Newington girls’ basketball went through a coaching change this past offseason but that hasn’t stopped them from being one of the most successful teams in the state.
The new-look Indians improved to 13-1 last Tuesday night, defeating a talented RHAM team 55-46 at NHS.
“I don’t know if I could have envisioned this start, but it’s been great,” first-year coach Marc Tancredi said following the team’s seventh win a row, “We set the expectation level very high. It was about creating that culture, not just for this season but for years to come.”
All-around dynamo Ashanti Frazier led the way with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Freshman Karissa Zocco added 17 points and seven rebounds for a Newington team that is getting contributions from their entire roster.
“Coming into the season I thought it was going to be a good, but I didn’t know it would go this well. I’m constantly amazed what we can do on the floor every single night,” stated Frazier, who also had seven steals.
Newington’s offense took a few minutes to warm up, but they were efficient and relentless once they cranked the heat up.
After falling behind 6-2, Zocco drained back-to-back threes to help the home team closed the opening quarter on a 10-2 run.
Frazier, who assisted on both of Zocco’s first-quarter threes, went into attack mode to start the second quarter, converting on a pair of layups in transition to increase the run to 16-2. The junior guard finished with eight points in the quarter after being held scoreless over the first eight minute.
Senior Aby Flores has teamed with Frazier and Zocco to create a triple threat on the perimeter. The trio has taken turns sharing the scoring load this season.
“Every single game there’s a different leading scorer. If I’m down Karissa is up, if Karissa is down Aby is up. We all work together. It’s a total team effort,” said Frazier, who like Zocco has been starting since she was a freshman, “Karissa has been great for us and she has helped me out tremendously. In previous years I’ve been strained offensively, but now we have a perfect balance between offense and defense.”
Flores canned a three to start the second half and Zocco hit her fourth from beyond the arc later in the quarter, providing Newington a comfortable 43-27 lead late in the third.
“She has a very good basketball IQ and she can shoot the ball very well. It’s only going to get better with her confidence growing,” Tancredi said of his Zocco.
“She was that little missing piece, we just needed her,” added Flores, “She’s been such a big help and she’s such a great shooter.”
Flores finished the night with nine points and is one of two seniors in the starting lineup. The other is Olivia St. Remy, who had five points and a pair of blocks.
“They’ve been great but it’s not only them, it’s all of our seniors,” stated Tancredi, “Like we said in our pregame ‘everybody star in your role’. It might be being a great defensive player for us or a great offensive player for us. Whatever it is they give us what we need every night. It’s our whole senior class.”
Erika Cueves, Isabelle Ortiz, and Maya Gajowiak are the other three seniors that have excelled under the first-year coach.
“It was a pretty easy transition,” Flores said about the coaching change, “We’ve all been playing since we were younger, so we have that chemistry and we work well together. It just clicks with us.”
The chemistry has shown on both ends of the court.
Defensively they pressed full court early and often, holding the visiting Sachems to a mere eight point in the opening quarter.
“We’ve worked on it in many of our games and it’s kind of evolved to what it is now,” Tancredi said about the aggressive defense, “Every night it could be something different and we’re just following a game plan and it just so happened that it worked tonight. Hopefully we can continue to have that grow as one of the staples for our team.”
Frazier had to exit the game in the fourth with an injury but quickly returned and put the finishing touches on the victory with a layup and a dish to a cutting Sabrina Soler, who scored Newington’s final two points of the night.
The Indians made it look easy against a RHAM squad that entered the contest with an 8-3 record. Jaclyn Santella led the Sachems with 14 points and Marisa Lee added 13 in defeat.
Newington closed the week with another convincing victory, a 59-27 takedown of Platt in Meriden last Thursday night to earn their 14th win.
Zocco led the way with 17 and St. Remy completely dominated down low, grabbing a season-high 20 rebounds.
Thursday’s victory was the latest example of how consistent the team has been under Tancredi. Through the first 15 games their offense has yet to held under 41 points and their defense hasn’t surrendered more than 51 points.
The postseason-bound team will close the regular season with three of their final four at home, starting this Thursday, Jan 31 again Bulkeley at 5:30 pm.
It’ll be the final four tune-up games for Tancredi and his team, who have shown very few weaknesses thus far.
“We’ve been lucky too, it takes a certain amount of luck, but we’ve been pretty good, and I think we can compete with anybody in the state. I just want to keep it going.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Gabe Charleston- Cromwell (Basketball): Charleston has been excellent all season but took it to another level last week. The junior had a 25 point and seven rebound performance in a 76-55 victory over Haddam-Killingworth on Tuesday and then scored 17 more and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 59-37 win over Amistad on Friday. The pair of wins moved the Panthers to a perfect 13-0 mark on the season.
Alice Kelly- Wethersfield (Basketball): Kelly exploded for 36 points in a 74-67 victory over Middletown last Thursday. The junior forward has been a consistent force all season for the Eagles, who entered the week having won their last three games.
Jack Healy- WMRP (Hockey): Healy scored the game-winning goal in overtime as the Eagles outlasted Newington co-op 2-1 last Saturday. The junior ended the rivalry game with 4:50 left in overtime after Ben Mrockza set him up with an assist. The contest was both exciting and charitable as all the proceeds from the game went to CCMC and St. Jude Research Hospital. All told the game raised $2,200 for childhood cancer awareness.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Indoor Track): Stockman won the 1600 meter run at the CCC Indoor Track & Field finals at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven last Saturday. Next up for Stockman and the Terriers are the class finals, which take place on Saturday, Feb 9 at the same venue.
Andrew Graham- Newington co-op (Hockey): Graham had three goals and an assist in the Indians 8-1 victory over BBD last Wednesday. The senior also tallied an assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to WMRP on Saturday.
The dugout will look and feel a lot different at Cromwell High School this spring as longtime baseball coach Lewis Pappariella announced that he’s passing the baton after 11 successful seasons.
“I have made this difficult decision because of my aspiration to become a school administrator. I am placing my efforts into preparing myself for opportunities that may present themselves toward the later part of the school year. Whether I realize this goal sooner or later, I would not want to put the kids or this program in a vulnerable position,” stated Pappariella.
During his time at CHS the charismatic coach built a rock-solid resume, amassing an overall record of 198-79. In each of his 11 seasons the Panthers posted a winning record and three ended with trips to the state title game.
“Sustained success was obviously the goal and we started every year with two goals; win a Shoreline championship and win a state championship. We established high expectations right from the beginning,” said Pappariella, “Having high expectations is important, especially when working with young kids. It didn’t matter who we graduated the message was the same; if you work hard, you will get better. It was a formula that centered around pitching and defense. I was a former pitcher and I was able to share a lot of information, and in high school baseball if you have a couple of guys that can pitch and you get eight guys behind them that can all field, you’ve got a good shot.”
The crowing achievement was the 2012 title run, which ended with a 12-4 victory over Derby in the Class S championship game.
“That was the best team we ever had. Not the best players, not the highest averages. Sometimes kids get caught up with that, they want the individual accolades, which are nice but that’s not what makes a great team. That group knew that and they didn’t let their egos get in the way.”
The 2012 squad finished the regular season with a 15-5 record but took it to another level once the tournament started, defeating the #1 and #2 seeds along the way and outscoring their five tourney opponents by a combined score of 45-12.
“Steve Radziewicz had text me that offseason that he wanted to win a state championship and he wasn’t that type of kid that is a bold predictor. He was more reserved, quite guy so that struck me that these guys had the dream. That group believed in their core that they could do it. They were outstanding, they were very selfless, they did all the small things well, and they cared. It was remarkable to see them get better every week, we kept getting better and better. It was a very cool team to be around and watch,” recalled Pappariella, “Our season turned when John McMahon, who was one of our best players, turned it around. He was frustrated and pressing the first ten games and wasn’t enjoying himself. We finally told him to have fun and let loose. There were a couple of other guys that saw that and the idea of having a positive spirt became contagious.”
2012 was the pinnacle but there were plenty of other high-water moments over his tenure, including the five Shoreline Conference championships. The confident coach is walking away following three straight conference crowns.
“These accomplishments are the result of hard work and commitment to excellence of the players and families that have been in our program. I cannot thank them enough and will always be indebted to them. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with so many fine people, including players, my coaching staff, teachers, fans, administration, opponents, reporters, umpires, the list goes on and on.”
Stepping away from the game wasn’t an easy decision for Pappariella, who has been involved in baseball since he first learned to throw a ball while growing up in Pennsylvania. He would go on to star on both the football and baseball fields in high school.
After high school he chose Central Connecticut State University, originally to play on the gridiron but quickly realized that his true passion remained on the diamond.
“My high school had a really good baseball team and we won the state championship. At the time I thought that would be the last baseball game that I ever played,” recalled Pappariella, “My freshman year I did a work study where I would rake the infield for the baseball games at Central and it was my first time away from the game. That’s when I knew I missed it.”
After switching sports he went on to pitch three solid seasons at Central, closing as a sophomore and starting during his junior and senior campaigns where he was named a team captain for a team that won three consecutive conference championships.
Following CCSU, he earned his master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport before settling down in Cromwell and becoming the JV coach.
Two years later the then-26-year-old began his impeccable 11-year run as the head coach for the varsity program, where he would go on to mentor some of the area’s best baseball talents.
“Coach Papp helped many in many ways from having quicker hands in the field to helping me be a versatile player to play almost anywhere. He showed us that we have to do the little things right and showed me how being into the game really makes an impact,” said 2018 graduate Austin Roy, who was a vital part of Cromwell’s three straight conference titles, “[He] helped me see the game better and that it’s about buying into a process and that everyone has a role and everyone has to buy in to accomplish something.”
Roy was part of the last senior class that Pappariella coached. The two helped elevate the program and set the standard for the next generation.
“I think they’ll be pretty good,” Pappariella said of the returning 2019 team, “We graduated a good amount, including our pitching from last year but they have six or seven bats that could pop and they’re some young guys that could do that too. If I were coaching the team, I’d be excited about them.”
One of the returning starters is Bryce Karstetter, who is best known for his brilliant work behind center during football season, and now is a senior leader for the new-look baseball team this spring.
“Coach Papp taught me many lessons in baseball and in life through our time together. As a sophomore I underwent knee surgery in the offseason and wasn’t able to play. I told coach that I was going to focus on rehabbing and getting back and he told me that I need to stay around the team for the year because it would hurt me if I completely left the game for a whole season. Coach was also very understanding to my situation and allowed me to lift and rehab on some days and attend games and practices on others. He made me text him every day telling him what I was doing and would also encourage me to come to practice. He taught me a lot that year about how to handle tough situations and be able to work back onto the field after an injury without losing the game,” recalled Karstetter, “Coach was a hard coach to play for but he would always pull out the best of our players often making sure we were focused and knew what our task was. Coach Papp was able to give name to Cromwell baseball.”
This spring will be uncharted territory for Pappariella, who will be without a baseball commitment for the first time since his early days in Pennsylvania.
He said he might dust off the old mitt and play Twilight baseball but for now the father of two is focused on writing the next chapter in his life.
“As my family grew, my aspirations to be an administrator grew. At this point in my career it was more self-reflection about where I see myself long term and when I thought about where I wanted to be it was in administration,” said Pappariella, who is currently a teacher in Cromwell, “Coaching has been very rewarding. I think there are a lot of overlap with school administration leadership and athletic leadership and I’m just looking for an opportunity to expand my leadership capacity. I know what I can do in a classroom full of 25 kids and with 30 players and how to create that culture, but I’m looking for the opportunity to do it building-wide and I’m eager for that next challenge.”
The Wethersfield Athletic Alumni Hall of Fame, after a four-year hiatus, will be recognizing the next class of inductees on March 30, 2019. The former committee has selected outstanding and exemplary student-athletes who have represented Wethersfield High School spanning almost 70 years and the new committee will honor these selections.
The ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, March 30, 2019 in the Wethersfield High School auditorium. Information regarding tickets will be made available shortly. The inductees for the 2019 class are listed below.
The Hall of Fame committee is now currently under new leadership. This new group, which will recognize the former committee’s selections this year, will begin to solicit nominations from the public for future inductions. The new criteria will be published and made accessible to those willing to submit nominations. The new committee representing the Hall of Fame looks forward to continue to recognize our great athletes from Wethersfield High School.
In addition, the Hall of Fame Committee is also accepting donations for the annual student scholarship fund. Checks can be made payable to the Wethersfield Athletic Alumni Hall of Fame and mailed to: Wethersfield High School Athletic Department
411 Wolcott Hill Road
Wethersfield CT 06109
℅ Michael Maltese, Athletic Director
Edward Budd, 1951 (Soccer, Basketball, and Baseball)
Robert Gilbert, 1962 (Basketball)
Robert Johnson, 1962 (Basketball and Baseball)
Leonard Goracy, 1966 (Football, Basketball, and Baseball)
Kevin Byrne, 1971 (Football, Basketball, and Baseball)
Anthony D’Angona, 1976 (Soccer)
Gary Powers, 1982 (Soccer)
Thomas Conroy, 1983 (Soccer)
James Vesekis, 1988 (Wrestling)
Brian Hickey, 1991 (Wrestling)
Frank Natale, 1991 (Soccer)
Kevin Hickey, 1993 (Soccer)
Edward Poland, 1993 (Football, Basketball, and Baseball)
James Chu, 1996 (Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track & Field)
Will Musson, 2006 (Basketball and Baseball)
Abigail Corning, 2010 (Basketball and Softball)
Tyler Murphy, 2010 (Football and Outdoor Track & Field)
WHS Football (1963, 1964 and 1965 Varsity Teams)
(Wethersfield's Liam Harrington posts up on Newington's Julian Ortiz during the Indians 66-51 victory last Tuesday at WHS. Photo- Jo-Ann Campbell)
Newington boys’ basketball silenced the home crowd at WHS with a 14-0 run in the second quarter on the way to a 66-51 victory over Wethersfield last Tuesday night.
Mason Romano scored 10 points during the run, including eight straight, and finished with a team-high 21 points.
“I think the second quarter was an effort thing. We had guys come off the bench and really hustle and create some tempo which opened the game up for us a little bit,” said Newington’s second-year head coach Ed Quick.
Early on Wethersfield fed off the energy from the crowd and played brilliantly over the first eight minutes, leading 12-11 after the first quarter thanks in large part to 10 points from do-it-all senior Derek Tenney.
The Eagles upped the lead to 16-14 early in the second quarter on a pair of buckets from sophomore Jake Prunier, but a Romano jump hook tied the game and a dunk from the 6’4” junior moments later gave the Indians a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the night.
“We didn’t really change anything,” recalled Quick, referencing the second quarter adjustments, “We’re just trying to be more consistent and I think the last three games have been a really good tools for us about consistency. Even tonight I though we were a little inconsistent, but we were able to get a good win against a really good program.”
Quick and his team started this season with four impressive wins but had dropped the previous three games before Tuesday night. The win over Wethersfield improved the Indians to 5-3.
“What we’re going for is being a consistent program that sits in our stance and covers each other on defense and plays the game with balance on offense. Tonight there were some moments when we were off balance and we took some quick shots.”
Late in the first half, Wethersfield’s Noel Lopez halted Newington’s run with a deep three from the left wing and Luke Latina hit a midrange jumper, cutting the deficit to 28-21 at the break.
The home team’s momentum bled into the second half and a pair of free throws from Tenney got them within 33-30 before Newington’s steady senior Julian Ortiz countered with four straight free throws, helping the Indians closed the third quarter on a 11-4 run.
“To start the third we dipped and credit to Wethersfield. #23 [Tenney] is a really good player and #3 [Lopez] is a good player. We talked a lot about keeping them out of the lane and we weren’t able to do that in the third, We started to foul,” stated Quick, “That’s just effort and kudos to Wethersfield they ran down a lot of loose balls early and they probably had 14 points at the half by just outhustling us. That was an emphasis at the half and that’s the consistency thing that I talk about. We’ve really emphasis not coming down and just shooting the first shot.”
Pinpoint accuracy from the foul line in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the road team. The Indians made 14 of 17 free throws over the final eight minutes of action to preserve the 15-point victory.
“That’s like a field goal kicker, you either make them or you don’t. What we talked about in practice is making our free throws but if you miss, miss long don’t miss short. Tonight was a good night for us from the line and it helped us stretch the lead out late in the game when Wethersfield was coming back a little bit.”
The short-handed Eagles fought until the end despite being down two key players. Junior Connor Pace, who is recovering from an injury suffered during football season, and senior Dante Burgos are two starters that head coach Brian Fanelli has been without.
In spite of the injuries and a 0-3 start, the Eagles have rebounded nicely this season. The team had won three of four games before Tuesday night, including a 75-63 win over Rocky Hill on Jan 4.
Ball movement has always been a key to the success for the program and seven Eagles broke into the scoring column against Newington, led by Tenney’s 21.
“Wethersfield is really well coached and they’ve had great success here,” stated Quick, “For us it’s all about what we can do to be successful and what we can do to build that consistency. I’ve put a lot of onus on our six seniors and four captains. I challenge them to think differently about leadership, not just showing up and do jumping jacks and being a good kid. Our core beliefs as a program are about great effort and great attitude.”
Four Newington players scored in double-figures, led by Romano. A.J. Fair had 13, Jaren Morris had 11, and Ortiz added 10.
Junior Nick Dummond came off the bench to add five points, including a dagger three in the fourth, and dished out a pair of highlight-reel assists in transition.
Tuesday’s victory matched the team’s win total from a season ago when the Indians finished 5-15 during Quick’s first season in charge.
The improved record is a bonus for Quick, but the no-nonsense coach is more concerned with building the right culture and believes that wins are a biproduct of the hard work in the offseason.
“I think what people need to understand is that no matter what level you’re at winning is hard. I would rate our schedule as one of the toughest in the state on purpose. We won’t duck anybody,” stated the second-year coach, “The support of the town and the athletic director has been awesome. Your culture is built by players and your ability to have them to think differently and to get better every day. If you do that you’ll be successful, and if you don’t do that you’re in the wrong place.”
Following the win at Wethersfield the team surpassed last year’s win total, earning their sixth win by defeating Northwest Catholic 48-47 behind a late floater from Fair.
Next up is a home date with Rocky Hill on Thursday, Jan 17 at 6:45 pm.
Wethersfield closed the week with a 56-47 overtime loss to Glastonbury and will next host New Britain on Friday, Jan 18 at 6:45 pm.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Nikki Lukens- Rocky Hill (Basketball): Lukens became the all-time leading scorer in the history of Rocky Hill girls’ basketball during a 14-point performance against New Britain last Tuesday. She broke the record when she made a layup while being fouled in the third quarter, surpassing the previous mark of 1186 which had been held since the mid-nineties.
John Famiglietti- Newington (Diving): Famiglietti had a state qualifying performance in Newington’s swimming and diving meet against Conard last Tuesday. The senior diver finished first at the meet and and junior teammate Andriy Grynyk placed second.
Mya Villard- Cromwell Alum (Basketball): Villard was an all-around stud for Cromwell basketball from 2012-2016, scoring over 1200 career points and was part of two state championships teams (2013 & 2016). The 2016-graduate has continued to flourish at a colligate level, recently surpassing the 1000-point plateau at Eastern Connecticut University. In typical Villard fashion, the Warriors’ junior accomplished the feat while being fouled and by kissing the ball off glass following a strong inside move.
Katharine Edwards and Kylie Judson- Wethersfield (Dance): Edwards and Judson are co-captains of Wethersfield’s dance team and helped lead the Eagles to two first place finishes last weekend. At the Dancin' In The Woods competition at Woodland Regional High School, WHS took first place in both the Jazz and Pom divisions.
Dominque Highsmith- Middletown (Basketball): Highsmith scored 13 points and was active of the defensive end as Middletown smothered Platt 51-35. The Blue Dragons held the home Panthers to a measly two points in the opening quarter and completed the sweep of Meriden, also defeating Maloney (59-20) in the previous game behind another strong defensive outing and 18 points form MacKenzie Dunn.
Cromwell’s basketball program traveled to Portland last Wednesday night for a double-feature of boys and girls varsity action and the Panthers took both games from the Highlanders, winning by a combined 61 points.
The girls opened the evening with a convincing 61-33 victory behind 25 points and 11 rebounds from Vanessa Stolstajner. The 28-point win snapped a two-game skid and improved Kelly Maher’s team to 5-2.
“I like how we’re coming out with intensity,” coach Maher said of the team’s start, “I think we’re getting better defensively and we’re doing a better job at sharing the basketball. We just need to be a little more patient.”
Stolstajner is the team’s leading scorer this season, joining forces with fellow juniors Najla Cecunjanin and Sadie Budzik to create a youthful contingent on the court. All three started as sophomores a year ago and are now flourishing with that gained experience.
Cecunjanin, who leads the team in rebounds and blocks this season, finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Budzik shined on the defensive end with three steals.
“They know what to expect now. They know the competition level and they understand that every team is going to be after us from here on out,” Maher said of the trio, “I think their maturity has really helped us. They’re confident this year and they just need to play within their own means.”
Portland hung around in the first half and trailed only 30-19 at the break, but Stolstajner and Cecunjanin controlled the second half, which the Panthers started on a 28-9 run.
After scoring 15 of her game-high 25 in the first ten minutes following halftime, Stolstajner and the rest of the starters sat for a majority of the fourth quarter.
Cecunjanin added nine points during the second half surge, displaying an added ability on the perimeter.
“She’s always been an inside scorer but she’s develop a three-point shot this past year. She’s been more consistent with it this year and she’s added to her game with her ball handling and ability to get to the basket,” Maher said of the 5’10” Cecunjanin.
All of Maher’s starters stand 5’6” or taller and can play near the basket or stretch the floor with range.
“Our versatility has helped us so far in the early going. Any one of the starters can bring the ball up the court and it can put pressure on the other team defensively, which has made a huge difference,” added Maher, “We’ve done a really good job this year of making everyone know every spot and that’s really helped us.”
Seniors Jessica DellaRatta and Gina Sousa are Maher’s wily veterans, leading by example on the court and in practice.
“Their leadership has been great. They were with us when we won the Shoreline titles and they were on the team that won the state title during their freshman year, so they’ve won a lot,” said the veteran coach, referencing the 2016 championship win over Notre Dame-Fairfield, “They’ve seen what it takes to get there and they know that it just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes every day at practice. They’ve been great in practice with the little things that need to be done if we expect to have a good team.”
Sousa added 10 points in the win and junior Eliza Weston sparked the team off the bench with 6, including back-to-back layups during the Panthers third quarter domination.
In the nightcap, the boys jumped out to a 25-2 lead after the first eight minutes before coasting to a 67-34 victory to remain unbeaten.
Nick Wright led a balanced attack with 16 points and seven rebounds, while JJ Tracy had 15 points and Naimir Heyliger added 14.
The three, along with Tyler Baldwin, were also impressive on the defensive end, shutting down passing lanes and harassing the Highlanders on the perimeter. Tracy was especially active, finishing the night with six steals.
Despite getting into early foul trouble, Gabe Charleston used his long frame and quick hands to control the middle.
“We have guards that can really defend and we’re long under the basket,” stated head coach John Pinone “We’re trying to get the other team out of their comfort zone by getting out on the perimeter and make them do something they aren’t conformable doing. We’re getting better at it, but we can still get much better at it as we go along. Our conditioning has shown too, we’re in pretty good shape so far.”
The Panthers relentless defense didn’t allow a field goal over the first ten minutes of action.
It was reminiscent of the state title game last March when the Panthers stymied Wamogo, holding them four points in the decisive fourth quarter as they pulled away for a 58-40 championship triumph.
“Naimir, JJ, Gabe and Nick are all a year older and a year stronger. Athletically I think we’re much better than last year,” added Pinone, “I don’t know if we’re a better basketball team than we were last year but athletically as far as getting in passing lane and defending and getting in transition and pushing it up quickly, we’re much better this year than we were last year.”
Leading 62-26, Pinone also rested his starters for the entire fourth quarter.
Jack Dooley, Caleb Cain, and Nick Polizonis each contributed six points off the bench.
A principal of Pinone’s teams is always a stout defense and unselfishness on offense, but the offense is still a work in progress and at times the coach thought his boys were a little too unselfish.
“Sometimes we make the extra pass and then we make another extra pass, but if you’ve got a 10-footer you’ve got to shoot it. We get the best shot that we could get and when we make an extra pass sometimes we don’t get anything,” stated Pinone, “This team is going to take a while to jell. We’re getting better but they didn’t play a lot of basketball together before this year. Last year we had five seniors that played a lot of basketball since a very young age and these guys are mix and match guys. We’re going through the process of learning to play together.”
Pinone’s team moved to 5-0 last Friday with a 68-44 win at Morgan. Wright scored 22 and grabbed eights rebounds, and Charleston filled the stat line with 15 points, seven rebounds, and eight blocks.
The girls welcomed the Huskies of Morgan to CHS the same night and won 41-30 to finish the week 6-2. Stolstajner had a game-high 17 points and DellaRatta scored eight and hauled down nine rebounds.
Next up for the programs is a home and away this Thursday and Friday. The boys travel to North Branford (Thurs, Jan 10) for a 7 pm tip and the girls host North Branford (Fri, Jan 11) at 7 pm.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Riley Donovan- Rocky Hill (Basketball): Donovan started 2019 with a bang, scoring a career-high 30 points and nabbing 14 rebounds in a 59-52 victory over Plainville at RHHS last Wednesday night. The senior followed it up with another solid performance (17 points) in a loss to Wethersfield last Friday.
Ethan Ranger- Cromwell (Hockey): Ranger has been a consistent force on the ice for the Newington co-op team. The senior has been one of the team’s main offensive threats, scoring goals and dishing out assists, including a go-ahead assist in the Indians 1-0 victory over BCR last Saturday.
Sam Hedlund- Newington/Manchester (Hockey): Hedlund scored his first two varsity goals and added two assists in Newington co-op’s 5-1 victory over Tri-Town last Wednesday. The sophomore, who attends Manchester High School, is an up-and-coming star on the ice for the Indians hockey team.
Matt Laurie- Wethersfield (Wrestling): Laurie recorded his 100th career victory on his way to winning the 132 pound weight class bracket at the Bristol Central Invitational last Saturday. Teammate Alec Arnold won the 170-pound bracket at the same invitational.
Matt Lecky- Middletown (Indoor Track): Lecky ran a 4:31.23 in the 1600 at the Elm City Coaches Invite, breaking the school record by four seconds. The senior finished just ahead of teammate Sean Ahern, who finished third with a time of 4:38.11, which was a school record for a sophomore.
Wethersfield's #24 Nicole Gwynn looks on as Rocky Hill's #10 Peggy Minga and #13 Olivia Augeri await a free throw attempt. Gwynn is averaging 26 points in two contests vs the Terriers this season
Wethersfield girls’ basketball used efficient perimeter shooting to take an early lead before their opportunistic defense took charge and polished off a 65-35 victory over Rocky Hill in the opening round of the Holiday Classic at WHS last Wednesday night.
It was the second time in a matter of a week that the Eagles defeated the Terriers, also winning 66-56 at Rocky Hill on Dec 21.
Alice Kelly scored a game-high 16 points, including a dozen in the opening quarter when she connected on all four of her shots from beyond the arc.
“Her preseason was tremendous. She had 14 threes in three scrimmages, she was lights out,” Wethersfield head coach Jeff Russell said of the versatile Kelly, “She didn’t have it the first couple of games but then she settled herself in the past two games. Nothing seems too fast, she has confidence and a comfort level within the game. She’s a very calm player and a mismatch problem for other teams.”
Rocky Hill’s all-state guard Nikki Lukens scored the game’s first bucket after putting back her own miss, but the home Eagles rattled off the next 13 points and never looked back.
“We have some kids that have played lots of sports together and they really know the game,” Russell said of his deep and talented roster, “We just want them to stay in the moment. We have a lot of kids this year that can put the ball in the hoop so it’s all about timing and letting the game come to them.”
Nicole Gwynn, who was coming off an impressive 37-point performance in first victory over Rocky Hill, used the first eight minutes to set up her teammates. She then assumed the scoring load over the next two quarters, scoring 10 of her 15 points in the second and third quarters.
Gwynn and Kelly are just two of a handful of prolific scorers that Russell has in his rotation this season.
“We start our practices with three everyday drills. There are three shooting stations and every single one of them is predicated on making the extra pass and finding the open teammate,” the third-year coach said about his offensive approach, “Because of that everybody is ready for that next pass. They’re ready for it because it’s been replicated in practice so many times. In the games it’s about taking what we’ve done in practice and being able to apply it.”
Unselfish offensive play allowed Russell’s team to open up a double-digit lead, but it was the team’s harassing defense that held the Terriers to a season-low 35 points.
The Eagles didn’t allow more than 10 points in any quarter, including holding the Terriers to a mere five points over the minute eight minutes of regulation.
“We play well when we’re ahead because the other team has to speed it up, which is how we want to play,” added Russell, “When we play with the lead the pressure comes down a little bit.”
Zoe Adams and Isabella Samse each had three steals on the perimeter and Jess Driscoll controlled the middle, preventing the Terriers from getting second chance points down low.
Adams used her attacking nature to add nine points on the offensive end.
“We’re sort of a match made in heaven with the way that we want to play and the way that she plays,” Russell said of Adams, who is a team captain and the only senior starter, “Anything you ask her to do she does it. She’ll run through a wall for us. These past two games her assignment was to guard Lukens, who is one of the best scorers I’ve seen in boys or girls basketball, and she fought and battled with her and it made a difference.”
Samse scored seven points and Driscoll added six. Sophomore Gabriella Amoddio chipped in with eight off the bench.
Amoddio is picking up where the sophomore class left off a season ago when Russell had a trio of sophomore starters (Gwynn, Kelly, Samse) on a team advanced all the way to the Class L semifinals.
The three are now juniors and the experience from a season ago is paying dividends.
“I joked coming into the season because those kids are the old kids now. I was worried at first how they would come into that role, but it hasn’t seemed to affect them. If anything it has brought more out of them. They are very vocal players in practice and in games,” stated Russell, “It’s a different team than I’ve ever coached because they don’t need to be fired up before a game. They’re very business as usual. We don’t have to tell them about fighting for this or fighting for that. Last year our motto was about fighting for each other and this year they do their own thing and they are ready to play the second they get here. They feel ready and confident.”
For Rocky Hill, the loss was the fourth in six games this season.
Lukens was the only player to reach double-figures, scoring 13 including six of the team’s ten points in the third quarter.
“That was the flattest we’ve come out this year. As a group when we do things together and stick to the game plan we can play well, but tonight that wasn’t the case,” said Rocky Hill head coach Allyson Smith, “We have new kids learning the system and we have returners that are trying to find their way a little bit. We are coming off the break but the expectations are always very high. I’m pretty disappointed with the overall effort and mindset.”
Corrin Stabile scored six, all in the first half, and Aleksa Peterson and Hannah Conneely added five points apiece.
Conneely, a sophomore, provided one of the few highlights of the night for the Terriers when she drained a straight-away three as the first quarter buzzer sounded.
Offensively they never found a consistent rhythm but defense is the name of the game in Rocky Hill and the lack of execution on that end of the court, including allowing 22 points in the opening quarter, was the most disappointing for Smith.
“I’m a defensive-minded coach and that was hard to watch for sure. It’s back to the drawing board. Defense is what I really want us to focus on” said the veteran coach, who is in her sixth season at Rocky Hill, “The defensive end of the floor is not negotiable for me. We had a few kids that played hard and they played smart but we just couldn’t do it for more than a minute or two at a time and Wethersfield made the shots.”
Rocky Hill took all three games from Wethersfield a season ago, including a 50-48 triumph in the CCC tournament. The team came within a few minutes of playing in the Class M championship game, but fell in a heartbreaker in the semifinals.
They started this season winning two of their first three, defeating Enfield and Bloomfield, but the loss to Wethersfield was their third consecutive.
“The other games we had played hard but we just missed a couple plays that we needed,” recalled Smith, “The effort was just not there tonight. This young group has the opportunity to be very good and I believe that, but they need to believe that.”
Smith and her girls have a chance to get back on track with five of their next seven at home, starting with Waterford at RHHS on Sat, Jan 5.
Russell’s squad seems to be hitting on all cylinders, but he would still like to see the team execute their help defense more effectively to force more challenging shots.
“We also need to work on our rebounding. Jess Driscoll does a great job for us, she boxes out everybody but we need everybody else to get into that as well. Jess is sort of the hardhat kid that does all the dirty work and we want to get everybody to have that nose for the ball.”
The Eagles are in the middle of a three-game road trip, which includes a battle with Newington at NHS on Tuesday, Jan 8 at 6:45 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin