The National Football League draft starts tonight and runs through the weekend. Here’s what the first two rounds of the draft would look like if we entered The Land of Make Believe, in which NFL teams had to select out of the pool of talented athletes who played at the five local schools this fall.
Welcome to the 3nd Annual Bizarro Draft…
#1: Cleveland Browns- Tyshaun James (QB- Middletown): After years of searching the Browns finally have a face of the franchise in James, who is a can’t-miss prospect that excels inside and outside the pocket. This fall, the multifaceted QB destroyed opponents with his pinpoint accuracy and fancy footwork, posting eye-popping numbers totaling 2955 yards and 38 touchdowns.
#2: San Francisco 49ers- Ricky Montalvo (MLB- Rocky Hill): New GM John Lynch wants to build his team around hard-nosed defenders and Montalvo is the ultimate building block. He’s a magnet to ball carriers and his production the past three years is unmatched. A defensive field general from day one.
#3: Chicago Bears- Damon Stewart (OT- Newington): Prototypical size for the next level. Chicago needs help on offensive and the gifted Stewart can both pave the way in the running game and protect the passer. The type of grinder that head coach John Fox covets.
#4: Jacksonville Jaguars- Kristian Sapp (RB- Cromwell/Portland): The new regime in Jacksonville seeks an identity on offense and Sapp can fill that need with his explosiveness. He’s a low to the ground runner who is both elusive and has deceptive power when finishing runs. His 2000+ rushing yards and 30 touchdowns from the fall say it all.
#5: Tennessee Titans- Stone Belzo (DB- Middletown): Belzo burst onto the scene and became a productive leader for a defense filled with stars. He can play effectively both down in-the-box and in pass coverage, amassing 109 tackles, two interceptions and 20 pass deflections this fall. Should be a perennial Pro-Bowler.
#6: New York Jets- Grant Nieves (RB- Rocky Hill): The Jets have a lot of needs, but a touchdown juggernaut like Nieves is too good to pass up. He’s a long-striding runner with an attacking, competitive nature and can go the distance on any given play. Adds major value in the return game and also starred as a cornerback, making him the ultimate triple threat.
#7: Los Angeles Chargers- Anthony Puntiel (OT- Cromwell/Portland): A new dominant lineman will make the Chargers transition to a new city a little more bearable. Puntiel has the size and foot speed to engulf defenders and his leverage allows him to overpower just about anyone on the field.
#8: Carolina Panthers- Joe Catania (RB- Rocky Hill): Carolina has struggled to find an offensive compliment to Cam Newton, but the wait is over. Catania has a rare blend of power, speed, and agility and runs just as hard on his first carry as he does on his last. Consummate professional and a workout warrior.
#9: Cincinnati Bengals- Isaac Ortiz Jr (WR- Newington): Ortiz is a big play waiting to happen, which is something the Bengals lacked a season ago. Dynamic anytime he has the balls in his hands, Ortiz will open up the offense and makes defensive coordinators prepare for trick plays due to his experience playing quarterback.
#10: Buffalo Bills- Kyle Vasquez (DE- Wethersfield): Relentless motor and production will help improve an already stout Bills defensive line. This fall, Vasquez made 19 tackles in the backfield and he played running back on offense, giving him the shiftiness and ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line.
#11: New Orleans Saints- Jamal Bagley (LB- Wethersfield): Injuries cut his season short, but Bagley has off-the-chart athleticism, explosiveness and play-making ability. Vicious hitter that could be the defensive stalwart New Orleans has been searching for since The Dome Patrol under Jim Mora.
#12: Cleveland Browns- Max Cyr (OT- Middletown): The Browns got their franchise QB with the first pick and now they get his high school teammate to protect him. Cyr’s size and length will bolster and already underrated group in Cleveland.
#13: Arizona Cardinals- Jay Nanfito (LB- Middletown): Nanfito plays bigger than his frame and can deliver bone-crushing hits. He’s just the type of hybrid player that the Cardinals defensive staff will love and utilize.
#14: Philadelphia Eagles- Dante Baker (LB- Rocky Hill): Baker always finds his way to the ball and has a knack for create game-changing plays. Has athleticism allows him to play multiple positions and his mental makeup will remind Philly fans of Brian Dawkins.
#15: Indianapolis Colts- Justin McMillian (CB- Middletown): McMillan has a sheriff’s mentality and fills an immediate need in Indy with his ability to play man-coverage and support the run. His blazing speed makes him a threat in the return game and potentially on offense.
#16: Baltimore Ravens: Aveontae Frazier (RB- Newington): One of the most intriguing prospect in the draft after surging onto the scene this fall. Frazier can run between the tackles and has the wiggle to break outside in traffic. His running style will fit Baltimore’s offense perfectly.
#17: Washington Redskins: Matt Wolak (OT- Cromwell/Portland): A perfect addition to a Washington offense looking to improve the run game. Wolak is a workhorse lineman that has been well coached and will become an immediate leader.
#18: Tennessee Titans: Tevin Walker (CB- Wethersfield): The Titans bolster their secondary with another playmaker. Walker has the ball skills (four interceptions, eight pass deflections) to match up with both outside and slot receivers. Not afraid to support the run and his return ability is a bonus.
#19: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Luke Pappalardo (S- Newington): Pappalardo fills a need and is a major steal at this point in the draft. He processes a high football IQ and plays the run (80 tackles) and the pass (2 interceptions) equally well.
#20: Denver Broncos: Ethan Roy (DE- Cromwell/Portland): The key to Denver’s success has been pressure on the passer and that’s what Roy does best. Quick burst makes him nearly unblockable around the edge and he plays with good leverage despite his 6’2 frame.
#21: Detroit Lions: Kittrell Lauray (LB- Cromwell/Portland): An amazing athlete that plays at a blazing pace and creates momentum-shifting plays. Detroit needs a heat-seeking missile like Lauray to put their defense over the top.
#22: Miami Dolphins: Lukasz Zduniak (OL- Rocky Hill): Miami has put an emphasis on solidifying their front and Zduniak is a flexible lineman that loves to run block. Has experience on both sides of the ball and his high football character will be a welcomed sign in South Beach.
#23: New York Giants: Jon McAlister (OL/DL- Wethersfield): McAlister can eat up the interior and the Giants will love that he’s willing to do whatever the team needs. Vastly underrated and should be a starter for years to come.
#24: Oakland Raiders: Derrick Vereen (DL- Middletown): Vereen makes his living in the opposing backfield, registering nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last fall. Often overlooked by scouts, but his production is undeniable.
#25: Houston Texans: Dianta Highsmith (WR- Cromwell/Portland): Highsmith can be used in multiple roles and is dynamite with the ball is in his hands. His height-speed combination should make him the offensive spark plug the Texans desperately need.
#26: Seattle Seahawks: Krist Veli (OL- Rocky Hill): Seattle’s offensive line struggled immensely last season and Veli will add a consistent, competitive road-grader to the equation. Has the heart of a lion.
#27: Kansas City Chiefs: Devin Vasquez (DL- Wethersfield): Vasquez’ motor never stops and he can multiple positions along the defensive line. Oxen strength and a perfect fit in Kansas City’s stout, attacking defense.
#28: Dallas Cowboys: Jon Siena (DB- Cromwell/Portland): The Cowboys secondary was exposed late in the season and Siena can immediately take the leadership reins. The ball-hawking (5 interceptions), sure tackler (111 tackles) is an absolute steal late in the first round.
#29: Green Bay Packers: James Johnson (DL-Middletown): Johnson has the versatility that Green Bay covets on the defensive line. Has equal ability to stop the run and get after the passer, registering 13 takedowns behind the line of scrimmage this fall.
#30: Pittsburgh Steelers: Jared Simmons (WR- Newington): Pittsburgh shakes up the draft with this selection. Simmons is as athletic gifted as any player in the draft and can high-point the ball in the red zone, but he may ultimately choose basketball over football. A high-risk, high-reward pick.
#31: Atlanta Falcons: Osbourne Richards (OL/DL- Middletown): Atlanta takes a chance on this young, talented interior lineman. Osbourne was a force on the inside last fall (18 tackles for loss) and is just entering his prime.
#32: New Orleans Saints: Damon Lonero (LM/K- Rocky Hill): Saints use their second first-round pick to select a unique three-way player. Lonero can be effective on both sides of the line and adds a massive leg in the kicking game.
#33: Cleveland Browns- Chris Cravero (LB- Wethersfield): Proficient tackler that makes up for his lack of size with great instincts and high motor.
#34: San Francisco 49ers- Danny Cavallaro (QB- Rocky Hill): Smart, heady quarterback that possesses great touch and has been well coached. Cavallaro is a worker bee who is only going to get better.
#35: Jacksonville Jaguars- Kyle Martin (OL- Cromwell/Portland): Another solid addition to a budding offense in Jacksonville. Martin has the technique, size, and determination to have a long career.
#36: Chicago Bears- Bryce Karstetter (QB- Cromwell/Portland): Possible gem that made great strides this fall. The lively-armed Karstetter may end Chicago’s lengthy search for franchise signal caller.
#37: Los Angeles Rams- DeAaron Lawrence (DB- Middletown): Speedy playmaker that could thrive as a defensive back or wide receiver at the next level.
#38: Los Angeles Chargers- Matt Osgood (WR- Rocky Hill): A quarterback’s best friend thanks to his precise route running and Venus flytrap hands. Osgood plays with passion and is an underrated athlete.
#39: New York Jets- Mike Aresco (K/P- Middletown): The J.E.T.S pull the trigger on Aresco, who has a monster leg (nailed a 52-yarder in the fall) and is deadly accurate. Added value as a punter.
#40: Carolina Panthers- Will White (DB- Rocky Hill): Scary athlete who creates splash plays and has unwavering confidence. White loves contact and is an eraser.
#41: Cincinnati Bengals- Austin Stefano (WR/K- Wethersfield): Cincy loves versatile players and Stefano is best known for his tremendous kicking abilities, but is also a capable receiver on the outside. The right attitude and size.
#42: New Orleans Saints- CJ Sprowl (WR- Middletown): New Orleans hopes to replace offensive weapons and Sprowl could fill a vacancy. Despite lack of size, he’s tough as nails and will compete for every ball.
#43: Philadelphia Eagles- DeShaun Bradshaw (RB- Middletown): Lighting in a bottle with elite speed. Bradshaw is a homerun hitter that must be accounted for.
#44: Buffalo Bills- Jack Hansen (DB- Rocky Hill): Deceptively long athlete that is around the ball at all times. Plays angles well and has high football acumen.
#45: Arizona Cardinals- Conor Keane (OT- Wethersfield): Gifted and agile tackle that is a thievery at this point in the draft. Coached to protect blindside and ready to start on day one.
#46: Indianapolis Colts- Brent Robbins (LB- Cromwell/Portland): Emerged as a tackling machine and could develop into an every down linebacker at the next level.
#47: Baltimore Ravens- Austin Rambarose (DL- Cromwell/Portland): Baltimore steals the round with this pick. Rambarose is a disruptive lineman that had 7 sacks and 17 more tackles in the backfield in the fall.
#48: Minnesota Vikings- Roberto Sanchez- (HB- Newington): Strong, athletic playmaker with good size. Sanchez could thrive as an H-back in Minnesota’s efficient passing game.
#49: Washington Redskins- Tim Blaisdell (QB- Wethersfield): Interesting selection for a strong-armed quarterback with ideal size. Blaisdell hasn’t been able to show his talent on the field due to injuries, but Redskins could be grooming him for the future.
#50: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Nico Cavaliere (DB- Middletown): A thumper for his size and has a propensity to create turnovers. Cavaliere is a wise, safe selection at this point in the draft.
#51: Denver Broncos: Michael Alessandra (LB/DE- Wethersfield): Another athletic, strong man for the Denver defense. Alessandra has a rare ability to play at all three levels on the field and has a ton of upside.
#52: Cleveland Browns: Matt McKinnon (DE- Newington): Great edge rusher with a long frame that can disrupt passing lanes. Another Newington athlete that may pursue a career on the hardwood.
#53: Detroit Lions- Alex Hinkle (LB/S- Cromwell/Portland): Plays downhill and can also run sideline to sideline with natural fluidity. Hinkle may become a box safety at the next level.
#54: Miami Dolphins- Connor Brennan (DB- Newington): Confident DB that welcomes contact. If Brennan puts on some more size, look out.
#55: New York Giants- Hunter Held- (LB- Rocky Hill): Rock solid defender who plays with consistency. Held is a fascinating talent with a productive lacrosse background.
#56: Oakland Raiders- Brandon Kamansky (LB- Newington): A blossoming prospect that made great strides this fall, developing into a sure tackler and difference maker. Ceiling is high.
#57: Houston Texans- Payton White (OL- Middletown): Great balance that could become anchor to an offensive line in flux. White is a coach’s dream and leads by example.
#58: Seattle Seahawks- Ryan Skelly (CB- Wethersfield): Skelly moves effortlessly for his size and has a nose for the ball. His willingness to absorb contact is a great fit in Seattle as they try to reboot the Legion of Boom.
#59: Kansas City Chiefs- Nate Alleyne (DE- Newington): High-energy enforcer who attacks the line of scrimmage, made seven stops in the backfield this fall. Alleyne is an ideal rotational lineman.
#60: Dallas Cowboys- Nick Kerlejza (LB-Newington): Another high-motor defender who can play in space and is a solid open-field tackler.
#61: Green Bay Packers- Brendan Dowd (LB-Wethersfield): Intriguing athlete that played all over the field, including quarterback. Dowd’s frame should allow him to thrive as a tweener at the next level.
#62: Pittsburgh Steelers- Luke Devine (OL- Rocky Hill): Devine is well groomed and game-ready. Steelers struck gold late in the second round.
#63: Atlanta Falcons- Corey Pertillar (DB/KR- Newington): Solid as a defensive back, but his best asset is his ability to return kicks. A genuine playmaker.
#64: Carolina Panthers- Richard Loza (K/P- Cromwell/Portland): Carolina’s kicking game was horrendous a season ago and Loza would cure both elements with his accurate leg and booming punts.
Rocky Hill head coach Tyler Catlin gathered his softball squad after practice to ask his players questions related to the strategic aspect of the game. It allowed the players a chance to brainstorm as a group and voice their opinions.
Seeing a high school coach have an open dialog with his players was refreshing and is one of the many reasons why Catlin and his Terriers continue to build on an already rock-solid foundation.
“I’m trying to create a climate that is fun for these girls. I want them to love coming to softball,” said Catlin, who is entering his second year in the dugout, “I think you have to be able to be light on your feet and have some fun without losing concentration. If you put too much pressure on yourself it takes the fun out of this game. If you go 0-4, you’ve got to try and put that behind you and come to the park with some sort of a positive attitude and outlook for the next day.”
Catlin’s optimistic outlook worked magic last spring when the team won 18 of 19 regular season games and came within a single run of winning the Class M championship, losing 1-0 to Seymour in the Class M title game.
It was a nearly flawless initial season for the skipper, who had a tremendous group of seniors helping make the transition easier.
“We had eight senior last year that had expectations for themselves and they all had similar goals in mind. They came together and it was a fantastic ride,” stated Catlin, “Those girls played together since they were nine and every day we had fun together. We had a blast and I want to keep carrying that over. If you build that type of comradery and everybody is in it together than those close games start turning into W’s.”
Following last season’s title march, Rocky Hill graduated nearly their entire starting lineup, including all-conference selections Jess Greenspan, Julie Slavin, and Victoria Spellman. The names printed on the lineup card may have changed, but the positive approach and expectations have remained the same.
“The best part about these kids coming in is that I had several of them sitting on the bench during that ride. The kids that sat the bench during the state tournament saw some of the best softball that they’ll ever see in their lives. Not many people get the opportunity to see that kind of talent,” said the Southern Connecticut State University grad, “Now it’s their time to go on that field and show what they can do.”
The team returns only two seniors this season, but both saw extensive action last spring. Seniors Riley Pickett, who earned all-conference last season, and Erin Kelly have assumed the captain roles, along with junior Sophie Kurdziel.
“The captains right now are pushing the right buttons. They are very talented and everyone is going to be watching them,” Catlin said of his trio of leaders, “They’re doing a nice job demonstrating how things are supposed to be done around here and they’re bringing everyone together.”
Pickett and Kelly are entering this season with a lot of experience under their belts and they are doing their best to bestow what they’ve acquired onto the younger players.
“We’ve been more vocal with all the girls and we’re letting them know what we learned last year. We trying to transfer that to them and pass down the knowledge that we learned from the older players,” said Pickett, who played third base a year ago but will be moving to shortstop this spring, “I’m just trying to remain positive and make sure that I’m helping out as many girls as I possibly can. We have to keep working hard every single day. It’s not just about varsity, we’re trying to help out the JV kids too because when we leave they’re going to have to carry on the legacy.”
“We’re going in with a positive outlook,” added Kelly, “We lost a lot of players, but we have the same coach and we have the same mindset. We’re just going to do the best that we can. We’re going to win some games and we’re going to lose some games, but we win and lose as a team.”
At practice the team has been in full preparation mode for the lofty challenges that lie ahead, but first some of the players have work to do off the field.
Pickett and Kelly are two of seven Rocky Hill softball players that are joining the school’s annual trip to Louisiana, in an effort to rebuild the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
It will be Pickett’s second time going and Kelly’s first.
“We’re going down with a group of about 50 kids and about nine teachers. We go down for Habitat for Humanity and we rebuild houses and dig trenches for the foundations of the houses for the people in need,” said Kelly.
The unique opportunity involves a large amount of manual labor, but the group still finds time to explore the great city of New Orleans.
“It’s a lot of work, but we get to go sightseeing, we go eat beignets every night, we stop and sing with all the people on the street,” Pickett added with a smile.
When the group returns, the softball players will get right back to carrying out their mission on the field, playing a packed schedule that includes six games in a nine-day span.
The Terriers flourished during a similar experience a season ago when they won their first ten games following the trip to The Big Easy.
It’ll be difficult for the Terriers to repeat that feat this season, but it’s a challenge that their coach is ready for the team to embrace.
“We’re working hard right now. We’re working on finding our identity and certain players are stepping up and seizing some opportunities,” said Catlin, who is also Rocky Hill’s JV girls’ basketball coach, “I’m really looking forward to their development this season on the field.”
Catlin’s toughest task will be replacing the rocket right arm of Greenspan, who was an all-state pitcher last spring and is currently throwing flames for UMass Boston.
“Right now we’re going to go pitcher committee,” said the coach, “Sophie Kurdziel looks like she’s the most seasoned. Rachel Roncaioli has shown a lot of improvements, she’s been going to some lessons and receiving some training. I think it’s night and day how much she’s improved since last season and she will get her opportunity throughout the year at the varsity level. Erin Kelly is also in the mix. She zips it in there pretty well and is working on some additional pitches.”
Catlin praised the trio of pitchers for adapting to multiple positions and doing whatever is in the best interest of the team.
Kelly had played a variety of positions over the past couple of years and she knows her roles will be expanding even more this spring.
“This year I will be going between center field and pitcher and just wherever I’m needed,” said Kelly, “I played a little bit of outfield last year. I played right and started a few games and then coach put me into some games when we were winning and I got experience. So this year I’m the only returning outfielder, so I feel like I have to take a leading role and I’ve been trying to help the girls to get used to it because it’s a big position out there and we’ve got to cover a lot of ground.”
Kelly is learning positions on the fly and she’s not alone. Catlin stated that the key to this season is the growth of the players that came off the bench a season ago.
So far, he likes what he sees.
“I’m really excited to see Lauren Pattison. I think that she is swinging the bat really well right now,” he said, “For a sophomore she has really soft hands. I think she’s the most ready to take over and has the opportunity to be really good at it.”
“Maddie Santo has also showed tremendous improvement behind the plate,” he added, “She’s been working with our new assistant coach Erin Weber, who is a former all-state state catcher here at Rocky Hill.”
Weber was a senior in 2012 when Rocky Hill softball last won a state championship. She went on to play at Western Connecticut State University for the past four years and now replaces Ashley Black, who was Catlin’s assistant a season ago.
“It really nice to have a young coach right out of the college softball game, just like coach Ash Black was last year. They come in with some really good ideas,” Catlin said, “We will miss coach Black and everything that she brought to our team last season, but Erin’s been a wonderful addition to our coaching staff.”
Now that the pieces are in place, the two coaches turn their attention to grooming the young talent and continuing the standard of excellence set by the softball program.
The young head coach knows that it won’t be easy, but he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else coaching the game that he loves.
“Everybody knows that I coach this team now and I’m very proud of that. Every day I feel luckier and luckier that good people like Mike Dudis, Mario Almeida, and Rich Seidman gave me the opportunity coach this team,” said Catlin, “People ask me how I think the team will do after losing seven starters and I think it will give girls the opportunity to step up and deliver for us. There’s a whole new set of opportunities and we could either buckle to the expectations or rise to the occasion. We can prove the critics right or we could prove them wrong. It’s time to step up and prove the doubters wrong. We’re still Rocky Hill High School softball, we’re still a storied team and there’s a lot of tradition in this town.”
Spring Preview: High School Sports in Full Bloom
(Newington pitcher #22 Kat Lagace returns to the mound for the Indians, pictured with sophomore Cyan Gonzalez)
Cromwell is coming off a deep run in the Class S tournament last spring. The Panthers finished the regular season with a modest 10-10 record, but won three tourney games to advance to the semifinal round where they fell to Morgan. Luke Matchett returns for his senior season after leading the team in hits and RBIs a season ago. Junior Noah Budzik and senior slugger Sean Melaven will also be counted on from the plate. Head coach Lewis Pappariella’s toughest task will be replacing the pitching lost to graduation, but David Dewey and Austin Roy garnered some experience last season and should assume a bulk of the load from the mound.
Newington won 12 of 20 regular season games and added a tourney victory, before losing to a red-hot Xavier squad in the second round of Class LL. Junior ace Joey Zawisza returns to the mound for the Indians, who will also lean on the senior leadership of Jordan Blanchette and Nathan Torres this season.
Wethersfield graduated a solid senior class following a second-round exit a season ago, but the Eagles return a talented group of players entering their senior seasons. Michael Santiago, Jordan Laske, and Eric Shields bring versatility to the lineup and Jaden Krueger, along with juniors Tim Blaisdell and Samuel Tenney, will be counted on to complete the pitching rotation.
Middletown is loaded, with their top seven hitters returning following a Class LL quarterfinals appearance in 2016. Reliable plate performers Alex Giardina, Sam Pizzonia, and Kelsey White are back following All-CCC selections a season ago. Pizzonia also stars on the hill for the Blue Dragons, winning 16 of her 22 starts last spring. Also keep an eye on Dominique Highsmith, who had 15 extra base hits as a freshman.
Rocky Hill won 18 of 19 regular season games and advanced to Class M state championship game, before losing a 1-0 thriller to Seymour. It was an extremely successful inaugural season for head coach Tyler Catlin, who is now tasked with replacing several key players lost to graduation. The departing players included pitching ace Jess Greenspan, leadoff hitter Victoria Spellman, and fielding specialist Julia Slavin. Senior Riley Pickett and Erin Kelly will be asked to fill the leadership void and juniors Sophie Kurdziel and Gina Genovese now assume bigger roles.
Newington advanced to the second round of Class LL tourney following a 13-7 regular season last spring. Veteran coach Steve Markie welcomes back pitching sensation Kat Lagace, who struck out nearly 150 batters and shutout four opponents a season ago. The now-senior was also the Indians most reliable performer from the plate, registering 41 hits and driving home 21. Cyan Gonzalez returns after leading the team with 30 runs and earning All-CCC as a freshman. Rachel Thureson also had a phenomenal freshman season last spring and senior Kacey Blais will add a veteran presence from the plate and the field.
Rocky Hill advanced to quarterfinals in Class S, following a 13-3 regular season. It marked the second straight season that the Terriers won a postseason game under the tutelage of head coach Michael Albano. Goalie Peter Lucente returns between the pipes and he’ll have a talented nucleus surrounding him, headed by seniors Sam Cimini, Ricky Montalvo, and Hunter Held.
Cromwell is coming off a difficult season, but the team has a new approach and returns a stable of skilled players. Leading scorer David Beauchemin is back, along with assist leader Jack Shauck and productive midfielder Sam Beardsley. The Panthers also have senior goalie Carlos Beltran back protecting the net and keep an eye on Jon Siena, who is a tremendous athlete and primed for a monster year.
Newington missed postseason following a 5-11 season, but will have a lot of firepower returning. Senior Jack Lam and sophomore Dan Pestrichello will assume a bulk of the offensive load and goaltender Gage Garcia returns for senior season. Juniors Gavin Bissoni and Mike Ganley are candidates to take their games to the next level this season.
Newington is hoping to get over the hump after narrowly missing the tournament following 6-10 regular season last spring. Maya Gajowiak is back and better than ever following her All-CCC selection as a freshman. Joining her will be a solid senior class, led by McKenna Gernander, Symantha Fazzino and Neve Manion.
Rocky Hill posted a 4-12 record a season ago and aims to improve on that with the return of Emily Zarrilli, who was an All-CCC selection a year ago. The Terriers are very young, with lone senior Cristina LoGiuduce ready to assume the leadership role.
Newington was ousted in the semifinals last season, ending their bid for a third straight championship. Veteran coach Curt Burns has a well-rounded senior class returning, including All-CCC selections Kevin Bilbraut and Zach Harmon. Andres Ithier-Vicenty, who was second on the team in kills last season, and Vinh Dau, who led the team in aces, will also be back pursuing another championship for the Indians.
Wethersfield made a nice push a season ago, earning a tournament berth for the first time since 2014 and nearly upsetting Masuk in the first round. The Eagles graduated a slew of talent, including All-CCC selections Jack Malizia, Joseph Sottile, and Colin Stewart. The void in production should be filled by up-and-coming star Brian Rodriguez, who is able to do a bit of everything on the court.
Boys Outdoor Track
Wethersfield was the best in the state last spring, winning both the Class L championship and the Open Finals. Following the triumphant season the Eagles graduated a ton of talent, but they do have speedster Tevin Walker and jumpers Arben Zoto and Stevenson Paul returning in their attempt to repeat as champs.
Middletown finished fourth in Class L a season ago and should improve on that mark with most of their roster returning. DeShaun Bradshaw won the 100 meters a season ago and is back for his junior year. Bradshaw will be joined by sprinters Nico Cavaliere, Justin McMillian, Garrett Dandridge, and Laurenzo Thompkins. DeAaron Lawrence is the Blue Dragons top leaper.
Newington sprinter Greston Walwyn and distant runner Shamar Murray are worth keeping an eye on this spring.
Girls Outdoor Track
Middletown girls have a chance to improve of their seventh-place showing at the Class L finals a season ago. The Blue Dragons return Brielle Wilborn, who won the state championship in the shotput, and have a deep cast of sprinters back. Relayers Chelsea Perrotta, Syleena Daniels, Jennifer Barbour, Mackenzie Dunn, and Nasharie Davis are all back.
Rocky Hill’s Zykeya Ford returns for her senior season, following a third place finish at the Class M finals as a junior. Ford will be joined by a gifted group of young runners, led by sophomore Lilah Devine. The Terriers are aiming to improve on their 15th place showing at the class finals last spring.
Wethersfield has dual-threat runner and jumper Bianca Tata returning for her senior season. Tata will be joined by the likes of Isabella Schroeder, Julia Chrostowski, Breanna Flores, and Jacqueline Samse.
Newington’s Claudia Padykula is primed for a breakout season, following a third place finish in the 100 meter and fourth place showing in the 200 meter as a sophomore last spring. She’ll be joined by Stephanie Akosa and Katelyn Andrews, as the Indians look to improve on last year’s 18th place showing at the Class L finals.
Newington returns the triple threat of Noah Hedberg, Max Turgeon, and Ben Weyman. The trio of seniors shined for the Indians at states a season ago. This could be a year to remember on the links in Newington.
Wethersfield has a solid lineup returning, headed by the Mike & Mike duo of Michael Donnelly and Michael Murphy. Alex Tawrel, Evan Setzko and Brian Kallajian also return for the Eagles on the links.
Rocky Hill’s Jake Walling returns for his senior season, following his fourth place showing at states a season ago.
Cromwell’s Jackson Mantel and Kyle Bucher are primed for breakout seasons.
Wethersfield keeps producing great golfers and had a strong showing at states last June. Sophomore Emily McKenna returns after her All-CCC selection and will be leading the team with Rachel Bahouth, the Eagles lone senior.
Newington also returns a deep team, led by Chloe Bilodeau and Jessica Pierzchalski.
Wethersfield will be paced by senior Jared Hill and junior Grant Anderson. Watch out for Michael Manousos, who could be ready to shine during his sophomore season.
Rocky Hill’s Arian Gokhale is back for his junior season after a winning an opening-round match at states a season ago.
Rocky Hill hopes to follow up on their solid performance a season ago and has a trio of All-CCC’ers returning in Nicole Chamberland, Melanie Holmes, and Reva Shah.
Wethersfield is also coming off a terrific season in which they advanced to the quarterfinals in Class M. Kendall Cathcart, Lynne Landers, Megan Lauzon and Chloe Troy are all back on the court following All-CCC seasons.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin