Wethersfield's Nicole Gwynn broke the program's all-time scoring record during the Eagles 63-55 win over Newington on Feb 18
Senior Nicole Gwynn became the all-time leading scorer in the history of Wethersfield girls’ basketball on the same night that the Eagles outlasted neighboring Newington, 63-55, at NHS to close out the regular season.
A fourth-quarter free throw from Gwynn increased her career point total to 1,459, surpassing the scoring mark previously held by 2010 graduate Abigail Corning.
“If I got it during the regular season then I got it, but I wasn’t like I had to get it,” said Gwynn, who also surpassed the 1,000-career-point plateau against rival Newington last season, “But it feels nice to get it out of the way before the tournament.”
Wethersfield head coach Jeff Russell said that Gwynn wasn’t concerned about the record, “She didn’t talk about it and that’s the type of player that she is. When she’s on the court, she’s dialed in.”
Russell was minus two key pieces in senior guard Isabella Samse (flu) and sophomore forward Alexa Grenier (injury), yet that didn’t stop the Eagles from executing a nearly flawless first half of basketball.
Wethersfield hit their first four shots, jumping out to a 16-3 lead before increasing the margin to 25-9 after the first quarter.
“Nicole’s job tonight early on was to get our team involved, get players hot, take advantage of mismatches, and she did that,” added Russell.
The offensive fireworks continued, and the lead ballooned to 43-20 at the half.
Freshman Vanessa Venditti picked up the scoring load, scoring all 14 of her points over the first 16 minutes.
“Vanessa got going. She stepped up and hit some big shots,” stated Russell, who was Venditti’s Physical Education teacher in middle school, “She came in 7th grade with as much swagger and as much moxie as any kid that I’ve ever met. Confidence just kind of melts out of her. She’s a kid who knows the next shot is going in no matter what and because of that she always plays with confidence, always plays with rhythm, and she’s a big stage kid. It showed tonight.”
Newington came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the third quarter, scoring 15 of the first 17 points, including a dozen straight.
Ashanti Frazier, who led all scorers with a season-high 28 points, fueled the ferocious comeback on both ends of the court and sophomore guard Adriana Romano found creases in Wethersfield’s defense, scoring 9 of her 14 points in the third quarter.
“I told them that it was a matter of want and a matter of heart,” Newington head coach Marc Tancredi said of his halftime speech, “We didn’t show that in the first half and then we did in the second half. It was a mix of emotions for me. I was disappointed in our first half effort and extremely proud of the effort in the second half, but you have to put 32 minutes together.”
Russell knew the Indians were capable of making a second-half rally, “We talked about basketball being a game of runs and no team makes more runs than Newington. They have too many good basketball players, high basketball IQs, and a great coaching staff. We knew we weren’t just going to walk out of here”
After trailing by as many as 24 points, Newington narrowed the gap to as little as six (59-53) on Karissa Zocco’s long range three late in regulation.
But it was Gwynn and Alice Kelly who sealed the deal with tough buckets and clutch free throws in the closing minutes.
“We knew we really needed this one,” said Kelly, who led the team with 25 points--including 8 in the fourth, “We’ve had our ups and downs the past couple of weeks, so we were ready for this one.”
Gwynn and Kelly scored all 20 of Wethersfield’s points in the second half and combined for 21 rebounds in the win. The two, who are half of the team’s seniors along with Samse and Grace Conneely, both said that games like this can help prepare them for the upcoming state tournament.
“It lets us know that we can play in any situation, like playing under pressure. We like playing like that,” said Kelly.
Gwynn added, “We needed this going into the tournament because you can get down in the tournament. We can practice what we did wrong in the third quarter so we can go further in the state tournament.”
Despite now feeling well, Samse had a Willis Reed-moment in the third quarter when she entered the game to provide the Eagles a much-needed spark. Shortly after Samse stepped on the court, Kelly broke Newington’s 12-point scoring run with a three-point play, increasing the lead to 45-33.
It epitomized the toughness and determination which has defined this current group of seniors at Wethersfield.
“They started this program as much as I did. Their first year was my first year so we’ve all grown together and now we have four years under our belts,” said Russell, who became the coach in 2016, “We joke about how we don’t feel like they’re seniors yet, but the way they speak to the team, the way they speak in meetings, the way they practice---you can tell they’re seniors.”
Under Russell, the current senior class has increased their win total every season (13 to 14 to 15 to 16), which includes a trip to the state semifinals two years ago.
Kelly and her senior mates recognize this March is a final shot at a title, “It’s been very special. The four on us have been together since fifth or sixth grade and we know that it’s now or never.”
For Newington, it was only their third loss of the season but the second to Wethersfield, also falling 56-40 at WHS on Jan 24.
“Wethersfield is a tough matchup for us. We’ve struggled with them and that showed in the first half. We showed resiliency but we have to play better for 32 minutes,” reiterated Tancredi, who has led the Indians to back-to-back 17-win regular seasons, “It’s about consistency and we have to show that every game, and for the most part we have been consistent so I can’t be too disappointed, but we want to get to that championship caliber where we don’t have these lulls.”
During their 17-3 regular season, Newington showed they are capable on making a run, registering winning streaks of six and seven games.
“We have to move onto the next game, which is always the most important game. That’s where our focus is. We just have to get better and more forward and that’s what winning programs are all about. You don’t dwell on the past, you continue to push forward and improve.”
Frazier has supplied the offense all season, leading the team in scoring and assists, while fellow senior Sabrina Soler and junior Alexie Armour provide the Indians length down low on the defensive end, which Tancredi said is the team’s bread and butter, “We know that we’re a solid defensive team and that our defense leads to our offense. We hang our hats on that. If we have the rhythm and momentum on the defensive end, we’re able to pick it up offensively.”
With the regular season in the books, it’s now tourney time.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done throughout the season. We’ve played a very difficult schedule and we won a lot of tough games and it’s only going to get together. Now it’s the time were it’s one and done. You lose and you go home, and we need to realize that there might not be another day to play a basketball game. I think we have the capability but it’s that consistency factor and putting it together at the right time.”
Both Newington and Wethersfield were eliminated by Bloomfield in the CCC tourney and are now preparing for the Class L tournament, starting March 3rd.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Track & Field): Stockman won the 1600M and finished as the runner-up both the 1000M and 3200M at the Class M finals. The senior ended her Indoor Track season by placing third in the 3200M at the State Open, held at the Floyd Little Athletic Center last Saturday.
Clarissa Nock- Wethersfield (Track & Field): Nock won the Class L Shot Put championship, soundly defeating second place finisher Sarah Ovesny of Shelton (37-08.25 to 36-06.25). Wethersfield’s Madison Righi placed second in the Long Jump at the same event, held at the Floyd Little Athletic Center on Feb 15.
Kalil Shabazz- Middletown (Wrestling): Shabazz won the state championship in the Class L 126-pound division, defeating Michael Carpenter of Pomperaug in the title match. The senior entered the event, held at Bristol Central High School, as the #1-seed and lived up to his ranking, dominating all three opponents he faced.
Luke Fote- Newington (Swimming): Fote won both the 100 and 200 Freestyle events against rival Wethersfield, allowing the Indians to stay competitive against the Eagles at WHS. Despite the valiant efforts of Fote and his teammates, the Eagles won the meet, finishing 5-0 in conference play and winning the CCC North for a third straight season.
Justin Stergos- Cromwell (Hockey): Stergos dished out four assists, extending his seven-game point scoring streak, in Newington Co-op’s 7-0 shutout of BCLM last Saturday. The senior defenseman is the second leading scorer on an Indians team that had won 16 of 18 games entering the week.
Cromwell's Gianluca Albert is guarded by Jeremy Arnum during Valley Regional's 64-39 victory over the Panthers
Valley Regional boys’ basketball entered last Tuesday’s conference tilt at Cromwell riding a 12-game winning streak and exited CHS with a 13th straight win after topping the Panthers 64-39.
For the second time this season the Warriors’ experience lineup had too much length and strength for the young Panthers, who also lost 55-44 in Deep River on Jan 13.
“We’re just locked in on what we’re doing, which is trying to win games. It doesn’t really matter who we are playing against, if we play well, we’ll have a great chance to win a lot of ball games,” said Valley Regional’s head coach Kevin Woods, “[This] is a great rivalry. It’s been a great rivalry for the past 11 or so years and we respect them. It’s kind of like that old school Big East mentality, there’s a little extra on the line when we play.”
Woods’ team, which features five senior starters, proved to be the aggressors from start to finish.
Chris Sparaco opened the game on a personal 7-0 run---rebounding and laying up a miss, hitting a short jump hook, and finishing an old-fashioned three-point play before the Panthers were able to get on the scoreboard. The senior forward finished with a game-high 17 points to lead a balanced scoring attack.
Sparaco, Gavin Grabowski (11), Cade Ensinger (8), and freshman Jeremy Arnum (6) were four of 11 Warriors who broke into the scoring column.
John Tibbetts controlled the middle defensively, registering 10 rebounds and three block, while Ensinger added five steals.
“To start five seniors and bring four more off the bench, that was the difference tonight. You saw that experience take over down the stretch,” added Woods, who knows what it’s like to be on the losing end of this rivalry, “They’ve had our number since basically 2013. They are going to be very good in the future, they are very young. We know if we see them again it won’t be the same team we saw tonight.”
The road Warriors led 16-6 after the first quarter and never looked back.
Every time Cromwell seized some momentum, Valley would respond. Cromwell sophomore Gianluca Albert canned an off-balanced three pointer in the waning seconds of the first half but Saager Patel countered with a long three of his own as the second-quarter buzzer sounded.
“Tonight we just got physically beat up,” said Cromwell head coach John Pinone, “They took it to us and we couldn’t respond. When you’re playing a team as good as Valley you can’t play tentative and we played tentative in the first quarter. We had some wide-open looks and didn’t make the shots and when you have to play from behind against them it’s a really hard thing to do.”
Trailing 35-17 at the half, Pinone’s team began the second half on a 5-0 run thanks to a layup from James Grodzicki, following a nice feed from Nick Polizonis, and another three from Albert.
Valley again responded, scoring 10 of the next 12, which pleased Woods, “Last game we were up 18 at the half and had a letdown in the second half and we didn’t want to have another letdown tonight. They came out with a five-point swing and then we battled back and found a way to win the quarter. That’s just showing growth for what we want to do.”
Valley has solidified themselves as one of the better teams in Division V, adding a year’s worth of experience on a team that advanced to the semifinals in the 2019 state tourney.
Woods said that unselfishness has been the key to success, “The proof is in the pudding. When you’re unselfish and you’re good, people notice that. Biggest difference from last year is our ability to spread the basketball around and our defense is tremendous. Defense is the name of the game.”
Woods and his Warriors made it 14th in a row last Friday, downing Coginchaug 60-43, “We just have to continue to spread out the scoring and continue to distribute the basketball, and we’ve done a great job of that so far. We have four guys that average double digits, you don’t see that on a lot of high school programs. Our goal is to create for everybody, we don’t care who gets the credit.”
For Pinone and his Panthers, it’s back to the basics for a team that has shown some positive signs this season, winning 10 of their first 15 games.
“We’re up and down. We’re challenged in the fact that we’re not a great offensive team and tonight we weren’t a good defensive team, so we have a lot of challenges. When we’re good, we’re good but when things don’t go so well, we’re really bad.”
Albert finished with a season-high 13 points and Zykarie Wilborn added nine off the bench for the home team, which got only 10 points from their starting five.
Grodzicki and fellow junior Michael Morgan, along with senior Tyler Baldwin, have been consistent all season but all three struggled to find space against Valley’s length.
“We’re going to learn from this. Unfortunately this has happened to us before and we haven’t learned from it. When you’re playing the better teams and you don’t play hard enough or physical enough and don’t play with an edge or attitude, results like tonight happen.”
The good news is that the Panthers have already wrapped up a spot in the Division IV tournament, which starts in early March, and now it’s about rediscovering that consistency before the conference and state tourneys tip off.
Wethersfield girls basketball head coach Jeff Russell with seniors Isabella Samse, Alice Kelly, Grace Conneely, and Nicole Gwynn during the Eagles 51-27 win over Rocky Hill on Senior Night 2/13. Photo credit: Jo-Ann Campbell
Wethersfield's Colin Pace looks back at his time after winning the 500 Freestyle against Rocky Hill
Wethersfield and Rocky Hill’s swimming and diving teams had their annual dual meet last Tuesday night, which ended with the Eagles defeating the Terriers at WHS.
The Eagles, who have won the last two conference championships, are in a bit of a transition year with limited experience back in the pool, but that hasn’t stopped the team from pursuing a third straight CCC East title.
“Going from a senior class of nine to really only two retuning seniors was tough,” said Wethersfield’s longtime head coach Lee Schwartzman, “Last year’s senior class was so good and so deep, probably one of the better classes that we ever had. Four were all-state, so we lost a lot of firepower.”
Schwartzman’s two returning seniors are captains Ryan Berasi and Sam Garcia.
Garcia won the 200 Freestyle and was part of two relay teams (200-FS and 400-FS) that took first in Tuesday’s meet.
“It’s always great when you have different personalities,” Schwartzman said of his captains, “Sam is really kind of loose, likes to joke around, and Ryan is more on the serious side. It’s a good mix.”
Senior Mike Dunn, best known for his record-breaking running at WHS, is back in the pool after taking two years off as a competitive swimmer and Daniel Jimenez has joined the team for the first time as a senior.
What made last year’s senior class so successful was most were year-round swimmers, which is not the case with the team this season.
Schwartzman said he is doing more teaching than ever before, “Tanner [Bradbury] is the only one on the team that swims year-round. The season is so short, and it takes until now to be ready. Swimming unfortunately is one of those sports, if you want to be good you have to swim.”
Bradbury, a sophomore, showcased his talents against Rocky Hill, winning the 50 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly.
Schwartzman also praised sophomore distance swimmers Colin Pace and Jack Lynch, who finished first and second in the 500 Freestyle.
“Jack and Colin have taken a big step forward. Jack scored some really important points against E.O. Smith in the 200 free. It’s fun to see those two be competitive. They’re best friends and they’re both in my lane 3-4 group, which is the group that is working the hardest all the time.”
Schwartzman also likes the development of junior Declan Hallinan, sophomore Jack Kulpa, and his three freshman---Noah Breard, Kevin Peling, and Owen Powers, who have been thrust into the spotlight out of necessity this season.
Veteran diver Brian Puglielli gives the team an extra advantage. The junior finished sixth overall in the Class M finals a year ago and is even better this season, tallying an overall score of 230.50 against the Terriers.
Despite the new faces in the pool, Schwartzman still expects the young team to compete at a high level, “I don’t believe in rebuilding year and I except us to be good every year, but it is always nice when you know you’re not going to lose a ton of kids after the season. I always like to plan for three years out.”
On the other side of the pool, Rocky Hill was competitive against Wethersfield and have shown a lot of promise this season.
“I think they swam very well. I had some best times, I had some times that were very close to best times,” Rocky Hill head coach Lisa Cooney said of Tuesday’s performances, “We’ve been battling the flu since before Christmas so a lot of them are just on the mend.”
Like Schwartzman, Cooney doesn’t have a lot of year-round swimmer this season but she does have a deep senior class, led by the Scacca Brothers.
“This group has come together, I think they are doing great. They’re less experienced than a lot of other teams I’ve had as far as swimming outside of the high school swim season, but they are really out-swimming themselves right now. Most of the experienced swimmers have bettered what they were at the end of last season and for kids that don’t swim outside of their three months with me, they are really doing quite well.”
Brandon Scacca competed at states a year ago and has improved his times this season, including winning the 200 Individual Medley and 200 Breaststroke at Wethersfield.
“I look season to season and when I look at where he was at this time last season, he’s a couple seconds ahead of where he was. He’s hitting the times he did at champs already this season and we’re still a month away from that, so he’s a month ahead of where he was last season. “
Jay Scacca missed his junior season with a shoulder injury but has returned this season to be the team’s top 100 Butterflyer.
Cooney also noted that seniors Adam Franzen and Adam Dionne, juniors Nick Castanho and Anthony DiBlasi, and sophomore Luke Collura have all made “huge improvements” from this time last year. “They’ve stepped up their games and are doing times much better than last year.”
Jesse Gasuk, the team’s only freshman, provides the Terriers a bight future and has already qualified for states in the 50 Freestyle.
Sophomore diver Matthew Mitchell has also qualified for states and may end up breaking the school record for points in a season.
“He’s never went states before, so he’s had to learn a bunch of new dives. You only do six dives in a meet like this, but you do 11 at states, so he’s had to learn new dives to compete at that level.”
Cooney has been impressed with the team so far and is now training them to swim their best once conference and states roll around, “I tell them to have faith in me. Nobody is going to do a best time at every meet, even Michael Phelps, but as long as you’re steady throughout the meets and have faith in me that I know how to taper you for champs and states. They’re already swimming beyond where I thought we could do, so I couldn’t be more proud of them. I see a bright future”
Rocky Hill's swimming and diving team celebrates a competitive meet at WHS
Sabrina Soler- Newington (Basketball): Soler earned Player of the Game honors in Newington’s 50-39 win over Cromwell last Saturday. The senior scored 10 points, grab 7 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots as the Indians improved to 15-2 this season.
Harrison Ranger- Cromwell (Hockey): Ranger scored a pair of goals in Newington Co-op’s 3-2 overtime victory over WMRP. The freshman tallied his first multi-goal game of the season, helping the Indians rally from two goals down to defeat the rival Eagles and improve to 12-2 this season.
Trevor Piecewicz- Wethersfield (Hockey): Piecewicz scored his 100th career point in the Eagles 8-4 victory over Hall-Southington last Wednesday night. The senior defenseman is captaining a team that enters the week with a record of 12-2.
Donte Pope- Middletown (Basketball): Pope scored his 1000th career point in a loss to New Britain last Monday. The senor surpassed the milestone on a layup in the third quarter and is the leading scorer for the 11-4 Blue Dragons.
Jordan Glover- Rocky Hill (Wrestling): Glover earned a heartwarming win on Senior Night last Wednesday. The senior, who has Down syndrome, pinned Enfield’s Noah Bonini in what was both a unique act of sportsmanship from Bonini and an unforgettable final home match for Glover.
Newington coach Marc Tancredi and senior Ashanti Frazier flank an empty chair the team dedicated to Kobe Bryant during the Indians 52-29 victory over Rocky Hill last Tuesday
It was an emotional, yet celebratory night for Ashanti Frazier and the Newington girls’ basketball team, who defeated Rocky Hill 52-29 at RHHS last Tuesday night, improving the Indians to 11-2.
Frazier, who grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, was playing ger first game since the untimely passing of the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his 13-year old daughter, and seven others aboard a helicopter that crashed in California on January 26.
“He was a mentor, someone that I looked up to, someone I wanted to base my game off of. When I found out the news, I was completely distraught,” stated Frazier, who said a prayer for the entire Bryant family during a moment of silence.
Once the ball tipped, Frazier was laser-focused, attacking the basket and distributing to open teammates to combat Rocky Hill’s zone defense. The senior was efficient, hitting 7 of 11 shots, scoring 17 points and adding 6 assists, 5 steals, and one emphatic block to start the second half.
“She always wants to get her teammates involved. She wants to make plays for them to get them confident and continue to build off that confidence,” Newington head coach Marc Tancredi said of his senior star, “She could score at will, but she’s not looking to score at all times. She’s been a great floor general and has controlled the tempo for us throughout the whole season.”
Frazier hit a short jumper to start the game before dishing several crisp passes to cutting teammates, providing the road team a comfortable lead.
“My mentality is always team-first, get everyone their looks and try to get everyone playing well,” stated Frazier, “This game we started off slow, so I wanted to get everyone ready and activated to play.”
The recipient on many of Frazier’s dimes where forwards Alexie Armour and Sabrina Soler, who each scored nine and have solidified the frontline for Tancredi, “They’ve done tremendous. They’ve definitely filled that hole up, missing Olivia [St. Remy] and Maya [Gajowiak] from last year. They stepped in from day one and handle the boards for us and played well down low. I’ve been really happy with the production that they’ve had so far.”
Armour, the team’s leading rebounder, grabbed 10 more on Tuesday night.
Soler scored six of her points in the first quarter as Newington jumped out to a 20-9 lead after the first eight minutes.
The Indians pulled away in the second half thanks to a terrific defensive effort, limiting the Terriers to two points in the third quarter. Frazier set the defensive tone within the first minute of the second half when she swatted a layup attempt into the bleachers near Rocky Hill’s bench.
Tuesday’s 23-point win eased the sting of a 56-40 loss at Wethersfield in their previous game, which snapped a six-game winning streak.
“We just had to continue pushing forward and couldn’t dwell on the loss. We knew we could play a lot better and we just had to continue sticking to our principles of what we’ve done from day one,” said Tancredi, reflecting on the loss to Wethersfield.
Against Rocky Hill, Tancredi was without sharp-shooting sophomore Karissa Zocco, who is the team’s second leading scorer, “Karissa is huge for us but at the same time I was confident that we’d have other people step into that role and give us what we needed to win tonight. We’re hoping she comes back healthy, but it helped us go to our bench and get these younger girls some experience on a varsity level.”
Frazier added, “These division wins are always big so it’s important that we got this one. Wethersfield always stings a little when you lose, but I’m looking forward to playing them at the end of the season and hopefully to try and tie the division.”
The four-year starter called this season her “farewell tour”. It’s a senior season that has already been filled with plenty of memorable moments.
Frazier surpassed the career 1000-point mark in a win over East Catholic on Jan 16. She also had a game-winning shot in a victory over Windsor and a buzzer-beater to knock off Bristol Eastern earlier this season.
“Everything about this game is so special and important to me, especially wearing a Newington jersey every night. It’s just so valuable to me that I’m able to do these things every night and able to wear this jersey and represent my team.”
Her performance against Rocky Hill was the latest stop on the tour and was a little extra special because of the events that shook the entire basketball community a few days earlier.
To honor Kobe, Newington’s bench lined up an empty chair with a Lakers #24 jersey draped over the top and Frazier wrote “R.I.P. Kobe Bryant #24 #8 #10” and “R.I.P. Gigi Bryant #2” on her shoes in dedication to her idol and his daughter, Gianna.
In defeat, Rocky Hill fell to 2-11. Olivia Augeri led the Terriers with 13 points, while Aleksa Peterson added 7 and Peggy Minga scored 6. The team plays four of their final five at home, starting with Bulkeley/Weaver on Thurs, Feb 6.
Newington also plays four or the final five regular season games at home, closing with the highly anticipated rematch against Wethersfield on Tue, Feb 18.
Frazier said she’d like to see the team start faster down the stretch, “Learning to go in with a full head of steam every game. For some reason we are always a little slow before we get into our groove or we play a good first quarter and then play lackadaisical the rest of the game. We just have to go in and play our game for 32 minutes.”
“It’s just about getting better execution,” added Tancredi, “I still think we haven’t peaked and I think we can get there but it’s going to take hard work in practice and mental toughness and hopefully we can get there before the postseason.”
Newington closed the week by picking up win #12, defeating Hall 52-27 last Friday.
Frazier led the way with 19 points, eight rebounds, and three steals. Armour added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin