Portland High School basketball seniors and senior managers: top (l-r) Katelin Binezewski, Mia Lapinski, Samantha Lasky, Ava Hurley and Julia Capello; bottom (l-r) Allison Scott, Kendra Schoeps, Hannah Brunk, Leah May, and Tara Fitzgibbons
There was cause for celebration before, during, and after the Portland High School girls basketball team hosted Hale Ray High School last Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Prior to the game, the team honored the eight senior players and two team managers for Senior Night before the Highlanders silenced the visiting Noises from Moodus, 51-33, in front of an energetic crowd at PHS.
Once the game tipped, Portland was in complete control, jumping out to a 17-3 lead after the first quarter and upping the advantage to 31-5 at the half.
Senior captains Sam Lasky and Hannah Brunk put on a show for the packed house, dictating the tempo and contributing to a majority of the offense.
Lasky and Brunk combined for 25 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists in roughly three quarters of work.
The longtime teammates have a noticeable rapport on the court that stems from playing together throughout the years, including in summer and travel leagues.
“We know each other so well and we know where each other is on the court,” said Laske. “If she has two people on her, she sees me, and if I have two people on me, I see her.”
The link between the two senior captains has bled over into the supporting players and Brunk said that all the seniors have formed a special bond, adding, “We are not all in the same friend group, but when it comes to basketball we all come together and that’s what makes it special.”
The team’s chemistry was on full display midway through the second quarter when all five players touched the ball on a single possession, which ended with Brunk firing a laser pass to senior Leah May for a layup, making the score 26-3.
Leading by 26 points at halftime---which featured a basketball scrimmage between 5th grade teams from the local elementary schools---PHS head coach Lauren Beeler dug deep into her bench as the Highlanders continued cruised to the convincing victory over the final 16 minutes.
Once the final buzzer sounded, all eight Portland seniors scored, including an emotional basket for the team’s third captain, Ava Hurley.
Hurley tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in summer league, essentially ending her senior high school season before it even started. She hadn’t played all season, yet the other seniors were determined to get her recognized and approached Beeler the day before Senior Night, asking if Hurley could get one last moment on the court.
“When the girls asked I thought they were crazy,” said a smiling Beeler, who referred to the moment as “super special.”
The plan was to get Hurley in the game for a few moments in the first half, which Beeler did. But Hurley’s night was just beginning as the resilient senior checked back into the game late in the third. Beeler drew up a play for Hurley and she hit a shot with 1:49 left in the quarter, prompting the loudest cheers of the night.
Lasky said the moment was amazing, adding that Hurley’s dedication was unmatched, “She came to every single practice, every game, and for her to play and score was great.”
For Brunk, the moment hit close to home.
“It was emotional because I tore my ACL my sophomore year, so I missed that whole season. The only thing that got me through was everyone telling me ‘you’re a sophomore’ and I knew I would get more years,” recalled Brunk. “So when [Ava] got hurt I thought that was it for her and seeing her out there was amazing. She is an amazing leader and I know how much she wanted to be out there on the court”
Fittingly, the eight seniors accounted for all the 51 of the Highlanders points on Senior Night. Lasky (16), Brunk (9), Tara Fitzgibbons (7), Kendra Schoeps (6), May (4), Allison Scott (4), Mia Lapinski (3), and Hurley (2).
The win qualified the team for the Class S tournament, which seemed like a pipe dream after suffering an eight-game losing streak early in the season.
“We were falling apart and I turned to [the players] and I said it was up to them. They had that players-only meeting and things have just gotten progressively better,” recalled Beeler.
Momentum shifted following a 46-point loss to East Hampton on Jan. 21, dropping the team to 1-8. Following the loss, the Highlanders won five of the next eight games to wrap up a date in the postseason.
Lasky said the turnaround happened after the team started with better communication and chemistry, adding, “We’ve had long talks about what we could do better as a team and we’ve worked together. We tried to work on specific things as individuals and as a team. The big thing was starting it at practice. If you do it at practice you are going to do it in a game.”
During the players-only meeting, the three captains spoke openly about what needed to change.
Brunk credited the team’s confidence, saying the team needed to be more supportive, “We said that if someone misses a shot at practice, you still cheer for them. Encourage everyone at practice, because if you’re not encouraging they might not have that confidence and right after that a lot of girls started to step out of their comfort zone and gained a lot more confidence.”
During the fourth quarter, the seniors each checked out of the game to the applause from the supportive fans. Several younger players earned valuable playing time over the final eight minutes as the seniors cheered them on from the bench.
Freshman Morganne Pineda, who has been a big part of the rotation this year, along with sophomores Isabelle McClelland and Jamison Lasky (Sam Lasky’s sister) all played well in the second half.
Beeler said it was nice to see both her seniors get honored and allow the future stars of the program to gain some valuable minutes.
“They trust each other now,” Beeler added. “Our seniors have really stepped up.”
Hannah Brunk hugs Ava Hurley after Hurley scored in the third quarter. It was Hurley’s first game since tearing her ACL in summer league.
Portland Cheerleader Sierra Koss & RHAM junior / ski racer Brady Lalonde
Sierra Koss – Portland High School (Cheerleading): Koss became the first Portland High cheerleading to be selected All-State since 2015, earning the recognition by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA). Koss, who is the team’s only senior, said she feels “very honored”, adding that she was supported by some incredible teammates this year, saying, “Luckily I had two juniors with me that helped me on this journey because we had a very new team with a lot of incoming freshman and even sophomores that were new. There’s a lot that goes into cheer, so it was really nice to have that time with them and the help. I think our season went very well.” Following graduation, Koss will attend the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.
Brady Lalonde - RHAM High School (Ski Racing): Lalonde, who races for an independent ski team, recently placed 6th overall for the state, qualifying him for the state of Connecticut squad that will compete regionally. The RHAM junior will be one of a dozen boys skiing for Team Connecticut at the Eastern High School State Alpine Championships in New Hampshire. Lalonde and the team will be representing Nutmeg State as they compete at Attitash Mountain in Bartlett, NH from March 3-6.
Nicholas Rivard-Lentz - East Hampton High School (Track & Field): Rivard-Lentz finished 2nd at the State Open in the pole vault, reaching a height of 13-00.00 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center on Feb. 19. The senior was following up his Class S championship on Feb. 12 when he easily downed the competition by over a foot, defeating second-placed finishers Gage Rovelli of Coginchaug and Jason Ouellette of Seymour.
Marissa Nudd - Bacon Academy (Basketball): Nudd combined for 45 points and 15 rebounds as the Bobcats earned a pair of Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC) tournament wins over Norwich Free Academy (NFA) and Waterford last week. The junior scored 20 points and hauled down seven rebounds in a 54-25 quarterfinals win over NFA on Feb. 17 and then netted 25 points (10-10 from the free throw line) and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 56-47 win over Waterford in the semifinal round on Feb. 19.
To nominate some for an Athlete of the Week or with any questions or comment on sports-related topics, email Josh Howard at email@example.com
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out wrestling competition in the state a year ago and last weekend Connecticut crowned high school wrestling champions for the first time since February of 2020.
RHAM High School placed 4th overall at the Class M Championships held at East Haven High School on Feb. 18 and 19, taking home two second-place finishes, three fourth-place finishes, and a pair of fifth-place finishes.
Senior Zackary Kanaitis (138 lbs.) and Jeremy Devine (160 lbs.) each made it to their respective title matches, both finishing 2nd. Ben Fournier (106 lbs.), Kyle Currier (126 lbs.), and Thomas Paneccasio (195 lbs.) each took home 4th place, and Gavin Ploude (120 lbs.) and Michael Marques (182 lbs.) each won their 5th place matches.
In the Class S finals, held at Killingly High School on Feb. 18 and 19, Bacon Academy High School placed 9th overall and Portland High School placed 11th overall.
Bobcats’ senior Carson Brown (152 lbs.) made the championship match, finishing 2nd. Dominic Colella (126 lbs.) and Aaron Running (170 lbs.) each won their 3rd place matches, and Denali Collins (285 lbs.) placed 6th.
Highlanders’ junior Spencer Rosado (138 lbs.) and senior Owen Brunk (220 lbs.) each won their 3rd place matches. Andrew Johnson (170 lbs.) placed 5th and Griffin Shafer (126 lbs.) placed 6th.
The top six from each division and weight class will compete in the State Open, slated for Feb. 25 and 26 at the Floyd Little Activity Center in New Haven. Following the State Open, the qualifying wrestlers will compete in the New England Championships in Rhode Island on March 4 and 5.
Madison Rhodes, Emily Sousa, and Bridget Russ - Cheerleading (Cromwell): Rhodes, Sousa, and Russ were selected All-State and then the Cromwell cheer team won the 2021-2022 Shoreline Cheerleading Competition. The Panthers finished as the runner-up in 2020 (the last time cheerleading conference champions were held) and this winter they leapfrogged East Hampton, who had won the previous two conference crowns. Rhodes is one of three seniors, along with Rebecca Lewis and Makaela Wasik on the Panthers cheer squad, while Sousa and Russ are juniors who will be back next year.
Mazur Twins - Wethersfield (Ice Hockey): Ryan and Shane Mazur, twin brothers on the WHS ice hockey team, combined for three goals in the third period as the Eagles downed Glastonbury 6-1 on Feb. 19. Ryan scored two goals and Shane netted a third in the final period, adding to previous goals scored by Colby Quinn, Jay Socha, and Jack Millen as Wethersfield improved to 12-3-2, which is the third-best winning percentage in Division II.
Will Lubas - Newington (Swim & Dive): Lubas won the 500 meters as the Nor’easters defeated Rocky Hill in the pool during a pivotal conference meet on Feb. 15. Lubas was joined by Michael Bohlke (100 freestyle) and Bryce Turner (100 breaststroke) for individual wins in the meet and both medley relay teams at Newington also took first place to preserve the win over the Terriers.
Eamon Burke - Xavier (Track & Field): Burke had an incredible State Open, winning the 1000 meters with a blistering time of 2:33.67, defeating Tyler Bartlett of Fairfield Ludlowe. The senior then anchored the 1600 Sprint Medley team---combining with Owen Peska, Owen Miller, and Chase Vitale---as the Falcons held off runner-up Prince Tech by nearly two seconds. Xavier finished sixth overall at the competition held at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven on Feb. 19.
Bela Cucuta - Newington (Basketball): Cucuta had her most productive week as a high school basketball player, scoring 52 points in three games last week for the Nor’easters. The prolific freshman scored 15 in a win over Wethersfield to close out the regular season last Monday, 22 points in a Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) tourney victory over Bristol Eastern on Thursday, and 15 more points in the CCC quarterfinals victory over Enfield on Saturday.
Local Wrestlers Shine at States
COVID wiped out wrestling competition in the state a year ago and last Saturday Connecticut crowned high school wrestling champions for the first time since February of 2020.
Xavier High School took home the Class L title, besting runner-up by 84 points (318.5 - 234.5) on Feb. 19.
The Middletown-based Falcons had five wrestlers place first, four place second, and two place third.
Raekwon Shabazz (106 lbs.) defeated Alex Oberc of New Milford, Maximus Morse (113 lbs.) took down Griffin Devivo of Simsbury, Jackson Heslin (120 lbs.) won a decision over William Hamilton of Bristol Central), Dylan Levesque (138 lbs.) defeated Marc Maurath of Newtown, and Thomas Lunt (220 lbs.) took down James Duhancik of Stratford to earn individual championships for Xavier
Middletown High’s Jesse Baldwin (170 lbs.) earned a Class L state championship by defeating John Portley of Daniel Hand.
Also in Class L, Wethersfield’s Tyler Burgos (285 lbs.) placed third, besting Begench Benny Kulyyev of Simsbury, and Newington’s Tito Cruz (152 lbs.) placed fourth.
In Class S, Cromwell’s Matt Gish (152 lbs.) had a fourth place showing. Rocky Hill had five wrestler place with Chris Adamcyzk (220 lbs.) finishing fourth, Tyler Brodeur (120 lbs.) beat Ryan Taggart of Ledyard for fifth place, Ethan Lachnitch (160 lbs.) also placed fifth by defeating Caleb Ives of Stafford, and Nathan Gamache (170 lbs.) rounded out the Terriers productive day with a sixth place finished.
Next up for the qualifying wrestlers is the State Open on Feb. 25 and 26 at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven.
Middletown High School senior Tyah Pettaway pictured with her family after she scored her 1,000th career point in a win over Lew Mills on Feb. 14
Last Monday, Middletown High School’s Tyah Pettaway had a Valentine’s Day she will never forget.
Pettaway scored her 1,000th career point in high school and was one of a half dozen senior basketball players recognized as the Blue Dragons celebrated Senior Night by beating the visiting Spartans of Lewis Mills, 64-36, in front of a packed house of family and friends at Middletown High School.
“It was a really great experience, a great feeling,” Pettaway said of the accomplishment. “I still can’t believe it; it took a lot of hard work.”
Pettaway’s memorable milestone took center stage before, during, and after the game, which clinched a Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) South divisional title for the Middletown, who finished the regular season 18-2.
Middletown head coach Rob Smernoff has a deep, experienced group who he referred to as his “Super Six” seniors. Pettaway, Shadae Bushay, Bryonna Bell, Alexa DeSena, Kaila Torres, and Jenaya Salafia make up the six seniors guiding the ship this winter.
“They get along off the court and when a team gets along off the court they get along on the court. They just trust each other,” said Smernoff.
Pettaway was aggressive from the opening tip, scoring her first points within five seconds when Bushay grabbed the opening tip and tossed it ahead to Pettway for an uncontested layup.
Bushay and Pettaway traded buckets for most of the first half, scoring 32 of the Blue Dragons 44 first-half points.
After playing together for the past four years, the two prolific scorers complement each other’s strengths.
Bushay, who leads the entire state in steals with 5.6 per game and is the team’s leader in rebounds with 6.5 per game, is also close to reaching that 1,000-point plateau.
“If we would have played a regular season last year she would have gotten 1,000. If she doesn't end up getting it, it’s only because we lost out on games. She can’t control that we only had a 12-game season last year,” Smernoff said of Bushay, who is averaging 15.5 points per game. “She is just a great all-around player.”
In the win over Lewis Mills, Middletown jumped out to a 12-2 lead within the first three minutes with Pettaway, Bushay, and Torres each scoring four points.
Pettaway, who scored 19 points in the first half as the Blue Dragons held a 44-21 lead at the break, broke the four-digit scoring barrier with 7:19 left in regulation when she drove around two defenders and hit a running bank shot from the left side.
“I was actually surprised when it banked in,” recalled a smiling Pettaway, who finished with a game-high 26 points.
A timeout allowed Pettaway to be honored with her family at center court for a mini ceremony to recognize her 1,000th point.
“She’s worked so hard. The most impressive thing with Tyah is that every year she gets better. Every year at the end of the year we give players things to work on and she not only works on those but also works on five other things,” said Smernoff. “She worked some much on her left hand where she is better going left sometimes more than right even though she is right handed. I’d like to say it’s coaching but at the end of the day it’s hard work.
Pettaway credited her success with her countless hours in the gym over the past four years.
“I remember my freshman year I really didn’t have a good year but I learned from other players,” recalled Pettway. “I worked really hard; it took a lot of sacrifice.”
She added that her development is also a credit to her teammates, “We have a very tight bond together. We play well on the court together and play hard together.”
Bushay had 19 points, seven rebounds, and five steals in the regular season finale. Torres added six points and a game-high eight rebounds.
The victory over Lewis Mills was the team’s 11th straight to close out the regular season. Three days later, the Blue Dragons were upset by Conard in the opening round of the CCC tourney on Feb. 17.
They now turn their attention to the Class LL tournament, starting March 1. Middletown finished the regular season tied for the second-best winning percentage (.900) in Class LL, trailing only Enfield who finished 19-1.
Smernoff wants to see his team sure up a few areas before the state tourney tips off.
“[The players] trust each other and that’s the key,” said Smernoff. “If we can buckle down on the defensive end and rebound, we feel confident. We feel like we can score 60 every game, so we just need to play good defense.”
It doesn’t matter if the girls track & field team at Glastonbury High School is inside or outside—chances are they will win a championship.
The Guardians followed up a Class LL outdoor championship in the spring with another title this winter, winning the Class LL Indoor Track & Field Finals on Feb. 11 at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven.
“This is a hard working group. They are there for each other and don’t take anything for granted,” said head coach Brian Collins. “They want to do the best they can and they want to see their teammates do the best that they can.”
From start to finish the Guardian delivered, tallying 91.50 points and scoring in 12 of the 15 events. They literally and figuratively ran away with the competition, besting runner-up Danbury by nearly 30 points.
“We have a very good blend of talented young ladies, who are similar but different,” added Collins. “They come from different grades and from different areas—as far as sprints, distance, throws, and jumps—but they all come together. We covered all the areas. Those fifth or sixth place finishes really add up.”
Freshman Brooke Strauss and junior Zoe Spann-McDonald earned individual championships during the meet.
Strauss won the 1000 meters (2:58.32), and also finished as the runner-up in the 1600 meters and 3200 meters. Spann-McDonald won the 55 meter hurdles.
Captains Molly Harding, Meghan Smith, Annika Hurley, and Ava Gattinella were major contributors on spring’s outdoor championship and were the guiding voices for the indoor team this winter.
Harding was new to the 55 meters, yet still placed as the runner-up in the championship meet, running a 7.40. After battling injuries last spring, she was happy to be back on the track.
“In outdoor I was injured for most of the season, so I didn’t get that opportunity and I feel like coming back my senior year I wanted to show the freshmen and underclassmen, as well as my peers, how to work hard and how to train. I wanted to be a good influence to them and someone they can look up to in the sport,” said Harding, who will run track at Yale University. “Across the board we are strong and our relays are strong. We can throw any combination of girls into any meet and can come out on top or close to on top. That’s really special.”
Smith was part of a talented group of GHS athletes who ran the 600 meters at the meet. Annika Paluska finished fifth, Smith sixth, and Alexandra Edwards was seventh in the event.
Smith said the group is hard working and challenges each other, “We spend a lot of time together because meets are super long and we practice every day for about two hours.
It’s important to put in the work at practice because your times get better.”
Hurley specializes in the 3200 meters, placing 12th at the meet. Strauss (2nd), Lucy Bergin (7th) and Olivia Dickson (14th), and Sarah Ongley (21st) also placed in the event.
The distance running group consists of many of the same names and faces that helped GHS capture a Class LL cross country crown this past fall.
“We almost always come with a strong distance group.” said Hurley, who added she liked training with a mixed group, “We get to work out with the sprinters, the jumpers, the throwers, and when everybody gets together it makes a really strong group. It’s a cool experience.”
Gattinella, a sophomore, is the only captain who isn’t a senior. She finished three spots behind Strauss in the 1000 meters, placing fourth. She was one of three Guardians runners to earn points in the event. Jackie Dudus (6th place) was the other.
Because indoor competition was halted last year due to Covid-concerns, Gattinella had only competed in outdoor running events at the high school prior to this winter.
“It was new running indoors, but I think I adjusted pretty quickly and I relied on my teammates. It took a few meets to adjust and after a little bit I got used to it,” said Gattinella, who added the closeness of the team helped the transition too.
Other GHS athletes to accumulate points during the class meet were Sarah Christina, who finished 4th in the pole vault, and Kate DeSousa, who placed fifth in the high jump.
The Guardians 4x200 relay team (Harding, Hannah Caiola, Riley Carroll, and Alayna Taylor) finished second and the 1600 sprint medley (Caiola, Carroll, Taylor, and Kelley MacElhiney) placed third.
The class championship was preceded by a Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) championship, which the Guardians dominated, beating second place Bloomfield by 55 points (126.5 - 71.5) to win conference title on Feb. 6.
Because of renovations and construction on the field house at GHS, the Guardians only had one meet at home this season. The home meet allowed the team to celebrate Senior Night, recognizing 13 seniors in a win over Windsor.
The meet also provided an opportunity for the younger athletes to showcase their skills at the home venue.
Collins said the team normally has four or five home meets, but the Windsor meet was the only opportunity to see the team’s depth, adding, “That meet was nice because we got a chance to see what they can do in competition rather than just practice. We find a lot of diamonds in the rough during a meet like that.”
The seniors also enjoyed the opportunity to cheer on the next generation.
“For the athletes that are on varsity we get to go to meets every week and compete but the best part was seeing the kids that may not have made it to that level getting an opportunity to compete,” said Hurley. “They come to practice, they put in the work every single day, and they show up. They deserved a chance, so I think that was special.”
Smith added, “It was nice because it was our Senior Day. Last year didn’t work out because of Covid, so it was great to have everyone in the gym to celebrate our seniors.”
All told, the team won every regular season meet before cruising to conference and state titles.
For Collins, who coaches cross country and both track teams, it’s yet another banner year.
“It’s a caring group. They don't rest on their laurels or worry about what happened last year,” said Collins. “Every day they competed and they earned this.”
Harding added, “Obviously the goal is winning and I feel like that is a cherry on top to have that championship and get those medals, but I feel like collectively our efforts together reflect more than just a state championship.”
GHS Ski Team Solid at States
GHS Ski Race Captains (l-r) Ryan Murphy, Ella McKee, Katie Murphy, Sara Wertsching, and Matt Bulger
Glastonbury High School ski racing wrapped up the program’s 20th season as a varsity sport as both the boys and girls had respectable showing at the Class L finals at Mount Southington on Feb. 10.
The girls finished in 4th place amongst the Class L teams competing as seniors Katie Murphy and Sara Wertsching led the team, finishing in 18th and 21st place respectively of the 167 girls racing.
Murphy and Wertsching captained the girls, along with fellow senior Ella McKee.
Head coach Tom Zelek said the three were positive examples on and off the mountain, with Murphy and Wertsching leading by example and McKee being an uplifting voice for the team even during practice and conditioning.
“We don’t pick captains on ability, we pick captains on how they can help the team,” said Zelek. “They were all excellent captains.”
Freshman Ainsley Latz and Eva Gilberto were also incredibly dependable, both skiing well at the Class L championship.
“Ainsley was a pleasant surprise for us. She was our third fastest girl this season,” said Zelek,” Eva was amazingly consistent. She came in fourth for our team in every race.”
The boy’s team had their four top racers competing as individuals. Freshman Alex Bulger finished in 11th place overall amongst the 195 racers competing. Junior Nate Zimbelman, along with senior co-captains Ryan Murphy and Matt Bulger also performed well.
Zelek said his captains were “very supportive of the younger kids”, adding that there was healthy competition among the team with Zimbelman and Ryan Murphy pushing each other during every race.
There was also the family aspect as Katie and Ryan Murphy are twins and Alex and Matt Bulger are brothers, who Zelek said had “a good, friendly sibling rivalry.”
The brothers, who are four years apart, took turns as the team’s top finisher in each of their five meets this season.
Zelek launched the ski club at GHS in 1999, which eventually turned into an official varsity sport during the 2001-2002 school year.
The program has grown over the last two decades and usually fields around 40 kids but this year was a down year numbers-wise with only 23 skiers coming out (14 boys and 9 girls).
Zelek hopes that number increases next winter, adding, “We are always looking for people. Anybody can pick up a basketball and play basketball or pick up a baseball and go to a field, but with skiing there aren’t a lot of opportunities and for those kids out there that are excellent skiers. They don't realize they can join the team and become fantastic ski racers. You can’t go to a mountain and have a course set up, that just doesn’t exist, so these kids get that opportunity.”
He added, “All you have to do is be someone that can put on skis and get down the hill. We don’t cut anybody. You don’t have to have any experience.”
With [Alex] Bulger and Zimbelman returning on the boys’ side and Latz and Gilberto slated to return for the girls, the Guardians are in good shape going into next year.
Overall, Zelek was pleased with how year 20 turned out.
“Our skiers represented Glastonbury admirably and worked hard to continuously improve their technique and therefore their times. All season we had a great group of senior captains that worked well with each other and their teammates. They were instrumental in providing superb leadership and excellent examples for our underclassmen both on and off the snow,” stated Zelek. “I couldn’t be prouder of both our teams and am delighted with their commitment to each other and their sport.”
Local Ninja Set to Take on World
9-year old Sebastian Robotin qualified for the World Finals, set for April, in the National Ninja League
Sebastian Robotin, a nine-year-old who attends Gildersleeve Elementary, is a fast rising Ninja Warrior who recently qualified for the World Finals in the National Ninja League (NNL).
The young ninja competed at the Regional Championships at Centercourt in Lawrence, New Jersey on Feb. 13. His performance qualified him for the World Finals in North Carolina this spring. He is currently the #13 ranked ninja in the New England region and #15 ranked in the world in his age group (9-10 years old).
Last year, while competing in the 6-8 age division, he was #1 Ninja in the World, according to the points standing. He also competed in the FINA (Federation of International Ninja Athletics) World Finals in October 2021 in Buffalo, NY, coming in 2nd in the world for speed and 3rd for endurance in his age group.
Robotin is also a climber and competed in the USA Climbing Region 91 regionals in New York City, finishing 8th overall in a deep field, featuring kids 6-11 years old.
Climbing is a major aspect of competing in the NNL, which combines strength, flexibility, agility, and speed as participants navigate through a series of obstacles. The sport was made famous by the American Ninja Warrior, which has been broadcast on NBC television since 2012.
Robotin became immediately attracted to the exhilarating sport while watching the show and began to train in Windsor. Once he started competing, he quickly moved up the ranks thanks to his background in rock climbing and additional training in gymnastics and parkour.
He now trains at a state-of-the-art gym in Danbury and constantly works on his craft at home. The family home in Portland has a training gym inside and an outside training course, equipped with many of the challenges he faces on professional courses.
His mom, Monica Robotin, said that he son would practice all day if he could, adding, “the ninja life is his life.”
The World Games are slated to take place at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, NC on the first weekend in April, 1-3.
Here are the Rivereast Standout Athletes of the Week for the week of Feb. 7-13:
Ben Fournier - RHAM High School (Wrestling): Fournier took home a Central Connecticut Conference crown in his weight division (106 lbs.), pinning Mason Arborio of Berlin in the championship match. The sophomore was one of three Raptors to take home wins, joining senior Zackary Kanaitis (145 lbs.), who pinned London Vieira of Berlin, and junior Jeremy Devine (160 lbs.), who pinned Gabriel Hernandez of Plainville. RHAM finished third overall as a team at the conference championships held at Simsbury High School on Feb. 12.
Sam Lasky - Portland High School (Basketball): Lasky had 15 points, eight rebounds, and blocked two shots as Portland defeated Old Saybrook 51-32 on Feb. 8. The senior, along with Hannah Brunk, dominated the middle for the Highlanders, who earned their third win in five games. Brunk, also a senior, finished the game with 15 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Kaylee Gravel - East Hampton High School (Indoor Track): Gravel captured the title in the 1000m meters and finished third in the 1600 meters at the Class S Indoor Track & Field Championships on Feb. 12. The senior ran a 3:11.78 to easily win the 1000m championship, besting runner-up Madelein Morjado of Old Lyme by nearly eight seconds. East Hampton’s Brylee Montanari (55 meter hurdles) also took home an individual championship and the Bellringers finished in second place overall at the competition, which was held at Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven.
Katelyn Novak - Bacon Academy High School (Basketball): Novak, a freshman, scored a career-high 14 points as the Bobcats chopped down Woodstock Academy 66-26 on Feb. 12. The game was Senior Night for the Bobcats, who honored the team’s three seniors: Valerie Luizzi, Emma Mancuso, and Ashley Lizotte. Luizzi tied for a team-high with 14 points and had nine rebounds. Mancuso chipped in six points, eight rebounds, and five blocks as the Bobcats improved to 17-2.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin