Newington's six senior swimmers (from left to right: Vinh Dau, Tyler Coleman, Michael Allo, Jacob Mermelstein, Jeremy Rippel, Zachary Saunders)
Nobody should be sad on Valentine’s Day.
The swim teams at Newington and Rocky Hill took that to that saying to heart last Tuesday night, drawing to a 93-93 tie in front of loved ones at NHS.
The tie was a fitting finish to a thrilling dual meet, featuring two evenly matched and equally competitive teams.
“This is a team that we’ve never beaten or tied, so for us a tie is a huge win,” Rocky Hill coach Lisa Cooney said following the meet, “It’s usually a team that out distances us to the point where they go exhibition and don’t take any more points. This is a huge, huge accomplishment for us to tie them.”
Cooney’s bunch led 89-83 heading into the final event, but Newington finished 1st and 3rd in the 400 freestyle relay, earning enough points to draw even.
The Indians relay team of Nicholas Goegel, Maksym Ugrak, Luke Fote, and Michael Allo edged the Terriers relay team of Joseph Hamann, Christian Federici, Brian Speers, and Mack Sullivan by .63 of a second to win the event.
Newington’s group of Zachary Saunders, Robert Nagy, Sean Abrams, and Tyler Coleman placed third about ten seconds later.
“We knew it was 1-3 to tie,” said Newington coach Gary Harrigan, “We took our fastest swimmer out of the A-relay and it worked out.”
The meet’s momentum went back and forth all night and featured several great individual swims. Sullivan paced Rocky Hill, winning the 200 individual medley and teaming with Federici, Hamann, and Andre Costa for a first-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay.
“He has been one of our best swimmers since he was a freshman and he’s really stepped up this year. He’s been consistent and been mentoring the younger swimmers,” Cooley said of Sullivan, who is one of only two seniors on the team’s roster, “He’s also been versatile in meets. I’ve put him in all different events and he really rises to the challenge and puts in 100% in every race. He’s the kind of kid that takes responsibility when he didn’t have his best swim or he makes a mistake. I love that he shows that type of accountability and respect for doing his best for the younger swimmers.”
Speers also had a great night for Rocky Hill, winning the 200 and 500 freestyle. The junior won the 200 by seven seconds and the 500 by a whopping 27 seconds.
Adam Chao of the Terriers shined in the 100 breaststroke and backstroke, winning both events.
“I have people doing best times. I don’t ever expect best times until the end of the year and yet I’ve had kids doing best times meet after meet after meet,” added Cooley, “They’re continually lowering their times and I think that once we start to taper down they will really have incredible accomplishments at states.”
Cooley and her team had won six of their previous eight meets prior to the tie with Newington.
The Indians were hosting the event and celebrating Senior Night. Harrigan has a half-dozen seniors in the pool and all have made waves this
“The seniors did a good job today. It’s tough, some of them have to juggle jobs and other things,” said Harrigan, “We’ve had a couple of seniors definitely step up this season and do a great job. We’ve got six seniors, three of the seniors are captains and they’ve done a really good job.”
Allo is one of those captains and has come back better than ever following a good showing at states a season ago.
On Tuesday, he was part of two victorious relay teams and he was the runner-up in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke.
“Michael is doing extremely well. He’s worked really hard,” added Harrigan, “Robert Nagy also hit some of his best times at the end of last year. He trained all through the offseason and worked very hard to get here. He’s doing great.”
Nagy is one of the team’s two juniors and had wins in both the 50 and 100 freestyles against Rocky Hill.
The entire team has benefited from a change in their approach to preparation over the past couple of years.
“We changed the way that we trained last year and this year. We’re more focused on the end of the season than we are dual meets,” added Harrigan, “We’re headed in the right direction. We swam well today and we swam a few best times. This gives us a little bit of momentum going forward.”
The divers took center stage midway through the meet and put on a show.
A season ago Newington graduated diving-extraordinaire Raymond Niestat, who is currently diving for Dartmouth College. Sophomore John Famiglietti is picking up where Niestat left off and posted the best overall score at the meet, followed by Rocky Hill’s Christian Cannata and Andre Costa.
After the water had settled, the scoreboard was even and everyone went home a winner. The local swimmers and divers put on a memorable Valentine’s Day meet witnessed by several family and friends, who filled up the viewing section above the pool inside NHS.
“We normally get a pretty good crowd. Parents come out to support the team and it’s was good to see them here tonight,” said Harrigan.
The teams will reunite when the CCC (Central Connecticut Conference) Championships start the first week in March. The divers will compete Thurs, March 2 at Rocky Hill High School at 6 p.m. and the swimmers will take to the pool on Fri, March 3 at Wethersfield High School at 4:30 p.m.
Sports Around Town
Indians Girls Basketball Ends Regular Season on a High Note
Newington girls’ basketball ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak after defeating Wethersfield 46-33 in their regular season finale last Tuesday night at NHS. Abrial Murray scored a game-high 19 points, freshman Ashanti Frazier added nine points and five steals, and Olivia St Remy hauled down eight rebounds in the victory. Both teams finished the regular season 13-7 and both are now preparing for the Class LL tourney, starting next week.
WMRP Hockey Crowned Local Kings of the Ice
The co-op Wethersfield/Middletown/Rocky Hill/Plainville ice hockey team defeated the co-op team from Newington 4-1 last Saturday night. Paul Wheatley scored a pair of goals and assisted on another to Tyler Piecewicz, who also added two assist of his own. It was the second time this season that the Eagles defeated the Indians, also winning 5-1 on Jan 14. The latest win improved the Eagles to 14-3, which currently ranks them second in Division III.
The girls’ basketball team from Wethersfield trailed by as many as seven points on three separate occasions, but rallied to defeat their crosstown rival Rocky Hill Terriers 61-56 last Tuesday night at RHHS.
The victory was the Eagles fifth in a row.
“The key tonight was hustle and competing for every single ball,” said Wethersfield’s first-year head coach Jeff Russell, “They run a tremendous offense and defense, and they are one of the best coached teams we’ve played. If you’re not working and not playing as five players on defense, they’ll make you pay and they went on some runs in the second and third quarters.”
The game was hectic from start to finish as both teams pressed the length of the court for a majority of the contest. The aggressive defense led to 32 entertaining and fast-paced minutes, especially during the third quarter, which featured three lead changes and ended with the score tied at 42.
Rocky Hill went on a 8-0 run midway though the quarter to take a 40-33 lead, but the Eagles got an offensive lift from a player returning from injury.
Cheyenne Mone-Smith went wild, scoring 16 of the game’s next 23 points, providing the Eagles a lead they would hold until the final buzzer.
“I just got back from a concussion, so this was my first game back and we needed this win. This is always a tough game for us,” said Mone-Smith, who added that she feels more comfortable on the court this season, “I’m looser with the ball. I know that I can trust my teammates, I can pass to them and they can finish. I think we’ve become a lot better as a team.”
The junior started the game on the bench, but finish it with a bang, scoring 17 of her 19 points in the second half.
Early in the fourth with the game knotted at 44, Russell used a timeout, which seemed to invigorate his squad.
“I needed to get our group some energy, so that was an energizing timeout,” explained Russell, “We take timeouts every now and again where we’ll just sit and breath and we won’t even go over strategy. We let the kids mentally and physically come back to ground level. Basketball is a game of runs and you try and control the runs, both for us and against us.”
The energy-boosting timeout worked as the Eagles scored the game’s next eight points, all by Mone-Smith.
The home team chipped away at the lead, but could get no closer five points.
Rocky Hill junior Melanie Holmes scored a game-high 21 points, including seven over the final eight minutes.
“We’re very similar teams. It was like staring at each other in the mirror, our strengths are the same,” Rocky Hill coach Allyson Toulouse said following the team’s fifth loss of the season, “Their defensive mindset is very similar to ours and we don’t see that type of aggressiveness that much. I felt like we didn’t capitalize on that aggressiveness by making the extra pass and stepping to the ball, the little fundamental stuff. I think they capitalized on that and there were moments when we didn’t take a breath. Not only would they turn us over in those moments, but they would get really solid possessions on the other end. I credit them 100% for their fourth quarter game management. Sometimes I’m not sure that we know how to play from behind, but that’s the first time that we’ve seen a similar type of defense. I think it was really healthy to see that.”
Nikki Lukens, Rocky Hill’s scoring leader this season, scored eight of the team’s first 14 points, but was held to seven points the rest of the way.
“They did a really good job honing in on Nikki, they really tried to limit her touches. Our mistakes on offensive end were from their defensive tenacity and we really couldn’t get those stops that we normally get,” added Toulouse, “We can’t rest on the things that make us successful and we still have to take that next step. As much as a hate to admit it, losses like this really define a young team and how we can get better. It’s a growth opportunity.”
Both teams have similar styles and also play several players who are new to the varsity level. The Terriers do not have a senior on their roster and the Eagles have a pair of freshmen in the starting lineup.
Nicole Gwynn and Alice Kelly combined for 24 points in the victory and their coach is seeing them mature with each passing game.
“They survive at the varsity level because of their desire to compete. What’s growing is their comfort level with varsity basketball,” Russell said about the young duo, “It took Alice a little bit longer, but it also changed quickly for her from being a kid that played JV and dressed varsity to being a starter and one of our major contributors.”
The freshman tandem carried the Eagles offense in the second quarter. Gwynn had six of her 13 points in the quarter and Kelly tallied eight of her 11, including Wethersfield’s final six points heading into the halftime locker room.
The development of the two has deepened the Eagles bench and allowed the first-year coach to implement an up-tempo system.
“We’re a deep group. It varies every night and we tend to play the hot hand, but we play the hot hand defensively,” stated Russell, “We’re looking for who’s giving extra effort and who’s flying around and who’s chasing down and diving after loose balls. I think that’s what really turned the page for us tonight and I think it got us in the right direction headed for the tournament.”
Russell’s team polished off the week with their sixth straight victory, defeating New Britain 48-44 in overtime on Saturday. Senior Kate McDonald canned a pair of three-pointer late in regulation and the Eagles pulled away in the overtime session.
The win improved their overall record to 12-6 entering the final week of the regular season.
The CCC and state tourneys are right around the corner and the young coach is hoping the team continues to jell together on the court.
“I want to see us make the extra pass, take a charge for your teammate, and communicate with your teammates,” added Russell, “We’re coming together as a group and I know we support each other, but now we’ve got to see it in the physical part of the game.”
The Terriers wrapped up a difficult week losing 55-47 to New Britain on Friday. In the loss, junior Lizzy Denardo had a great all-around game, registering six steals, grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out four assists.
Despite the two losses, the Terriers are still very much in contention with a record of 13-6, but Toulouse is still waiting for someone to assume the leadership role. For now it’s a committee, with players like Lukens and Denardo sharing the responsibilities.
“I think [Lizzy] has the ability because she’s really connected with the younger kids on this team and they really look up to her. In moments when we start unraveling, we’ve been teaching her to bring everyone together. She’s been playing great all year and her ability to put her own personal play aside and help others has been huge,” said Toulouse, “Nikki as a floor leader is starting to develop into that as well. She leads by doing, but also communicates very well.”
Now the fourth-year head coach is hoping the team can right the ship before the games become win-or-go-home.
“We know what we do well and now we’re starting to transition to how we prepare and take away the best player,” added Toulouse , “Night in and night out we rely on a handful of things that we do well and we know what helps us get that motor running and keep it going. Our defensive aggressiveness is there, but our understanding of adjusting in-games will be huge.”
Newington’s Abrial Murray missed her entire junior season following a knee injury a year ago.
This now-senior is making up for the missed time, leading the Indians in scoring, including a 25-point shooting demonstration in the team’s 45-41 victory over visiting Rocky Hill last Wednesday night at NHS.
“She was great for us tonight,” Newington head coach Rick Bangs said following the team’s eighth win, “She’s battling back from the ACL tear, so she’s kind of been up and down leading up to this game. She’s had some good games and she’s had some rough games, but the last few games she’s starting to find herself. You see when she’s confident with her shooting, this is what you get.”
Murray drained a handful of three-pointers, including four in the second half during an incredible 21-point onslaught over the final 16 minutes of action.
The injury from a season ago is now in the rear view mirror, but some of her success on the court can be traced back to the long, challenging road of recovery.
“My shot improved from it, just because the chip on your shoulder,” said Murray, who also hauled down six rebounds in the victory, “Missing an entire season you want to come back and you want to work harder. It’s not like I didn’t work hard before, but getting injured and doing rehab I learned a bunch of new exercises that I would have never known that have strengthened other muscles.”
The Indians needed Murray’s offensive production, because they struggled to find the bottom of the net during a sloppy first half of basketball. The team produced only four points in the first quarter and a dozen more in the second frame.
Luckily for the home team, the Terriers also struggled against Newington’s zone defense, managing only 15 points over the same time span.
“We have to play every team with our defense a little different, because every team is different. We thought that our 2-3 [zone] would be best against this team,” said Murray, who added that the team is just as comfortable playing man-to-man defense, “We have a lot of different defenses that we can switch to during games, but today the 2-3 work so we stuck with it.”
Rocky Hill’s swarming defensive press was equally impressive in the first half and made life difficult for Newington’s backcourt.
“We talked a lot about just staying patient, and I have all the faith in the world in our guards,” Bangs recalled about the slow start offensively, “Once we got the ball in the frontcourt, we were patient with it. We took care of the ball, we didn’t turn the ball over, and we got good shots. Even in the first half the shots weren’t going down, but we were still getting good shots. We’ve had problems early in games knocking shots down, so when we missed our first few it wasn’t really surprising and we figure it out.”
Both offensives found their groove coming out of the halftime locker room, playing an entertaining and wild third quarter, which featured nine lead changes and a tie.
Rocky Hill grabbed a 24-20 lead midway through the quarter, but Murray went to work, scoring 11 of the next 15 points to close the quarter. Her 11 points came on a trio of three-pointers and a tough floater in the lane that went off glass.
Early in the fourth, Rocky Hill’s Grace Fisher made consecutive layups, regaining a 34-33 advantage for the road team. However, Murray scored the next four points on a layup of her own and a pair of foul shots.
Melanie Holmes nailed a three-pointer on the right baseline, which tied the game at 37, but again Murray countered, knocking down another trifecta on the following possession. Murray’s fifth and final three provided Newington a 40-37 edge, a lead they would not relinquish.
Murray was helped out by her freshman backcourt-mate Ashanti Frazier, who added seven points and had four steals on the defensive end of the court.
Aly Houldcroft also chipped in with seven points, and Gio Rivera added four points and five rebounds. Sophomore Olivia St. Remy led the team with 10 rebounds.
It was the Indians’ sixth victory over their last seven games, following a 2-6 start.
“I’ve really been preaching team and coming together as a team, and it was a real team effort again tonight,” added Bangs, “Defensively we are starting to get back to being the defensive team that I like. I could not be prouder of my girls, we beat a very good basketball team tonight.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for head coach Allyson Toulouse and her Terriers, who fell to 11-4.
“On defense we looked tired. They have some great ball handlers, so if you’re not zoning in on certain pressures or certain strategies defensively, they will exploit it and they did a good job. Even though we lost to a very good team tonight there are so many moments to grow with this group,” said Toulouse, who does not have a senior on her roster, “Going into this year I never thought it was a rebuilding year. I was actually really excited to see some of these younger kids grow and step up. I’m upset that we lost the game, but I think there are areas that we’ve been successful all season and I think that will help us in the postseason.”
Bangs added that it’s always a tough matchup whenever they play their neighbors from Rocky Hill, who won the annual matchup 44-38 a season ago at RHHS.
“I have all the respect in the world for Allyson and the job that she does over there. They are very well coached and she does a great job with them.”
Sophomore Nikki Lukens led the Terriers with 13 points, followed by Fisher with a dozen, and Holmes with 11.
Toulouse and her Terriers rebounded with a convincing 50-17 triumph over Maloney last Friday night. Lukens again led the way with 22 points.
The Indians chalked up their ninth victory on the same night, edging Bristol Eastern 62-54, snapping a six-game winning streak for the Lancers.
There are only a few regular season games remaining and Bangs wants to see more of the steady improvement he’s witnessed all season.
“I want us to keep doing what we are doing. I think a game like this does nothing but inflate our confidence. We’ve competed in every single game we’ve played this year, outside of a couple back in December. No matter who we play, we’re going to battle. It’s just a matter of us making enough shots to get a win.”
His senior leader agrees and thinks the team is vastly improved since the beginning of the season, thanks to the familiarity and unity on the court.
“Once we kind of let go and came together, we started swinging the ball and not taking the first shot. Ball movement is definitely is the reason we’re playing better,” said Murray, who added that the backcourt must continue to develop if they want to sustained success, “We’ve have a little trouble breaking a pressure so we just have to stay focused, especially in crunch time.”
The ultimate crunch time will start in in early March, when the state tourneys begin.
James and Sapp Headed to CCSU
Two of the state’s best football player will be continuing their gridiron careers at Central Connecticut State University next fall. Middletown’s Tyshaun James and Cromwell’s Kristian Sapp made it official last Wednesday during college football’s annual National Signing Day.
James, who will remain a quarterback at CCSU, finished his Blue Dragons’ career with 60 total touchdowns and 5,567 total yards. Sapp ran for 4855 yards and 68 touchdowns during his time with the Panthers.
The two will be joined by Cromwell’s Anthony Puntiel as three of the ten new players from the state of Connecticut that will be joining the Blue Devils as scholarship recipients or preferred walk-ons.
Mozzicato Nets 30 in Eagles Basketball Victory
Mike Mozzicato scored 30 points in Wethersfield’s 64-50 win over New Britain last Wednesday night, improving the Eagles to 9-6. The 15-point win was the team’s second consecutive victory, also defeating Platt 75-69 the previous week.
The team plays the next two on the road, starting at Maloney this Fri, Feb 10 at 6:45 p.m. They return home to finish the regular season with two straight at WHS, including the regular season finale against Newington on Tue, Feb 21 at 6:45 p.m.
Head coach Josh Dinerman dug deep into his bench last Tuesday night, allowing everyone but the team manager to score during Rocky Hill’s 87-57 conquest over Platt at RHHS.
The win improved the Terriers to 9-3 and it was their second victory over the Meriden-based Panthers, also winning 80-76 back on Dec 23.
“We really stepped up offensively verse their pressure. If we just share the basketball and not turn it over, we get good shots and we can capitalize. Defensively was what I was really happy with. They [Platt] are very athletic and very active and have some guys that can really play. It was about shell defense and rebounding the basketball, so we could get out in transition,” Dinerman said following the victory, which snapped a two-game losing skid. “After back to back losses, you just have to stop the bleeding and guys have to step up and play defense. We had to play disciplined basketball and just come out here and defend our home court, and have some fun.”
A dozen different players broke into the scoring column in the lopsided victory, led by team captain Alex Sikorski, who casually pumped in 18 points.
“It’s a division win, so it was pretty important for us. On offense we did fairly well tonight, we shared the ball and hit some shots,” said Sikorski, who knew what to expect thanks to the meeting earlier in the season, “They played a pretty good zone last time and they trapped pretty well. We were prepared for it the first time around but it was a little bit tougher, so we practiced against the zone and we were prepared for their traps tonight. I think we did pretty well with everything tonight.”
Sikorski is the the team’s leading scorer and main setup man this season, delivering several crisp passes to cutting teammates in the 30-point victory.
His coach sees significant development from Sikorski, both as a player and as a teammate.
“He’s playing like an all-state player right now and it’s not just performing. It’s more about the leadership and it’s more about demanding the basketball and knowing where to put guys. He’s growing up and his body is too. He put on 20 pounds of muscle and now he can handle playing the full game.”
The senior scored eight in the opening quarter. Junior teammate Will White led all scorers with nine on a trio of long range, high-arching threes. The duo’s production helped provide the home team a 25-15 advantage after the first eight minutes.
Rocky Hill’s first quarter offensive output was just the beginning of a well-balanced night of scoring. They added 19 in both the second and third quarter, and 24 in the final stanza.
In the fourth quarter alone, nine separate Terriers contributed, including senior JD Monaco, who scored four his eight in the final quarter.
Late in the third quarter, the visiting Panthers narrowed the margin to ten, but an unlikely scoring threat sparked a 17-0 run for the home team.
Sophomore Ethan Jowdy, who is attempting to fill the large shoes of injured middleman Dan Tonna, scored 10 points during the game-deciding spurt. He also had the tough assignment of trying to contain Platt’s center Anthony Forbes, who led the Panthers with 14 points.
“He really hasn’t had the chance to show what he could do yet, but tonight he definitely proved it. He made some shots and got some big rebounds,” Sikorski said of Jowdy.
“He was swing guy. He was playing some JV and I told him varsity only tonight,” Dinerman added, “He went out there and did his job. He ran the floor and he’s a very good offensive player. We’ve got to bring him along defensively and he knows that, but he’s just giving the effort and he’s learning as he goes.”
Fellow sophomore Riley Donovan also canned a pair of threes during the run and scored eight of his nine points in the second half. The underclassman fits in perfectly and has a pass-first mentality, dishing out a handful of assists, including a pair of perfect passes in the game’s opening minutes to Andrew MiMatteo, who helped lighten the scoring load with a dozen points.
Donovan adds even more versatility to an already versatile lineup.
“He’s been starting most of the year and he’s super athletic. The first couple of games this year he started off a little slow, but now he’s getting into his groove,” stated Dinerman, “He’s one of the best defenders in the CCC. He’s long, he’s athletic, and he’s super active, and now he’s comfortable in the offense.”
Sikorski has also reached a great comfort level within the offense and is the undoubted catalyst of an offense averaging nearly 64 points per game over the first dozen contests.
“As a captain I feel like everyone can come to me for help and I can help out,” said Sikorski, “If I’m not able to get a shot, I love passing the ball to my teammates and helping them get open. I love sharing and just making our offense work.”
With the injury to Tonna, the team will be relying even more on Sikorski and the team’s ability to share the rock heading into the stretch run of the regular season.
“We’re not a super big team, but all these guys can share the basketball and we have Alex leading the team. All the teams are keying on him, so it does leave a lot of other guys open and sets them up,” added Dinerman, “We’re all about making the extra pass and sharing the basketball. We’re a tough guard if we’re sharing the ball.”
Following the victory, the Terriers had a full week off before their next game. The extra time allowed the coaching staff and players to polish up the things they do well and to work on their deficiencies.
“I think it’s a great time to have a week to practice and fine-tune things,” stated Dinerman, “We’ll definitely work on rebounding and free throw shooting, and we could always improve our spacing and organization. Also we can get some guys healthy, we’re kind of banged up and it’s going to be a great week to see how these guys improve and we can throw in some wrinkles for the second half of the season.”
Sports Around Town
Panthers Basketball Sweeps Portland
Both the Cromwell boys (65-58) and girls (64-20) defeated Portland on the hardwood last Tuesday night.
Noah Budzik scored 17 points and Austin Roy tallied 15 more, improving the boys to 7-5 and snapping a four-game losing streak. Sean Melaven and Will Moore each chipped in with 10 points apiece and the duo combined for 14 rebounds.
It was the third straight victory for the girls, improving their record to 12-3. Theresa Quinn hit eight of nine shots inside the arc, totaling 18 points, and Jenna Serrantino added 11 more. Geanna Williams ripped down a dozen boards in the victory.
WMRP Hockey Glides On
The Wethersfield/Middletown/Rocky Hill/Plainville co-op hockey team finished last week 8-2 after a 7-3 victory over the co-op team from Bolton/Coventry/Rockville last Friday night. Sophomore Ben Mroczka scored a pair of goals and dished out three assists, and Zac Forrest added a goal and four assists. The team is starting a four-game home stand next Mon, Feb 6 when they welcome the co-op of Enfield/East Granby/Stafford to the Newington Ice Arena for a 4:50 faceoff.
Newington Hockey Victorious
The Newington co-op team picked up their first WIN of the season, defeating the co-op of Brookfield/Bethel/Danbury 4-2 last Saturday. Alex Borselle had two goals and an assist, and Matt Lavoie and Patrick Doherty each had a goal and an assist. Goalie Adam Belair stopped 21 shots in the victory. Next up is a game with the Farmington Valley co-op this Saturday at the Newington Arena, starting at 7:40 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin