a pattern of banners up there and there’s one missing for the boys,” Eagles head coach Lee Schwartzman said pointing to the ring of honor above the WHS pool, “Now the girls have more conference titles than the boys, they were tied before. We had 10 in a row, but we didn’t get that one and there’s no going back. I hate it as much as anyone, I like putting the banners up and winning but at some point it’s going to end and it’s time to start a new streak.”
Schwartzman’s team is off to a perfect start in 2018, winning their first three meets including a surprisingly easy victory over rival Hall last Tuesday night.
“I thought it was going to be closer,” admitted Schwartzman, “We swim a little better than I thought and maybe they didn’t swim as good. I thought it might come down to the last relay again, but when I’m looking at a meet I assume they are going to go their best time from last season and usually you don’t get that. You have to plan for the best possible team they are going to put in the water and you have to try and beat that.”
Senior Blake Fulton began the meet with a bang, joining forces with Caleb Skowronek, Austin Bovino, and Holden Hoon to win the 200 Medley Relay. The foursome easily defeated the visiting Warriors by over three seconds.
Fulton then won the 200 Freestyle in the next event and also the 100 Backstroke later in the evening.
“We haven’t had a meet since December 19th and that’s a long time. There’s only so much you can practice. I can time kids in practice all the time, but they’re never going to go as fast in practice as they go in a meet. It was nice to get back in the pool and compete,” added Schwartzman.
The Eagles defeated the Bobcats of South Windsor in their season-opener, but had their second meet cancelled due to the snowstorm that blanketed Connecticut earlier this month.
“South Windsor went to the last relay. It’s tough in the first week because you don’t know how you’re going to do and you don’t know how the other team is going to do, so I was worried about that meet just because of that fact. They have a lot of year round swimmers, but our guys stepped up and swam really well.”
Schwartzman and diving coach Dave McOmber have a younger team, consisting of only four seniors. All four are captains and playing vital roles.
Fulton, Bovino, and Patrick McGuane are the swimming captains and Ryan McOmber is handling the duties for a strong group of divers.
McOmber, Hadden Gaunt, Brian Puglielli, and Jordan Griffin all scored well off the diving board in the win over the Warriors, each posting better scores than both of Hall’s divers.
Schwartzman added that his swimming captains enjoy joking around and keeping things light but flip the switch when it’s time to compete.
“The three of them have always been vocal, so it wasn’t surprising that all three of them got a lot of votes when we voted for captains. They’re all different and they all bring something different to the table.”
Bovino finished first in the 100 Fly against Hall and is one of several returning swimmers that have made great strides from last winter until now.
“He’s ahead now of where he was at this time last year and that’s really all that you can judge it on. He had a 57 in the fly in this meet last year and he went a 56 today. Once you start approaching state times midseason that’s a good place to be.”
Hoon is another surprising standout, taking his dedication to a new level as a junior.
“He used to be a baseball player and he decided after last season that he wanted to be a lot better at swimming and unfortunately how you get a lot better is you have to focus on that one sport. We all wants kids to play lots of sports, but at some point in high school you have to commit and sports require a lot of time. He was only swimming 12 to 15 weeks a year, now he just swam 50 in a row.”
The extra time in the water has made Hoon invaluable on relay teams and he also finished first in the 100 Freestyle Tuesday night.
Rory Stickley and Matthew Iallonardo have also caught the eye of the longtime coach.
“Rory is a freshman and he’s coming in doing best times. He’s already equaled lifetime, best times. Matt is also doing really well. He also swam in the fall so he’s way ahead of where he was last year. It’s nice, especially when it’s your juniors because they’re the ones really stepping up and winning events that they weren’t winning before.”
Hoon, Iallonardo, Skowronek, and Griffin are leading a rock solid junior class, which also includes Jack Blaisdell, Shane Bresnahan, Anthony Ky, Brendon Mansaku, and Dimitri Shaposhnikov.
The Eagles closed the week with another convincing win over Berlin last Thursday.
Next up is their annual challenge against Conard, Friday, Jan 19 at 5 p.m.
“That’s going to be close. I kind of have us as an underdog in that meet,” Schwartzman said on the looming showdown, “The kids will have to get pumped up. They have a lot of kids that can win events, so it will be up to our tops kids to win events and then some of the kids that are get fifths right now need to get fourths. Every event will be important and diving will also be a key event, they have two really good divers too. We beat them on the last relay last year and it should be a really intense meet again this year.”
Friday’s meet will be the fourth of ten meets in a row at WHS, including the Eagle Invitational on Jan 27. Due to scheduling, the Eagles won’t have to leave the luxury of their home pool until mid-February.
Schwartzman doesn’t mind hosting or the challenge of four meets in 12 days.
“It just kind of the way it worked out. The team came in very ready this season and they’re working hard. That gap between the first two meets was tough, especially with vacation, but now we’re at a point where we’ll have two meets every week and every practice is extra important.”
The hope is that after all the waves settle, the team will again be reigning supreme atop the conference standings prior to the state tournaments starting in March.
“They started talking about it at the end of last season,” Schwartzman said of recapturing the conference crown, “Winning is a big motivator. What get kids going in the water is winning and the drive to get better. There’s a drive to get better individually and then there’s the drive to get better as a team.”
Freshman Rory Stickley won the 200 yard individual medley in victory over Hall / Senior Blake Fulton
(Cromwell's #33 Reese Reyes and #32 Gabe Charleston defend an inbound pass during the Panthers victory over the Noises)
Cromwell High School showcased the best of both basketball worlds last Wednesday night as both the boys and girls programs took center stage inside Jake Salafia Gymnasium, each coming away with convincing victories over Hale Ray.
The early game featured the girls, who soundly defeated the Moodus-based Noises, 73-33, behind a smothering defense and 25 points from Vanessa Stolstajner.
The win improving the surging Panthers to 5-2. It was the team’s second win in as many nights, also defeating Valley Regional 68- 31 last Tuesday to snap a two-game skid.
“We’re coming along. We seem to be getting better each and every game and with a young team that’s what you want to see,” said head coach Kelly Maher.
Stolstajner scored all 25 of her points over the first three quarters, allowing her to rest the final eight minutes and providing an opportunity for the bench players.
“She expanded her game a lot over the summer and she’s really worked on it. She’s worked on the midrange, driving to the basket, and it’s made her a better player overall,” Maher said of Stolstajner, who is one of two sophomores in the starting lineup, “They’re learning to play well together and we’re starting to work together defensively. We’ve learned a lot from the losses as well, which I think has helped us in the last couple of games.”
The Panthers are getting scoring help from a variety of players, including consistent senior Jenna Serrantino and point guard Sadie Budzik, who poured in 15 points Wednesday night.
Budzik and fellow sophomore Najla Cecunjanin are shining under the varsity spotlight. The duo, along with junior Jessica DellaRatta, has impressed their veteran coach with their improvement this winter.
“Sadie is running the offense and has also picked it up defensively. Jess is our post player and she’s fighting for the rebounds and setting everything up. Najla has really improved her post moves and the more experience that she gets the better she’s going to be.”
Maher wants to see more consistency and energy on both ends of the court, but likes the development and depth of her young team.
“We show up in spurts but we need to play with the same amount of intensity the entire game. That will come with a young team, it’s going to be up and down but we’ve grown in that area and we’ll be there by the end.”
The Panthers next home game is against rival East Hampton on Tue, Jan 16 at 5 p.m.
It will be a good test for the Panthers, who have been able to dig deep into the bench during the last two blowout victories.
“It’s going to help us because you don't know who is going to be in foul trouble and you don’t know what is going to happen later in the season,” stated Maher, “The more experience they can get in a varsity game, the more it’s going to help us down the road.”
In the nightcap, the boys used a dominant defensive effort in the third quarter to silence the visitors 80-41.
John Pinone’s squad had a healthy 20-point lead at the half and clamped down defensively in the third, limiting Hale Ray to a mere six points in the quarter.
“Our staple has always been defending and we know we’ll always be in games if we can defend. We did better in the second half and when we do that we get steals and easy baskets in transition,” Pinone said after the team’s fifth win of the season, “We know we’ll always be in games if we can defend. We just need to give maximum effort of the defensive end and let the chips fall where they may on the offensive end.”
Noah Budzik scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half to lead all scorers and talented, young bench players Naimir Heyliger and Gabe Charleston thrived in the second half.
Heyliger had a terrific all around game, finishing with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. Charleston added 13 point and seven rebounds.
“Naimir is coming along and he’s still learning to play the point guard position. It’s his first year as a varsity player so it’s a total transition to what he’s used to seeing. He’s a better fit in games that are more up and down and free flowing and he did well tonight,” added Pinone, who likes his depth this season, “We can play eight guys comfortably and that’s an advantage for us.”
All eight are capable shooters, making the Panthers deadly from the perimeter.
Austin Roy was hot the field in the win over Hale Ray, scoring a season-high 14 points, which included a pull-up jumper to beat the first quarter buzzer.
“Those are the only type of players that we have, we don’t have a 6’5 center that can play with his back to the basket,” Pinone joked about the amount of wing players on the roster, “Gabe is becoming one of those players, but he’s a sophomore and he’s still learning to play that game and to play that position. Believe me we would like to have a couple of bigs that could post up be and take a lot of pressure off of our perimeter game because if we don't shoot well it will be a much more difficult for us to win games.”
The team may lack a huge presence in the middle, but Charleston, Reese Reyes, and Nick Wright provide the Panthers much needed length on the inside. The three combined to block six shots in Wednesday night’s victory.
Offensively the 80-point output was a season-high, but defense is still the name of the game for Panthers, who will next host Coginchaug on Thursday, Jan 11 at 7 pm.
“We’re still a work in progress and defensively we’re not where we need to be. We should be a better defensive team all around and we need to get more physical,” stated Pinone, “We’re just not a team that really goes after the rebounds. We just don’t have that edge that we need inside to go get the ball. It comes down to who wants it more and not all the time do we want it more. We struggle to keep people to one shot, but when we do that we’ll be a really good team.”
On top of guiding the boys to five wins in their first six games, Pinone is also organizing an alumni game.
Former Panthers players from 1959-2017 will partake in the charitable game, which will be sandwiched in between the JV and varsity contests against Old Saybrook on Friday, Jan 26.
“We’re hoping for a big, big turnout. We’re going to stream it to the auditorium in case we have over flow and people can sit in there and watch it,” Pinone said of the impending reunion game, which will tip a 5 pm, “We’re going to have a reception in the cafeteria after and we’re hoping the players will bring their friends and family. I think it will be nice for everyone.”
The inaugural girls’ basketball Holiday Classic in Wethersfield wrapped up with a humdinger as Rocky Hill defeated the host Eagles 43-38 in a back-and-forth battle decided late in the fourth quarter.
“I was looking forward to this game all year. We talked during the summer and decided to do this Holiday Classic as a division game. Wethersfield and Rocky Hill is always a good game,” Terriers’ coach Allyson Smith-Toulouse said following the team’s fifth win in six games.
The fifth-year coach and Wethersfield coach Jeff Russell run similar programs, preaching discipline yet allowing their teams to play with a sense of urgency on both ends of the court.
“I think we just sort of wore out and I think we ran out of gas,” said Russell, whose team was battling the top notch Terriers and an illness that affected a handful of girls during the holiday week.
“Pressing kind of forces an up tempo game and sometimes it’s to both of our favors but tonight I wanted to try and slow it down a little bit and make good sound decisions,” added Smith-Toulouse.
Senior Grace Moore came off the bench to score four points, all coming in the decisive final quarter. The senior regaining the lead for the road team midway through the fourth with a pair of free throws and then scored following an offensive rebound a minute later, providing Rocky Hill the lead for good at 38-37.
“When she plays well we are hard to beat. She’s still getting off the field a little bit, but she’s a great athlete and I’m incredibly impressed with her IQ and her poise,” Smith-Toulouse said of Moore, who is fresh off an all-state soccer season in the fall, “She’s a senior athlete and she understands game situations.”
Nikki Lukens lead all scorers with 15 points and set up several of her teammates with timely passes in big moments.
“She’s really not a true point guard, but she has to fill that role with us because we don’t have a true point guard. We’re working on her vision and she knows that no matter what play we run she’ll be able to get the ball back on the weak side,” Smith-Toulouse said of her leading scorer, who is averaging 18 points per game, “Last year she was still coming into her own and now we’re putting her into more situations where she is more of a floor captain. Her talent continues to grow and her mentality for the game has improved. When the game is on the line she knows what she has to do and we have a really good inside game and I think that helps alleviate the pressure on her a little bit from a scoring standpoint.”
It took a while for Lukens and the offense to get going as Wethersfield scored the first four points of the contest and led most of the first quarter until Lizzy Denardo drained a three pointer right before the first quarter horn to tie the game at 10.
A pair of free throws by Aleksa Peterson early in the second gave the Terriers their first lead of the game.
Peterson calmly knocked down two more free throws late in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice.
“She’s been our starting two guard and games like this give her a big moment to learn and get better,” Smith-Toulouse said of the sophomore, who also had a key steal late in regulation, “She’s also young and during a timeout I told the team whatever you think you did good or bad to get to this moment it doesn’t matter and these last two minutes are all that matters. I thought she kind of reset herself after that and she made two huge plays for us.”
Early in the fourth Wethersfield seized momentum, scoring six straight to regain a 35-31 lead.
Freshman Gabriella Amoddio started the run with a layup following an offensive rebound. She also nailed a three from straight away late in the third quarter, which gave the Eagles a two-point lead at the time.
Amoddio is one of several first-time varsity players getting opportunities during crucial game moments for Russell.
“I think she grew into that role tonight,” the second-year coach said of Amoddio, who received her first significate playing time of the season, “We’re deep defensively but we’re not deep offensively. We’re trying to find that mix of players that can play both ways and I think we got better tonight even if we didn’t come away with a win. These games are always good to be in and I think the younger players grow a lot during these games.”
Senior Cheyenne-Mone Smith led the home team with 11 points and sophomores Alice Kelly and Isabella Samse each chipped in with a half dozen.
The crosstown and conference rivalry game was the star on top of the first Holiday Classic, which started last Wednesday and also featured Maloney and Rockville.
On the opening night, Wethersfield breezed by Maloney 61-26 behind 14 points from Smith and double doubles from Kelly and Nicole Gwynn, who each tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Rocky Hill crushed Rockville 49-25 thanks to a balanced scoring effort. Lukens, Peterson, Moore, and Denardo each scored nine.
The tourney is a good early-season measuring stick for both squads and gives extra reps for their deep and talented lineups.
“Winter break is tough because there’s two ways to go at it. Sometimes you schedule these things and it’s hard because you don’t get a full practice in or you get a limited amount of time so you’re going into games underprepared or playing back to back nights. But I’ve also been in situations where you don’t play over the break and you’re having seven, eight days off and it’s hard to get back,” said Russell.
The extra games are nothing new for the experienced Terriers.
“I’m incredible proud. 5-1 going into the New Year is huge. The CCC is cut throat and we have a bullseye on our back this year because everyone knows that we’re a team to beat. We’re a seasoned team and I think we’ve responded well to the challenge so far,” added Smith-Toulouse, “I’m still looking for more consistency and poise from my seniors. We need to deliver like we did tonight. It was ugly but when it was time to show up push through we did.”
Rocky Hill next travels to Newington this Friday, Jan 5 for a 6 pm tip.
Wethersfield ended 2017 at 3-3 after falling to Bristol Eastern 59-51, but rebounded with a 59-41 victory over New Britain on Wednesday.
As for the rubber match, the Terriers and Eagles won’t meet again until Feb 9. Have no doubt that the second meeting will have the same intensity as the Holiday Classic and should have a tourney feel with the real tournaments starting later that month.
Wethersfield's Isabella Samse guards Rocky Hill's Aleksa Peterson during the Terriers 43-38 victory last Thursday
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin