Just a few weeks ago, Trevor Piecewicz was a having a marvelous month.
WMPR’s star defender was honored as the Division II Defenseman of the Year, helped the program win its first ever CCC championship, and had officially committed to play collegiate hockey at Central Connecticut State University.
Following a 5-0 victory over Eastern CT in the first round of the Division II state tournament on March 9, it seemed like nothing could stop Piecewicz and the Eagles from achieving their state championship aspirations.
Then COVID-19 hit American soil and the nation grinded to a halt.
“I was at school in one of my classes, maybe five minutes before lunch, and I looked down at my phone and saw it on Twitter,” Piecewicz said about finding out that the CIAC had cancelled the remainder of the winter sport’s tournament on March 10 because of the soon-to-be pandemic, “We had a couple of the school’s other top athletes in my class, and I remember looking up at them and we told our teacher. We just had no words.”
What started as a March that he’d remember for all the right reasons had turned into a month he’d never forget for a completely different reason.
After defeating Branford (the top-seed in the Division II bracket) in the regular season and also beating rival Hall-Southington in the conference championship game, the Eagles were in prime position for a state title.
“We were coming off a great regular season. We beat Branford in overtime and we beat Lyman Hall, so we had beaten the two defending champs going into the playoffs. Also, we got knocked out of the playoffs my junior year by Hall-Southington and they beat us in the semifinals my freshman year, so to get that chance to play them again in the championship was crazy.”
The conference championship had set the stage for the state tourney, where they would blank Eastern CT in the opening round.
“We were super confident going into that first game against Eastern. They had beaten us the last time we played them, so we were going in with a chip on our shoulder. We knew what we had to do to beat them.”
“We were on such a high after that, I think at that point we had just had our 7th straight win, so we were playing great hockey and literally the next day we got the news that the tournament was cancelled.”
News of the cancellation sent shockwaves through the state.
“I sat down at lunch that day with Jack Healy and I don’t think we said a single word to each other. We both left school right after lunch and went home. The next day, me and a couple of other guys went to the CIAC protests because obviously at that time we didn’t think this was as big of a deal as it is now. It was crazy to see everybody come together like that and to see the community respond in such a big way was awesome.”
Although it wasn’t the ending that he envisioned, his four years with the program are impeccable.
As a freshman he played a key role, helping the Eagles win 17 regular season games before advancing to the state semifinals.
During his first season, he teamed with his brother Tyler, who is now a junior at the University of Connecticut.
“Playing with my brother was awesome. We grew up playing hockey and we just fell in love with it,” recalled Piecewicz, who said the brothers first started playing as young kids with their neighbors.
After losing Tyler and other key seniors, Piecewicz moved to the offensive end for the next two seasons.
He led the team in points (40) as a sophomore, dishing out 27 assists and scoring 13 goals, for an Eagles team that advanced to the quarterfinals.
As a junior he again led the team in assists, tallying 22 total points, as the team went back to the semifinals, which included an upset of top-seed Watertown-Pomperaug in the quarterfinals.
After a pair of semifinal defeats and a quarterfinals exit, Piecewicz knew the 2019/2020 Eagles had the experience and the tools to get over the hump this season, “We had so much talent up front and also a strong defense, it was a perfect combination. It was just our attitude overall, we went into games expecting to win them. We thought it was our year.”
Piecewicz, who scored his 100th career point this season, moved back to defense to fill a need and the team hit the ground running, winning nine games in a row to start the season.
Fellow all-staters Trevor Schad (goalie) and Aaron Cholewa (forward), along with Healy, provided the Eagles a well-rounded team that again finished the regular season 17-3.
It all came together in the 5-2 win over Hall-Southington to win the conference championship on March 7. Healy scored a pair of goals and Piecewicz dished out an assist, and did his normal damage on the defense end.
The rest of Piecewicz’ high school hockey story will remain unwritten.
But for the Wethersfield native, his journey is just beginning.
His next stop is New Britain, where he’ll join a competitive CCSU team led by energetic coach Chris Torna. Piecewicz and Torna made it official with a joint signing streamed online March 8.
“He emailed me one day and then came to see me play. It was just the way that he treated everything,” Piecewicz said of Torna, “People will tell you that it’s just club hockey but he treated it like it was a Division I recruitment. For him to treat it like that and to treat me the way that he did, it made my decision easy.”
Torna was the key factor in his decision to choose CCSU, and Piecewicz knows the importance of good coaching.
Dennis Tulimieri Sr. was his coach all four years at Wethersfield and the two shared a mutual respect that goes beyond the world of hockey.
“We’ve had a great relationship over the four years, and that relationship allowed me to reach my full potential because he gave me the freedom to be myself on the ice,” said Piecewicz.
Tulimieri stated that he’s been honored to have coached Piecewicz, “For certain Trevor is an elite level hockey player but that is just the surface that most people see. What makes Trevor special in my mind is his courage, integrity, quiet confidence and inclusive nature. Those special attributes also make him a great leader and the ultimate teammate.
“Trevor has managed to manifest courage by stepping up and accepting every challenge presented to him in life, on and off the ice. It takes courage to just play ice hockey and only the most courageous can lead and inspire others as Trevor does. He is always loyal to his family, teammates and friends while being truthful and honest even if his position may be unpopular with his contemporaries. Trevor is confident in his abilities but never overbearing in his actions or words. Because of his inclusive nature Trevor is respected by his teammates, opposition and coaches he has played for and against.”
At CCSU, he’ll be majoring in Physical Education as he joins his Blue Devil teammates on the ice.
“It awesome getting to play at the next level. Obviously the skill is going to be better and the competition is going to be tougher. Getting the opportunity to push myself to play against better players at something that I love to do. Also I’m going to a team where I don’t know a lot of kids, so it’s giving me the opportunity to be myself and grow as a player and a person. I’m just really excited about it.”
There’s no telling what the next four years will bring but the previous four years saw a lot of winning, and that’s what Piecewicz is most proud of.
“We came in knowing how good we were and we felt like we we're going to win every game. We set the record for most wins in school history and we won the first ever conference tournament in school history. I just want us to be remembered as winners.”
Nobody loves basketball more than Newington’s star senior Ashanti Frazier.
Over the past four years the charismatic, do-it-all guard became a household name on the Connecticut basketball scene thanks to her on-court mastery and unwavering passion for the game.
Then March 10th happened.
That’s when Frazier’s high school basketball career abruptly ended in the third round of the Class L state tournament after the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) decided to cancel the remaining winter sport’s season due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“When I heard I was pretty devastated and was kind of in shock, but now since there has been a time gap and now that there's been a nation shutdown it has allowed time for everyone to breath,” said Frazier, “It sucks to give a program all your dedication and love for four years and for it to end like that, but time lets you open your eyes to it so I definitely understand it.”
Despite the unceremonious end, Frazier has left a lasting legacy at NHS, playing a pivotal role all four years and helping the program win 17 regular season games in each of the last two seasons.
Her final times on the court at Newington High School are memorable for different reasons.
In the second round of the state tournament, which turned out to be Frazier’s last game in a Newington uniform, the Indians eliminated conference nemesis E.O Smith on March 6.
“I think that was the game when we knew we got this. We had our sights on our ring. We just really came together and jelled, we played defense really well, and were communicating together throughout the whole game,” Frazier said of the 50-34 home win over the Panthers, “GameTimeCT had them upsetting us. I don’t think we’ve ever been the favorite. We’re always the underdog, but we didn’t care. We’re a scrappy team and we like it.”
Following the news of the cancellation, Frazier and the team gathered one final time inside Richard Rogalski Gymnasium.
“We had a practice set up that day and coach [Marc Tancredi] made it a team meeting. We talked about what happened and how we could move on, and then I asked if we could go on the court. We all stood on the court and shared our favorite memory and brought it in one more time.”
Frazier, who plays with a fun-loving enthusiasm yet is all business on the court, had one final message of encouragement to her teammates, “It’s never just about wins and losses in basketball, it's about who you meet and the bonds that you have when you're together. We shared a lot of love and I learned a lot about myself because of them.”
Since first stepping on the high school courts as a wide-eyed freshman in the winter of 2016, Frazier has grown leaps and bounds as both a player and leader.
When she was seven years old, her family moved to Connecticut from Missouri and she quickly made a name for herself in the Newington community thanks to the game of basketball.
“I still have people coming up that remember playing against me or coaching me in Parks and Rec. It's funny because as time has gone on and I've played travel basketball in this community, every person that I'm good friends with now is through some kind of association with basketball. This community is built around the love that we share for everyone. Playing high school basketball in this community is special. Parents come up to me after the game and say that it was fun to watch us and that they'll be at the next game. That’s just how this community is. I love it here.”
Once in high school, Frazier hit the ground running. She became an immediate spark plug for the varsity team, averaging seven points and three steals per game, while learning the ropes from her mentor and 2017-graduate Abrial Murray.
As a sophomore her production increased, averaging 16 points, five rebounds and four steals per game, earning all-conference for a second straight season.
Prior to her junior year, there was a coaching transition with Tancredi taking over for Rick Bangs.
“Bangs, such a good guy, and then Tancredi came and when I first met him I thought he was super uptight,” a smiling Frazier recalled, “But then after the first couple of days I realized he could take a joke, so I knew we’d be good. I’ve grown to love him, love his whole family. My favorite memory this year was when he told the team that his wife was pregnant. It was really exciting, we’re adding another one to the family.”
She continued to thrive under the new regime, blossoming into more of a court general by increasing her efficiency and assist total, while still pouring in 14 points per contest as a junior.
Years of relentless work and dedication set up her final season at NHS, which she referred to as her “farewell tour”.
With a flair for the dramatic, she saved her best performances for this winter, filling up the headlines with a pair of game-winning shots in last-second victories over Windsor and Bristol Eastern. She also surpassed 1000-career points in a win over East Catholic on Jan. 16.
Newington’s 17-3 record gave them a 3-seed in the state tournament and Frazier and the team set their sights on the ultimate prize, a trip to Mohegan Sun.
“We looked at the bracket and we said ‘we’re done playing like the underdogs, we were going to play like the 3-seed. We’re going to go out and get this’. This whole team from day one was going to get a ring.”
The Indians breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning by 33 and 16 points, and were set to host Pomperaug in the quarterfinals.
Then the world changed and it was over in the blink of an eye.
“I had just gotten out of school and pulled into the parking lot at my house and a teammate texted me and they ask if it was real. Then every senior that I knew texted me,” Frazier said upon hearing the news that her senior season was over following the tourney win, “It's more less the fact that we didn't know it was our last game. We played like we could lose this game and this could be out last game but we didn't know it going in.”
Helping Frazier process through the news was senior teammate Sabrina Soler and sophomore sharp-shooting twins, Karissa and Marlie Zocco, who she referred to as her little sisters.
Her mom, Shanielly Copeland, was her rock throughout the entire ordeal.
“Whatever storm that comes, she’s always been there for me. I fully love that woman. Initially she let me soak it up and then she said she was here when I was ready to talk and when the protest happened she let me go to that,” said Frazier, referring to the March 11 protest outside the CIAC headquarters in Cheshire, “It felt really good. I was able to speak my mind and be with other people that felt the same, especially the seniors because this has been a devastating ending.”
After the devastation and dust had settled, Frazier came to terms that her final high school game would be the win over CCC champion, E.O. Smith.
“As soon as we won the whole team stormed on the court, we were a family. It’s not how I thought it would be, but now I'm satisfied with how it ended.”
The soon-to-be-graduate still holds out hope that her time at Newington High is not done and that schools will reopen so the seniors can experience the perks of the final weeks of high school, including walking across a stage to receive their diploma.
But if it is the end, her time at NHS has been a positive one.
“At Newington there’s always someone to lean one. There’s a full family effect here.”
Frazier’s next stop on her athletic and academic journey is Rhode Island College, where she’ll join a successful team coming off a 22-5 season.
“It’s a beautiful campus and the team fully accepted me right away. They have a good team and they have a good amount of players that want to win. I like the style of play and I like the coaches and players.”
No matter where life leads her, Frazier said that she’ll always be a part of the Newington community and is proud that she has left her heart and soul on the local courts.
“I got on [my teammates] a lot but I want them to remember me as a person that pressed their buttons and sometimes made them uncomfortable, but at the end of the day I was their biggest supporter. I love this team with all my heart and we have all become a super tight-knit family.”
“I’m hoping to a year from now to be playing with my team at Rhode Island College and be successful, but be able to come back. The state tournament should be around now and I want to see my guys get a ring.”
Let’s start with a personal story from 1999.
As a senior in high school, I was quarterbacking an undefeated football team in the state semifinals. We had a lead late in the fourth quarter until I threw an interception, which was returned for a touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, with time quickly fading, we faced a fourth and long. Twins Left-375 Airline was the call, which was a designed roll out to the left with our X-receiver running an out pattern at the sticks and our Z running an out and up.
With our season on the brink, I heaved a pass down the seam to our slot, Nick Buzby. Buzby, who was the original Larry Fitzgerald, hauled in the pass right before getting blasted by the free safety. Two plays later, we were in the end zone celebrating an eventual trip to the state championship game.
Within a 10-minute span, I had experienced the lowest of lows and the highest of highs of my football career. Four years and countless hours of preparation had boiled down to those ten minutes and those are ten minutes that I will never forget.
Unfortunately hundreds of Connecticut’s high school student-athletes, particularly the seniors, were robbed of a chance to experience both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat when the CIAC made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the winter sport’s tournaments last Tuesday.
The CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference), which oversees high school sports in our state, released this statement regarding the sudden end of the boys and girls basketball tournaments, ice hockey tournament, as well as the state and open championships in boys swimming and diving.
Due to continuing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) CIAC has made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of its winter championship tournaments.
[The decision was made in light of discussions with numerous agencies and considering the circumstances of our member schools, our championship venues, and weighing the health and safety of our student-athletes, parents, and fans given the uncertainty that surrounds the spread of this virus.]
Many other options were on the table, including games/meets in empty gyms with no spectators or postponing the events until a later date.
In the end the final decision was made to cancel the remaining games.
Glenn Lungarini, Executive Director of CAS (Connecticut Association of Schools) and the CIAC, said this about the cancellations.
“After much consideration and consultation, the CIAC has made the difficult decision to cancel all remaining CIAC winter tournament games. The CIAC understands and appreciates the disappointment that student athletes, parents, coaches, and administrators may feel as a result of this decision. However, we must always place the health and safety of our student athletes first.
Due to continuing concerns about the spread on COVID-19, the responses from multiple school districts and third-party venues have varied greatly. Some districts have informed us that they can no longer participate in our tournament. Others have informed us that they can continue to participate without any fans in attendance. Still others have communicated that they can participate with less than 100 people in attendance. Additionally, we have been noticed by several of our third-party and neutral site venues that they can no longer host our events. Given the great variety of information that out districts are receiving from our local departments of health and from the declining resources to hold neutral site games, we feel that it is important that the CIAC give directions to our schools regarding the logistics of athletics.
The CIAC, again with always placing the interests of our students first, feels at this time the best use of our membership’s time is to focus on the educational needs of our students. There are a lot of unknows that still exist about COVID-19 within Connecticut. This has just begun here so we don’t know how far this will spread, but when we considered the best action that we can take to address the needs of our schools, we feel that we should give them the opportunity at this point to focus on the educational needs of our students. We understand at this time that schools have used the late-opening schedules to meet or discus distance learning as well as other options in the event that schools need to close and that’s where those attentions should be. At the CIAC we pride ourselves of being an education-based athletic experience for kids. We do the best we can to provide our kids with those exceptional experiences and it’s difficult to say to seniors and to others that they won’t have the opportunity to finish these tournaments, but we do believe it is what is in the best interest of all of our membership and the schools in Connecticut to have that directive from us.”
A lot transpired since Lungarini’s original statement, including an online petition started by Jake Walker, a Fairfield Prep graduated a former goaltender for the Jesuit hockey team, asking the CIAC to reverse the decision and play the games without spectators. As of Monday, the petition had received over 111,000 signatures.
Several student-athletes and coaches also protested outside the CIAC office in Cheshire last Wednesday morning, with chants of “Let us play” and “Talk it out” if an effort to get the CIAC and Lungarini to reconsider the decision.
It was ultimately a moot point as public schools and state universities in Connecticut decided to take a hiatus in order to help ‘flatten the curve’ of the potentially deadly virus.
Sports on a national level soon began to postpone and cancel, including the National Basketball Association which halted the season until further notice after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus.
This led to the National Hockey League following suit and Major League Baseball doing the same. March Madness was also eliminated.
The entire coverage surrounding COVID-19 is both disturbing and confusing, with details emerging daily.
For high school sports, this is our new reality and the spring sport season has already been delayed and in serious jeopardy of suffering the same fate as winter sports.
We’re facing a major crisis and tough decisions must be made, but the hurt our local athletes have felt is very real.
Taking competition away from any athlete is a big deal and---as much as some people want to dismiss them---sports do matter.
As for the conclusion of my story back in the fall of ‘99. We advanced to the state title game and got crushed 49-0 to a team that had previously lost in the regular season to the team we beat in the semifinals.
It was a heartbreaking end to my high school football career, but not nearly as heartbreaking as the ‘what if’ that will forever haunt the local athletes that never had a chance to complete their journeys.
Here is a list of the local teams and senior athletes that were impacted as a result of the cancellations.
Cromwell Boys Basketball: Patrick Stafstrom, Tyler Baldwin, Tyler Martin, Nick Polizonis
Middletown Boys Basketball: Tyron Scharborough, Kenneth Fountain, Jonathan Nkonoki, Donte Pope
Newington Boys Basketball: Patrick Brennan, Razik Amadou, Donovan Price, Raheim Lowery, Jordan Dukes
Wethersfield Boys Basketball: James Luiz, Jack Romagnoli, Andrew Desrochers, Owen Barnett, Connor Pace
Cromwell Girls Basketball: Sadie Budzik, Vanessa Stolstajner
Newington Girls Basketball: Sabrina Soler, Ashanti Frazier,
Wethersfield Girls Basketball: Isabella Samse, Alice Kelly, Grace Conneely, Nicole Gwynn
WMPR Hockey: Jack Healy, Trevor Piecewicz, Connor Rancourt, Jeremy Walker, Patrick Creel, Patrick Alter, Curtis Clemens III
Rocky Hill/Cromwell Swim & Dive: Thien-Bao Bui, Yuanlong Dai, Adam Dionne, Joseph Fletcher, Adam Franzen, Nicholas Plakunov, Michael Ptak, Brandon Scacca, Jay Scacca, Jacob Martin
Newington Swim & Dive: Luke Fote, Andriy Grynyk, Nicholas Jirku, Matthew Montano Jack Prestage Salvatore Scata, Eric Tran, Sean Vasi
Middletown Swim & Dive: Elijah Cedillo, Joe Chiappetta, Kamila Ciebelski, Rose Cunningham, Michael Flynn, Kyle Heidorn, Seth Latronica, Jack Lentini, Cole Lombardo, Matthew Lombardo, Dylan Morris, Aditya Sathe
Wethersfield Swim & Dive: Ryan Berasi, Michael Dunn, Samuel Garcia, Daniel Jimenez
Trevor Piecewicz- Hockey (Wethersfield): It was a big week for the local hockey star. Piecewicz was named the Division II Defenseman of the Year and officially signed to play collegiately at Central Connecticut State University next year. The senior is currently captaining an Eagles team that won the CCC South championship, defeating Hall/Southington 5-2 last Saturday, and now heads to the state tournament.
Brianna Gadarowski- Basketball (Newington): Gadarowski came off the bench to score a season-high 12 points in Newington’s 70-37 Class L first round tournament victory over Hartford Public. The freshman’s first ever high school tournament game was certainly a memorable one and advanced the Indians to the quarterfinals where they defeated E.O. Smith 50-34 behind 14 points and a dozen rebounds from Sabrina Soler.
Joey Petronio- Hockey (Newington): Petronio scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner with less than a minute remaining in overtime as the Indians defeated Joel Barlow 5-4 on Feb 29. The junior forward has been a consistent point producer for the co-op team this winter.
Alex Boutin- Football (Rocky Hill): Boutin announced that he will be continuing his academic and athletic career at Western New England University next fall. The soon-to-be graduate will be playing football in Springfield, Mass. for the Golden Bears football team. In a statement, he thanked his recruiter and future defensive coordinator, Alex Bresner, “I’d like thank Coach Bresner for the opportunity and I am excited for the next four years.”
Nevaeh Clark- Basketball (Cromwell): Clark stepped up when the Panthers needed her most. The freshman hauled down a season-high 16 rebounds and scored eight points as Cromwell eliminated Woodland 52-43 in the second round of the Class M tournament.
Isabella Samse (left) led the Eagles with 18 points and Alice Kelly (right) scored her 1,000 career point in Wethersfield's 57-36 Class L first round win over Farmington
Scoring your 1,000th career point is special in any setting. Scoring your 1,000 point while winning a state tournament game played at your high school is extra special.
Wethersfield senior Alice Kelly experienced the latter at WHS last Tuesday night, reaching quadruple digits in career points as the #7 Eagles defeated #26 Farmington, 57-36, in the opening round of the Class L tournament.
“Honestly, I had to think about it because I didn’t know,” said Kelly, who netted #1,000 on a layup in the third quarter and only knew she had reached the milestone because the bench erupted.
Kelly’s noteworthy layup was part of a third quarter scoring spree for the Eagles, who went on a 15-2 run over the first three minutes of the second half.
“She might be the most unselfish 1000-point scorer in basketball history because she’s a defensive kid, a pass-first kid, and a play for her teammates kid. For her to get 1,000 on a big stage like this was awesome,” head coach Jeff Russell said of his versatile captain.
Kelly opened the scoring in both the first half and second half with three pointers, finishing the night with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Isabella Samse led all scorers with 18, draining five from beyond the arc.
“We wanted to hit them with the flank and nail mostly because they are more of a smaller team, so we were trying to get it inside to the bigs,” said Samse, “Another focus was getting those inside-out threes and thankfully we hit some.”
Farmington deployed a zone defense to slow the Eagles, but Russell countered by putting senior Grace Conneely near the basket to disrupt the zone and get easy looks for the home team.
“Grace is one of our better finishers. We didn’t expect them to play 1-3-1, so I have to hand it to our players for staying calm and in real time making the adjustments. We didn’t rush, we didn’t force or get anxious, we worked on our inside-out threes, and we got kids going,” recalled Russell.
Conneely and Nicole Gwynn (14 points) continuously fed the ball between the zone and the team’s ball movement was terrific, often with five players touching the rock on each possession.
“All week we had been prepping for this team. Our coaches did a lot of scouting and we basically were running offenses that worked against their defense. Without our coaches we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” added Samse, who is one of four seniors making a final tourney push, “The coaches just told us that we had to keep our focus, both mentally and physically, and to be ready to take one game at a time.”
Wethersfield earned the 7th-seed in the tournament after finishing the regular season 16-4, which included a 57-37 win over Farmington (6-14) in the season opener.
Despite the discrepancies in win/loss records, Russell knew the dangers of playing a conference opponent in the tournament, “I respect Farmington and coach [Keith] Garbart as much as any team that we play. We were saying leading up to this that Farmington was a team that was going to scare someone in the tournament because they’re really well coach. They have two starters on the team that went to the state championship game two years ago and anytime you’ve got a kid that can score in the 20s it’s tough to defend.”
Senior Rylee Fountain scored 12 points and junior Emma Novajasky added 10 for the Indians.
The two, along with Carolyn Ives, led an 8-0 run to close the first half, narrowing the margin to 25-14 at the break.
Thanks to some halftime tweaks and the determination of the seniors, the Eagles took command early and often in the third.
Kelly knocked down a baseline three, which was followed by another three from Samse.
Gwynn then stole a pass and went coast-to-coast for an easy two.
Kelly broke the 1000-point barrier on the next trip down the court, “We came ready to play today. We’ve been practice all week, playing a zone offense, and I think we got the passes down and our timing on all the cuts. That combined with our defense, we executed well.”
“When the Big 3 are hitting on all cylinders we’re a really tough team to stop,” said Russell, referring to Kelly, Samse, and Gwynn, “They spread out during transitions and it makes it really tough to defend because if you take away the middle and take away Nicole, you’re leaving Bella and Alice on the outside, and if you shade to one side you’re leaving a kickout.”
Samse polished off a 23-point third quarter for the Eagles, scoring the final six points, which included her fifth from downtown.
“She is such a high-motor defender,” Russell said of Samse, who also had four steals, “She’s locked-in and nothing phases her. If she misses a shot, she’ll come down and take the next one. She’s a rhythm shooter and when she’s feeling it, it’s fun to be on the right side of it.”
The lead swelled to 54-23 early in the fourth after buckets from Kelly and Gwynn, which was followed by a nifty reverse layup from Conneely.
It allowed the younger generation to get playing time down the stretch, highlighted by a long three from freshman Anna Griffin.
The win sent the Eagles into round two where they again took care of business at home, using a swarming defense to defeat #23 Guilford 44-25.
With each win, Samse and her fellow seniors are one step closer to a potential trip to Mohegan Sun, “It feels so good and now we just have to make it as far as we can. It’s our last year, so we just want to make sure we keep it going,”
Next up is a quarterfinals showdown at #2 St. Paul (20-2) this Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m.
Cromwell's Vanessa Stolstajner with head coach Kelly Maher after winning the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year. Photo courtesy of the Shoreline Athletic Conference
Cromwell senior Vanessa Stolstajner was named the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year, taking home the honors for a second straight season.
Stolstajner has been a consistence force for the Panthers, averaging 16.5 points and 5 rebounds per game, and is a captain on and off the court.
She’s been able to duplicate her statistical feats from a season ago, where she was the conference player of the year and earned All-State recognition, while helping lead Cromwell to a state championship last March
Cromwell fell short of winning a fifth straight Shoreline Conference championship, but Stolstajner stated that she and the team are now focused on the Class M tournament.
“I feel very honored to have received the award two years in a row. I am very happy about getting Player of the Year again but it’s upsetting that we weren’t able to make it to the Shoreline final again this year. I’m excited for states to begin and I am ready to lead our team throughout the tournament and make a good run!”
Wethersfield's Joseph Raposo drives on Raheim Lowery during Newington's 65-61 overtime victory. Photo courtesy of Jo-Ann Campbell
After losing to Wethersfield at home on Jan 24, things looked bleak for the then 2-9 Newington boys’ basketball team.
Exactly a month later Newington got revenge, defeating the Eagles 65-61 in overtime at WHS to secure a spot in the Division II tournament.
“It’s a great atmosphere, a great win,” Newington coach Ed Quick said after the tourney-clinching victory, “I told the kids we’re like the Tennessee Titans. We started rough and now nobody wants to play us. We’re not pretty, it’s actual ugly to watch sometimes, but we battle and make every possession matter.”
Quick’s team needed every possession in the 36-minute slugfest, which featured 14 lead changes and six ties.
Jayden Andujar shined in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 15 of his game-high 20 points over the final dozen minutes.
“He’s got guts,” Quick said of his junior guard, “When you’re a little guy like him, you’ve got to have guts and fight.”
After falling behind 39-38 following a three from Wethersfield’s Jack Romagnoli early in the fourth, Andujar scored eight points to lead a 10-2 Newington run.
Newington upped their lead to 50-45 on a layup from Alexander Ford (18 points) with less than two minutes to play before the home team closed regulation on an 8-3 run, highlighted by a last-second layup from Luke Latina.
Trailing 55-53 with 5.7 remaining, Latina received the inbounds pass and decisively split Newington’s defense before kissing it high off glass as time expired for two of his 12 points.
“We weren’t sure what they were going to run [zone or man] after the time out. We had it set up for a flare and a drive for a two off a zone. When Luke got the ball, he realized it was zone and attacked the middle of the zone and surprisingly got all the way to the rim,” Wethersfield coach Brian Fanelli said of Latina’s layup that extended the game.
“Latina is a great kid from a great family and he hit a great shot,” added Quick, who shifted his players attention to overtime, “I told them we’ve done this in practice a thousand times, it’s just another situation. Let’s go play four more minutes.”
The teams traded buckets early in the extra session, but it was Newington foul shooting that made the difference down the stretch. Andujar drained five free throws and the Indians made 8 of 10 as a team in overtime.
“We made it hard on ourselves, but that’s okay. It means that much more. It’s a really good win and now we’re in the states. I’m super proud of them.” stated Quick, whose team won four of their final five games to qualify for the tourney.
The regular season finale had several shifts in momentum.
Newington led 16-12 after the first quarter behind Donovan Price, who scored six of his 10 points in the quarter.
“He’s a monster. Not a better kid in America,” Quick said of Price, who also had four blocks, “He’s a great student and a great kid.”
Wethersfield responded in the second quarter, outscoring the Indians 17-9 thanks to eight points from Connor Pace, who led the Eagles with 15 points.
As they have done all year Newington countered by holding the Eagles to only seven points in the third, before finishing it off on the offensive end in overtime.
“I’m very proud of our guys because they’ve been really resilient all year,” said Quick, whose team defeated conference foes Rocky Hill, New Britain, and Wethersfield down the stretch after losing to all three earlier in the season, “It’s all because of the kids. They wanted to be successful. I put too much stress on them early in the season and they put too much stress on themselves. We got better and I did a better job at easing off and not being so tough about things.”
As the team’s confidence grew, the wins piled up.
“You can’t teach experience. These guys were all on JV last year and now they’re on a varsity program with eight wins. I think we’ve become a team that nobody wants to go against. We still have to get a lot better in areas, but the bottom line is, in a day in age where kids transfer, where kids quit teams or don’t want to commit, our guys are committed and gave us everything we asked for and they’ve done right by Newington High.”
With the loss, Wethersfield closed the regular season at 8-12.
“I wasn’t totally disappointed because the way they fought, but we should have never got into that situation,” said Fanelli.
The loss put a damper on a festive Senior Night for the Eagles, who celebrated six basketballers along with the dance and cheer team seniors (Rebecca Sullivan, Alexia Lopez, Emma Rakus, Kassandra Vazquez, and Christine Vittner).
Pace, Romagnoli, Jimmy Luiz, Andrew Desrochers, Tanner Slesinski, and Owen Barnett have all earned the respect of Fanelli, “These guys were a bunch of unselfish, hard-working kids who showed up every day and gave everything they could. Even though they all didn’t play as much as they might have like to, they didn’t complain and worked their tails off.”
Last Friday, the seniors help upset top-see Tolland in the CCC tourney, before falling to Glastonbury in round-two.
Fanelli and his team are in a familiar position entering the state tourney as underdogs, following back-to-back eight-win seasons and will be looking to play spoiler like they did in the conference tourney, “We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Both Newington and Wethersfield will be on the road to begin the Division II tournament, which starts on Tuesday, March 10.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin