Jenaya Salafia is guarded by Rocky Hill's Bella Montalvo as Middletown's #24 Olivia Vaughters looks on during the Blue Dragons 55-22 win last Tuesday night
Middletown girls’ basketball has been playing shorthanded for most of the season, yet it didn’t slow them down last Tuesday night when they defeated Rocky Hill 55-22 at MHS.
Sophomores Tyah Pettaway and Shadae Bushay combined for 35 points as the Blue Dragons used an up-tempo approach to start fast and finish strong, winning their fifth game of the season.
Head coach Rob Smernoff has been impressed with the rapid development of Pettaway and Bushay, “They’ve been waiting for it and they’ve been ready for it. They’re two kids who play basketball all the time and they want the challenge.”
Bushay got things started with a three pointer from the top of the circle, giving the Blue Dragons the lead for good at 3-1. She scored 11 of her 17 points over the first eight minutes as Middletown raced out to a 20-5 lead after the first quarter.
Pettaway finished with a game-high 18, often leading fast breaks and showcasing her ability to finish at the rim.
The tandem has been thrust into the spotlight after Kya Mayo, last year’s leading scorer, and Ayanna McCalla, this year’s leading scorer, both sustained injuries.
There’s a noticeable chemistry of the floor between the breakout sophomore stars.
“A lot of kids when someone gets hurt like to stay in the background, but both of them were happy to take over,” added Smernoff, “They played in middle school together, they played some on varsity last year together, and this year they obviously play all the time together.”
Because of the injuries, Smernoff started four sophomores and a junior against Rocky Hill. The youthful lineup played aggressive on the defensive end, creating easy transition buckets on the other end.
The normally fast-paced Blue Dragons have increased the tempo even more in recent games.
“With the roster we had today we had to adjust to play more of that style,” added Smernoff, “We’re really young and with the personnel we had it was just about making do and taking advantages of their strengths. A lot of these kids playing for us thought they’d be coming in as subs but now they’re starting and embracing it. We didn’t have one senior play tonight.”
Aysia Henderson added 8, while Jenaya Salafia and freshman Jada Bryant each chipped in four.
With the loss, Rocky Hill fell to 1-9.
Head coach Allyson Smith was disappointed with her team’s effort but sees potential, “Today is not an indication of our year at large. We struggled to get consistent play for 32 minutes, but we’ve played well at times. Defensive mindset is above all things and we struggle with that continuity sometimes. We’re undersized, we don’t necessarily know how to rebound as well as we need to.”
After a sluggish first quarter, Smith’s Terriers fair much better in the second frame, outscoring the home team 10-9. Senior Aleksa Peterson scored four and the team’s defense held their own against Middletown’s relentless offensive attack.
Things broke down after the break as the Terriers were only able to manage seven total points over the final 16 minutes.
“We have seniors, like Corrin [Stabile] and Aleksa, that have been through it for four years. They know what is asked of them on a night by night basis. We have to get everyone else to contribute but today was just a complete lack of confidence. The energy was not there, and we just didn’t show up the way we could and should be showing up.”
Smith will lean on her seniors the rest of the way, while trying to find the right nucleus of players to help turn the season around.
Peterson, Stabile, Olivia Augeri, along with starting juniors Peggy Minga and Jenna Chipkin, and reserves Bella Montalvo, Hanna Conneely, and freshman Christina DeNovellis will all play important roles down the stretch.
“I’m incredibly hopeful and optimistic and I walked into this game today fully confident that we could compete but it’s just a matter of playing better. We’ve got the mentality, it’s just an uphill battle right now.”
Last Friday, the Terriers suffered loss #10 to New Britain. The team has five of their final seven games at home, starting with Glastonbury this Friday (1/31) at 6:45 p.m.
Middletown closed the week with a 56-46 loss to Berlin, but they remain in the tournament hunt. They’ll play five of their final six regular season game at home, starting this Thursday (1/30) against RHAM at 5:15 p.m.
Wethersfield improved to 12-1 with an impressive 56-40 victory over Newington at WHS last Friday night.
Nicole Gwynn scored a game-high 29 points and Alice Kelly hauled down 13 rebounds as the Eagles won their 11th straight game.
Newington jumped out to an early lead before the home team seized the momentum, outscoring the Indians 22-7 in the second quarter. After 32 minutes of action, the Eagles had limited the visitors to 27% shooting from the field and grabbed a dozen more rebounds.
Ashanti Frazier had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Indians, who fell to 10-2 and suffered their first loss in seven games.
The neighboring and conference rivals will play again to close out the regular season on Tue, Feb 18 at NHS, 6:45 p.m. That game could determine seeding in the highly competitive Class L tournament, which tips March 3rd.
Cromwell freshman Adela Cecunjanin battles for position during the Panthers 64-45 victory over Valley Regional last Tuesday
It is said the only thing harder than winning a championship is defending that title.
Coming off a championship triumph in 2019, Cromwell girls’ basketball is attempting to duplicate that feat in 2020.
Despite a slow start last Tuesday night, head coach Kelly Maher and her Panthers took another step towards that goal, defeating conference foe Valley Regional, 64-45, inside Jake Salafia Gymnasium at Cromwell High School.
“We really weren’t running through our offense, we looked panicked, we were really rushing our shots. And defensively we weren’t great, we weren’t were we were supposed to be, we weren’t helping. Part of that is that Valley is a very good team and they attacked the basket and took away a lot of what we wanted,” Maher said about the team’s performance in the first half, “At halftime we told them that they had to match their aggressiveness and it worked. We made the adjustments, we settled down, ran through our offense, and did the things that we do.”
Cromwell outscored the visiting Warriors 42-24 in the second half, pulling away for their sixth victory in seven games.
After trailing by one after the first quarter and holding a 22-21 lead at the half, the Panthers started the second half on a 10-0 run.
Guard Sadie Budzik, who was held scoreless in the first half after getting into foul trouble, drained back-to-back threes to open the third.
“Recently we’ve gone into the locker room at halftime and we know we can do more. I think that drives us. We want to be that third quarter team that bumps up the score, so we just bring a lot of energy,” said Budzik, who finished the night with 10 points and four assists.
Vanessa Stolstajner had a game-high 18 points, including seven early in the fourth to put the game on ice.
“We’re learning how to move with different girls that we haven’t played with before and being in the right spots to be able to distribute the ball to each other,” said Stolstajner.
Budzik and Stolstajner are the only two returning starters from last year’s championship squad, which defeated Sheehan in the Class M title game at Mohegan Sun last March
Maher credited the senior duo with guiding the young roster through a tough early-season schedule, which included consecutive losses to start the season, “We’re getting there, but we’re really young. It’s a whole new group and really just Sadie and Vanessa have a ton of experience. It’s just about settling in and it’s their leadership that brings it out.”
Budzik added that her and Stolstajner knew they’d have to adapt to a new lineup this season, “Vanessa and myself have similar roles from last year but when you’re working with different people that you haven’t played with before you have to get used to the new people. It took us a few games and scrimmages to finally get the hang of each other and understand how we all work together.”
Junior Monica Dewey, sophomore Khaya Skene, and freshman Nevaeh Clark round out the starters, giving the team an interesting mix on the court.
Dewey dished out a game-high nine assists, while Skene scored 11 points and again was great of the glass, grabbing 10 rebounds. It was her eighth straight game with double-digit rebounds.
“She’s getting better and better every game. She’s starting to do the little things really well,” Maher said of her sophomore forward, “We’re just trying to focus on one thing at a time with the younger players.”
Clark scored all eight of her points in the second half, six coming in the third quarter. She’s a natural at finishing at the cup and stopped a Valley scoring run in the third quarter, making a contested lay-up on a beautifully executed possession in which all five players touched the ball in transition.
Fellow freshman Adela Cecunjanin hauled down eight rebounds off the bench.
Erica Dewey (Monica’s twin sister) and Likhita Chanda also sparked the team off the bench. Dewey came in red-hot in the first quarter, scoring seven points in the frame, and Chanda shined in the second half, scoring all eight of her points over the final 16 minutes.
“Erica and Likhita always come in and step up for us when we’re tired or when we’re in foul trouble like we were today,” said Budzik.
If a repeat on last year is possible, the team will have to be peaking when the tournament rolls around in less than a month.
Budzik, the 2019 championship game MVP, and Stolstajner, the team’s leading scorer, will again be asked to carry a heavy load in February, and potentially again in March.
“We still have the same mindset as last year. It’s just adjusting because we have such a different team this year,” stated Stolstajner, “A lot of the younger girls are just starting to play together and I think everyone is slowly improving and we’re meshing together. Everyone’s best qualities are helping the team in different ways.”
Last Friday, Cromwell made it seven of eight, defeating North Branford 77-48 on the road. Stolstajner again led the way with 23 points and Cecunjanin added a season-high 13.
The win improved the Panthers to 7-3 entering the week, leaving them with ten regular season games left to iron out the wrinkles prior to tourney-time.
“We’re starting to jell together but there is still some work to be done. We haven’t been together for long and we need to play a full 32 minutes and our shot selection needs to be better,” said Maher.
Budzik echoed her coached, adding, “If we bring our energy at the start of the game, our control of the game will be so much stronger. If we start coming out better and playing quicker and play up to how fast we can play, we can keep it going.”
Jessica Garcia, Kayla Condon, Caroline Peak, Adrianna Mantilla- Wethersfield (Track): Garcia, Condon, Peak, and Mantilla combined to break the school record in the Distance Medley Race with a time of 13:58.32. The foursome broke the record as the Eagles competed at the Yale Invitational last weekend.
Braeden Humphrey- Newington Co-Op (Hockey): Humphrey was solid on the defensive end and dished out the game-winning assists in the Indians 1-0 win over New Milford. The sophomore has done a little of everything this season for a team that has won six of seven games entering this week.
Ashanti Frazier- Newington (Basketball): Frazier surpassed the career 1000-point mark during Newington’s 50-49 home win over East Catholic last Thursday. The do-it-all senior played all 32 minutes, scoring a game-high 24 points in the come-from-behind win over the previous unbeaten Eagles from East Catholic.
Brandon Scacca- Rocky Hill (Swimming): Scacca is a four-year varsity swimmer, who has already qualified for States in the 200 IM and 100 Breaststroke. The senior captain, whose twin brother Jay is also on the team, was the team’s MVP as a junior and head coach Lisa Cooney said Scacca is a “hard working, respectful, excellent role-model and leader”.
Greyson Pizzonia- Middletown (Baseball): Pizzonia announced that he will be continuing his baseball and academic career at Adelphi University, starting next fall. The senior has one more season left with the Blue Dragons on the diamond this spring as they aim for a third straight tournament appearance.
Wethersfield's James Luiz is guarded by Rocky Hill's Matt Sevigny during the Eagles 52-30 win at WHS last Wednesday. Photo credit- Michelle Elliott
Wethersfield boys’ basketball used a 13-0 scoring run, which spanned between the second and third quarters, before clamping down defensively to defeat visiting Rocky Hill 52-30 last Wednesday night at WHS.
Guard Luke Latina led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points, while backcourt mates James Luiz and Robert Ruiz each chipped in with 11.
“We played with more intensity on defense and our play picked up a little bit,” Wethersfield coach Brian Fanelli said of the team’s second-quarter surge.
Fanelli’s team trailed 18-11 before Luiz made back-to-back layups and Latina ended the half by making three free throws after getting fouled on a deep attempt behind the arc in the closing seconds of the half, providing the Eagles an 19-18 advantage at the break.
“Luke’s got a huge basketball IQ. He loves the game and does a great job. He’s always trying to make others better,” Fanelli said of his junior floor general.
Latina started the third quarter by draining a three after receiving a perfect pass from Connor Pace, and Ruiz dumped in two more after rebounding his own miss.
“We started to make a couple of shots in the second half and we started to pound the ball into Pace, which helped too. Right out of the gate we hit Pace who found Latina at the top of the key,”
Pace, who missed all of last season with an injury, has returned to solidify the middle and supply some much-needed length for the Eagles.
“He’s quiet and doesn’t say a lot but when the ball goes up, he goes and gets it. I’m glad to have him for some many reason, not just as a basketball player but he’s an awesome kid and that makes a big difference,” added Fanelli.
Wethersfield outscored the Terriers 17-5 in the third, which ended with a long-range buzzer-beating bank from Luiz, just inside the midcourt stripe.
Tempers flared in the fourth, with the rival teams trading technical fouls. The Terriers received an additional technical later in the quarter.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. Our game plan today was to take away Pace, which we did in the first half, but we just didn’t execute down the stretch. We turned it over, we rushed our possessions,” said Mike Dudis, Rocky Hill’s first-year head coach, “We needed to keep our composure and we didn’t do that in the second half. Our guys were frustrated but I don’t care about officiating, when you lose by 22 it’s not on the officials.”
Prior to Wednesday’s loss, Rocky Hill had won two of the first three games under Dudis, “We did a good job during our last game on the road against Lewis Mills, but sometimes we rush. We have a bunch of guys that want to be playmakers and sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s something we have to work on. That and not turning the ball over, and the unacceptable aspect of falling apart mentally down the stretch.”
Dudis pointed to the foul on Latina’s three-pointer late in the half as the turning point.
“We had some undisciplined fouls, like the one 30 feet from the hoop. Going into the half with a two-point lead compared to a one-point deficit is huge.”
Dudis previously served as an assistant for longtime head coach Josh Dinerman, who stepped back this season to spend more time with his family.
The assistant-turned-headman is looking to lead the Terriers back to the postseason after the team missed the tournament a season ago following an elimination loss to Wethersfield in the regular season finale.
“The goal is to make the state tournament. We were trending in the right direction, but this is a hiccup tonight,” added Dudis, who is also the girl’s tennis coach and an assistant football coach, “This was just a bad day and we have to focus as we move forward. This is certainly a good learning experience early on.”
Seniors Justin Fraleigh, Matt Sevigny, and Alex Boutin will play big roles this season. Fraleigh led the team with nine points, all coming in the first half. Sevigny is a confident ball handler on the perimeter and Boutin is a force down low.
Junior Dennis Machial, who scored six, will also be asked to carry a big load this season.
“He’s the best junior leaguer I’ve ever seen,” Dudis said of Machial, who came over from Newington as a freshman, “He’s a guy that will keep his composure and keep playing hard throughout. He’ll rally the other guys and I think he’ll even grow more as a leader as the season goes on.”
Rocky Hill closed the week with an 84-70 loss to a strong Hartford Public team. Next up is a road test this Friday (Jan 17) against RHAM, 6:45 pm.
The Eagles, who next travel to Manchester on Friday, Jan 17 (6:45), will be looking to build on the momentum of the latest victory, which was their second in the past three games.
The team will continue to rely on their backcourt, which has a lot of depth and athleticism with Latina, Luiz, Ruiz, Jack Freitas, and Tanner Slesinski, who added seven points off the bench. Pace is helped in the frontcourt by junior Jake Prunier.
Andriy Grynyk- Newington (Diving): Grynyk qualified for States during Newington’s swimming and diving win over East Catholic last Tuesday. The senior diver also finished first in a meet against Bristol on Friday.
Jonathan Nkonoki- Middletown (Basketball): Nkonoki scored a game-high 17 points to lead a balanced Blue Dragon’s lineup in a 66-36 win over Maloney last Tuesday. The senior guard has been instrumental in the team’s success this season, helping them win four of their first five games.
Nicole Gwynn- Wethersfield (Basketball): Gwynn scored 25 points as Wethersfield defeated Bloomfield (55-42) in a battle of powerhouses last Friday night. The star senior has picked up right where she left off a season ago, as the Eagles have seven wins in eight games, including six straight entering the week.
Andrew Fogarty- Newington Co-Op (Hockey): Fogarty registered his second shutout, stopping 14 shots in a 3-0 victory over Enfield/East Granby/Stafford last Wednesday, helping improve the Indians to 5-1. The senior goalie also blanked Milford earlier this season, saving 19 shots in that win.
Khaya Skene- Cromwell (Basketball): Skene has been a rebounding machine for the Panthers, including grabbing 26 total rebounds (12 offensive) in wins over Portland and Morgan last week. The sophomore has seven straight games of double-digit rebounds for a Cromwell team that has won five of their last six games entering the week.
Former Rocky Hill quarterback Danny Cavallaro is a certified personal trainer, working on a degree from Springfield College. Cavallaro is helping others reach their fitness goals. Left is a picture of him in Feb 2018 and the right is a picture of him in July 2019
Two years ago, Danny Cavallaro was fresh off quarterbacking Rocky Hill High School to a second straight playoff appearance, which included a trip to the Class S championship game in 2016. The three-year starter became a household name thanks to his impressive right arm, charismatic personality, and gritty play behind center.
The former high school student athlete is now a college scholar at Springfield College, pursuing a career in Physical Therapy and helping others achieve their fitness and nutrition goals as a NASM Certified Personal Trainer.
“I had the mindset that I wasn’t going to play football, so I wanted to pick a good academic school. I had heard it was a good school and a good community, and I wanted fewer kids in the classroom so I could connect more with the teachers and my classmates,” said Cavallaro, who is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences in Springfield, Mass.
It’s a new and exciting adventure for the Rocky Hill native, who has changed both his surroundings and his physique.
There was never any doubt about Cavallaro’s athletic abilities in high school, but over the last year and a half he’s transformed into a model of peak physical fitness through his intense body building regimen.
“It's a habit, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not about doing a certain diet or a workout. I’ve just adapted these methods and once I started getting used to it, it really became my lifestyle. If you would have asked me a couple of years ago about working out the way I do or eating the way I do it would have been a little scary, but now I love it. You have to love the process as much as you love the results.”
Cavallaro documents his wellness journey on his Instagram account, where he connects with others in the fitness community while attracting new clients. The young entrepreneur will soon have over 10,000 followers and has been able to monetize his efforts through in-person on online personal training.
“What social media allows us to do is reach out to hundreds of people a day. Instagram is where it’s at, there’s always eyes on Instagram,” said the 2018 graduate, “I try and market through my story. If they see my content, they will reach out to me and I reach out to others and ask how I can help. Once they sign up with me they have my full availability, because they’ll have a lot of questions once they are going through the process.”
During his holiday break from Springfield, Cavallaro was able to shadow Eric Milman at the Physical Therapy Center of Rocky Hill.
Milman, who has a Master’s degree from the University of Harford and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Simmons College, helped the former football player rehab injuries and improve muscular movements during his playing days in high school. Cavallaro said that Milman is now a mentor who inspired him to pursue Physical Therapy.
“I’m very, very lucky to have the people that I’ve had in my life” said Cavallaro, who also has a cousin working as a personal trainer, “I wouldn’t have known the stuff that I know without asking the questions from these great people like Eric. Eric has gone to years and years of seminars for Physical Therapy. He taught me more in a day than I learned in this whole semester. He knows a ridiculous amount, he’s an encyclopedia.”
Cavallaro added that playing quarterback has been beneficial during his latest endeavor.
“Being quarterback thought me about leadership, influence, and character. It’s so much more than just throwing touchdowns. You have to know what everyone else is doing, what the defense is doing, there’s a lot of things. I now know what makes other people tick, I know how to help them reach their value.”
“When I’m lifting with someone, I compare it to throwing a football because you have to move a certain way. Your body is a machine, it’s very mechanical and the same thing when you’re throwing a football. It’s all step by step, it’s a process. Throwing is just like doing a rep.”
Cavallaro offered some tips for those looking to achieve their fitness and weight loss goals during the New Year’s Resolution season.
“Find a strong ‘why’. If you’re just motivated in that second it’s going to wear off, so that ‘why’ will get you up the next morning and the next morning, and when you do that it will become a discipline habit and that’s when you get consistency. Remember a time when you were motivated and how that made you feel, go back to that mental state. Rewire your brain, find your ‘why’.”
He added that no single diet or workout is universally ideal, and that body type and fitness goals are more important when creating a fitness and wellness plan.
Cavallaro’s long-term goal is to open his own establishment, meshing personal training and physical therapy.
“Have the gym side of the building with the Physical Therapy side of the building. It goes hand in hand. It’s all health related and about taking care of the body.”
Now a sophomore in college, Cavallaro will either stay in Springfield for his post-grad or explore other opportunities to complete his Physical Therapy degree.
One thing that is certain, physical fitness is a major part of his life now and into the future.
He lives by his slogan, “My goals are to achieve your goals” and approaches fitness from a bigger picture perspective, wanting to influence those around him and making sure his words and actions outlive him.
For more information about Cavallaro’s journey follow him on Instagram @dannycavs_fit or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-729-9413.
Mike Morgan- Cromwell (Basketball): Morgan scored 23 points and had five steals in the Panthers 70-30 win over Westbrook last Tuesday. Is was the third time in four games that the junior guard scored in double-figures this season, which includes a season-high 28 points in a win over Hale Ray on Dec 23.
Ashanti Frazier- Newington (Basketball): Frazier hit a game-winner at the buzzer as Newington defeated Bristol Eastern 46-44 last Friday. The senior guard rebounded a miss before jumping off one foot to drain a rainbow shot just inside the arc, helping the Indians win for the fifth time in six games. Frazier finished the night with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Jack Healy- Wethersfield (Hockey): Healy scored a goal and dished out two assists in a 6-1 victory over E.O. Smith last Thursday and then tallied another goal in a 2-0 shutout of Cheshire on Saturday. The senior is the second-leading scorer and tied for the team lead in assists for an Eagles team that is a perfect 7-0 entering the week.
Tyah Pettaway- Middletown (Basketball): Pettaway scored a season-high 20 points in a 53-40 win over Lyman Hall last Monday. The sophomore guard added 14 points in a loss against Wethersfield on Friday and is the leading scorer on a young, up-and-coming Blue Dragons team.
Sam Geisler- Newington (Track & Field): Geisler won the 3000 meters at the Wintergreen Invitational at Southern Connecticut State University last Friday. The distance-running-junior has picked up right where he left off following an all-conference Cross Country season in the fall.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin