Daniel Barron- Newington (Lacrosse): Barron scored a pair of goals and served up 3 assists, registering a season-high five total points, in Newington’s 11-7 victory over Rocky Hill on April 20. The sophomore has been a consistent force on the offensive end for an Indians team that is 8-2 heading into the week.
Erin Slavin- Rocky Hill (Softball): Slavin was 3-for-3, scoring three runs and driving in two more as Rocky Hill hammered Bloomfield 20-5 on April 17 at Elm Ridge Park. The freshman then had a few timely hits in a 6-3 win over Conard, which was the Terriers third win in their last five contests entering this week.
Riley Grenier- Wethersfield (Volleyball): Grenier combined for 65 assists in back-to-back wins over Enfield on April 17 and 22. The senior setter is averaging over eight assists per sets for an Eagles team that won their first nine matches this spring.
Tyler Baldwin- Cromwell (Baseball): Baldwin pitched a complete-game, two-hitter, striking out six in a 4-1 win over Morgan on April 17. The junior helped his own cause from the plate scoring a run and driving in another on two hits.
Cyan Gonzalez- Newington (Softball): Gonzalez had three hits, including the game-winning RBI in extra innings as Newington held off RHAM 9-8 on April 24. The senior shortstop has followed up her All-State junior campaign with another great season, leading the Indians in doubles and is tied for the team lead in hits.
Nate Schmidt- Cromwell (Golf): Schmidt was the medallist, shooting a 41 (+5) as Cromwell defeated East Hampton 177-197 on April 25. The senior has been a consistent force all spring and is leading a solid group of Panthers on the links.
Justin Fraleigh- Rocky Hill (Baseball): Fraleigh hit a grand slam as Rocky Hill and Simsbury battled into extras on April 24. It was the first career four-run dinger for the junior, who has helped the Terriers turn the season around. Following a 0-4 start, the team won three games in three nights, steamrolling Bulkeley/Weaver, Bloomfield/Aerospace and E.O. Smith by a combined score of 42-4.
Vincent Milluzzo- Wethersfield (Golf): Milluzzo shot a course best 42 (+6) against Newington on April 23. The Eagles lost a close one to the Indians, falling 182-185, but it was the second time in four outings that the sophomore swinger earned medallist this season, also finishing atop the leader board in the season-opening tournament against Glastonbury and Windsor.
Cromwell's Ethan Ranger and Justin Stergos eanred first team All-State ice hockey honors this winter. The duo, along with Newington co-op teammate Pat Doherty, also earned All-CCC recognition.
Cromwell – JJ Tracy, Gabe Charleston, Nick Wright
Newington - AJ Fair, Mason Romano
Wethersfield - Derek Tenney
Middletown - Tejan Lanser, Donte Pope
Cromwell – Vanessa Stolstajner, Najla Cecunjanin, Sadie Budzik, Jessica Della Ratta
Middletown - MacKenzie Dunn, Dominique Highsmith
Newington - Ashanti Frazier
Rocky Hill - Nikki Lukens
Wethersfield - Nicole Gwynn, Alice Kelly, Isabella Samse
Newington - Grace Mangiafico, Sophia Pittaluga
Rocky Hill - Renee Kraft
Wethersfield - Brenda Rodriguez
Wethersfield: Maddison Bradbury, Sienna Brodeur, Sarah Gordon, Erin Nargi
NBMC- Ethan Ranger, Justin Stergos, Pat Doherty
WMPR- Jake Peckrul, Trevor Piercewicz, Riodan Mertens, Aaron Cholewa
Boys Indoor Track
Middletown - Matt Lecky
Girls Indoor Track
Cromwell - Andraya Yearwood, Jordan Pare, Cara Jordan, Caitlin DellaRatta, Melissa Woodcock, Kaitlin Lewkowicz
Rocky Hill - Elizabeth Stockman
Boys Swimming & Diving
Middletown – Tyler Wenzel, Michael Flynn, Nick Lupacchino
Newington – Phillip Bucchi, Maksym Ugrak, Salvatore Scata, Luke Fote
Wethersfield – Rory Stickley, Matthew Iallonardo, Jack Blaisdell, Jack Kulpa, Tanner Bradbury, Holden Hoon, Caleb Skowronek, Brendon Mansaku, Hadden Gaunt, Brian Puglielli
Middletown - Eli Cyr, Erik Dubon, Terrell Johnson, Amari Lemon, Ian Mounts, Kalil Shabazz, Nygell Smikle, Jake Toth
Newington - Jacob Zotti
Rocky Hill - Nicholas Farachi, Joshua Loza
Wethersfield - Alec Arnold, Bryce Arnold, Austin Harnish, Matt Laurie, Marcus Nieves, Nick Thompson
The National Football League draft starts tonight! Here’s what the first round of the draft would look like if we entered The Land of Make Believe, in which NFL teams selected from the pool of talented gridironers who starred at the five local schools.
Welcome to the 5th Annual Bizarro Draft…
1. Arizona Cardinals: Bryce Karstetter (QB- Cromwell/Portland): Arizona drafted a potential QB of the future last April, but the new regime wants their own guy and the Cromwell-product fits perfectly with Kliff Kingsbury’s up-tempo pace. Karstetter is a student of the game and has all the tools and toughness to be the cornerstone in the desert.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Nygell Smikle (DL- Middletown): The 49ers need to generate more pressure on the quarterback and Smikle’s disruptive nature will help accomplish that. Explosive off the snap and packs a punch at the point of impact. A genuine tone-setter.
3. New York Jets: Nick Wright (WR- Cromwell/Portland): Wright has played only one year of organized football, yet that one season was jaw dropping. His production speaks for itself and his natural hands and ability to track the ball are a QB’s best friend. A quick learner who will become Sam Darnold’s safety valve.
4. Oakland Raiders: Osbourne Richards (DL- Middletown): A season ago Oakland lacked production from the front line and Richard’s relentless motor can change that. Sheds blocks with ease and plays with great leverage. Commands a double team.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Julian Mulero (LB- Newington): Mulero is an ideal fit in Tampa’s new defense under Todd Bowels. Offers flexibility at the linebacker position and plays downhill yet has the vision to recognize route combinations in coverage. Rare size and speed combination a major plus.
6. New York Giants: Connor Pace (WR- Wethersfield): Pace is good at anything involving athletics and thrives best with a football in his hands. Long, lean, and attacks the ball in the air, making him an immediate red zone threat in the Big Apple. He’ll have Giants fans saying, “Odell who?”
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Alex Boutin (OL- Rocky Hill): A player like Boutin is hard to find. Can dominate the interior on either side of the ball and his intimidating, aggressive style will allow him to captain an offensive line at the next level. Heart-and-soul type player.
8. Detroit Lions: Xzavier Reyes: (RB- Middletown): Reyes is too gifted to pass up for a team seeking an every down back. Physical, leg-churning running style will change the identity of the Detroit’s offense under new coordinator Darrell Bevell. Can carry a heavy load and is a frequent visitor to the end zone.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mitchell Quadrato (DE/LB- Wethersfield): Quadrato is an absolute steal for a Buffalo team that needs an edge rusher. Extremely quick first step and high motor allows him to be a terror in the opposing team’s backfield. Production on every snap.
10. Denver Broncos: Rasheed Patterson (OL- Newington): Great frame and athletic ability make Patterson the latest stud linemen to come out of Newington. His ability to pull and pancake defenders is an instant upgrade to a Denver offense that’s retooling.
11. Cincinnati Bengals: Dajaun Lomotey (DB- Middletown): Lomotey makes an impact no matter where he lines up on the field. Great footwork and disciplined in coverage, and hits like a linebacker in run support. Cincy is getting an enforcer on the defensive side of the ball.
12. Green Bay Packers: Kevin Hinkle (DB- Cromwell/Portland): Solid, smart leader with sticky hands. Hinkle’s outstanding recognition allows him to create impact plays and he’ll quickly become the voice of Mike Pettine’s secondary. Team-first guy.
13. Miami Dolphins: Matt Sevigny (HB/S- Rocky Hill): Sevigny is the jack of all trades and his versatility will be a welcomed as a new chapter begins in Miami. Comes from a family of athletes and is a high-character guy that will accept any position. Unique prospect.
14. Atlanta Falcons: Ismar Kandic (DL- Cromwell/Portland): Well-coached, tenacious enforcer who plays with a high energy. Kandic offers position versatility up and down the line and his ability to play through pain is just what the doctor ordered for an Atlanta defense that was devastated by injuries a season ago.
15. Washington Redskins: Stephen Hill (LB- Middletown): Production, production, production is what Hill brings every week. Magnet to ball carriers and his sideline-to-sideline proficiency is exactly what is needed against the gauntlet of premiere running backs in the NFC East.
16. Carolina Panthers: Austin Harnish (C- Wethersfield): Harnish will anchor a line at the next level for years to come thanks to his wealth of experience and wrestling background. Will overpower opponents and can get to the next level quickly. Tough as nails.
17. New York Giants: Jontae Dempsey (DB- Middletown): Supreme athlete with a nose for the ball, evidenced by his seven interceptions last fall. Played QB as well at Middletown, giving him an offensive mindset on defense, similar to Ed Reed. Special teams standout as well.
18. Minnesota Vikings: Craig Elliott (QB- Wethersfield): Vikings make first major splash of draft, taking a quarterback to challenge the 84-Million-Dollar Man. Elliott is a gritty competitor that has a nice deep ball and is an exemplary teammate. Future could be sooner than later in the Twin Cities.
19. Tennessee Titans: Izayah Ciarcia (WR- Newington): Lighting quickness and top-notch change of direction make Ciarcia a threat to score on every touch. Deceptive route runner that consistently comes back towards quarterback to create throwing lanes. Nice addition for playmaker-hungry Titans team.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Luke Kelleher (TE- Wethersfield): Outstanding size, balance, and soft hands make Kelleher a prototypical every down tight end. He’ll remind the Pitt-faithful of Heath Miller because of his knack for getting open and creating big plays in clutch moments. Solid from top to bottom.
21. Seattle Seahawks: Zac Cyr (DB- Cromwell/Portland): Heady player that is not afraid of contact and phenomenal against the run. Cyr will bring a physicality back to Seattle’s secondary and has added athleticism thanks to his lacrosse background.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Dylan Nees-Fair (RB- Newington): Perfect addition to Baltimore’s potent rushing attack. DNF is a long striding, north-south runner with soft hands out of the backfield. Lamar Jackson has a new running mate for years to come.
23. Houston Texans: Devon Kilham (DB- Cromwell/Portland): Emotional leader is a steal this late in the first round. Great in pursuit of ball, both in the air and on the ground, and has reliable hands from his work as a receiver. Doesn’t back down from a challenge.
24. Oakland Raiders: Julian Ortiz (MLB- Newington): Ortiz brings his hardhat to work every day. A sure-tackler with solid fundamentals vs the run and in coverage. Potential decade-long leader of a defense needing an identity.
25. Philadelphia Eagles: Shane Gallagher (HB- Rocky Hill): Multifaceted talent with great vision. Gallagher is a shifty back who can split out wide and run entire route tree. Ideal fit for Doug Pederson’s constantly evolving offense.
26. Indianapolis Colts: David Colon (DB- Wethersfield): Colon offers extreme flexibility with ability to play on an island or in-the-box at the line of scrimmage. Fantastic closing speed and has receiver mentality when the ball is in the air. Excellent addition to an Indy secondary on the rise.
27. Oakland Raiders: Winston Urena (OL- Rocky Hill): Can play a variety of roles along the line and excels in run blocking. Urena gives his all on every play and will steamroll opponents, especially if pulling. Raiders getting a well coached, effort guy with their third selection in the first round.
28. Los Angeles Chargers: Eric Sims (OT- Newington): It’s rare you can draft a potential Pro Bowl blind side tackle late in the first round, but Sims has the size and athleticism to fit the bill. Balance to protect the passer and burst to get to the second level.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Bryan Lockwood (RB-Cromwell/Portland): Hard to envision KC’s offense getting more dangerous but Lockwood’s nose for the end zone will bring another dimension to Chiefs high-octane attack. Complete back that also excels as a lead back and has soft hands out of the backfield, making him a potential H-Back at the next level.
30. Green Bay Packers: Owen Brunk (LB- Cromwell/Portland): Sky is the limit for a young linebacker with natural football instincts. Brunk has only one year of post-Pop Warner football experience but he showcased a rare ability to recognize offensive alignments and an explosion to drive though ball carriers. Could be Lambeau’s second-coming of AJ Hawk.
31. Los Angeles Rams: Nico Capasso (LB- Rocky Hill): Capasso gives maximum effort and is always around the ball. Outstanding work ethic and is a positive influence on the players around him. High-level character and performance.
32. New England Patriots: Nick Pestrichello (QB- Newington): The new heir apparent in New England. Pestrichello has a quick release and his sweet feet will allow him to get on the field in a variety of capacities while being groomed for his chance behind center.
Dozen Day-Two Prospects
Cam Latronica (FLEX- Cromwell/Portland): There’s a lot of buzz about Latronica because of his versatility. Shined as an edge rusher a season ago but is also dangerous and comfortable with the ball in his hands. Either way, he’s a star in the making.
Omar Ahmed (DB- Rocky Hill): Excellent technique and ball skills make Ahmed a nice addition to any team. Breaks on ball very well and creates turnover with his awareness and wide receiver mitts.
Matt Silver (QB- Wethersfield): Loads of upside for this savvy signal caller. Silver is a duel threat that can beat you with his arm and burn you with his legs. Intriguing prospect beaming with potential.
Tyreece Lumpkin (CB/RB- Middletown): Not sure how Lumpkin fell out of first round, but some team is getting the next Darren Sproles early in the second round. Dynamite with the ball in his hands and quick as the day is long.
Ja’quan Graham (QB- Rocky Hill): Electrifying talent with a live arm and the stride to outrun all levels of the defense. Smooth and fluid with the ball in his hands.
Tavien Harris (DL- Middletown): Another mauler from Middletown. Harris is stout and difficult to block with the engine to chase down ball carriers behind the line. Solid in-and-out.
Jacob Rivera (MLB- Wethersfield): Underrated and productive middleman that can flow east and west. Rivera reads formations well and plays with patient, yet can attack quickly.
Javier Polanco (LB/S- Newington): Athleticism to play all over in the back seven. Closes rapidly against the run and opportunistic with the ball in flight. Polanco is an ascending star that is just coming into his own.
Keenan Esau (S- Newington): Played a variety of positions at Newington and did his best work as a ball-hawking safety. Rangy athlete who locates the ball well and can get off blocks in run support.
Kenny Fountain (WR- Middletown): Fountain is a big play waiting to happen and will take the top off the defense. Run-after-catch ability is off the charts and has legit lateral quickness to avoid tackles.
Belall Matar (WR- Rocky Hill): Matar has all the tools. Great size and length provide him a massive catch radius and he’ll win nearly every 50-50 ball. Anquan Boldin-esque.
Brandon Kamansky (FLEX- Newington): Injuries have hampered Kamansky at Newington but he’s a football-first guy, on and off the field. Good leader and excellent locker room presence that will make the most of his opportunity.
Left- Alexis Szymecki signs letter of intent to play at University of Hartford. Pictured w/ father (Maciek), mother (Pam), and sisters (twins- Olivia and Krysta) & (Bottom) Right- Megan Keleher signs to play at CCSU. Pictured with father (Ralph) and mother (Lori)
Wethersfield seniors Alexis Szymecki and Megan Keleher have signed letters of intent to continue their soccer careers at local universities.
Szymecki signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Hartford next fall. She was a member of the girls’ soccer program for four years. During her senior season she served as one of the captains, helping guide the Eagles to a second straight CCC North Divisional Championship, while also earning All-Conference and All-State honors after scoring 25 goals and dishing out 10 assists. This past fall she was also selected to the CHSCA Senior Bowl and earned CCC All-Academic status. She will continue to play forward for the Hawks next year.
Outside of soccer at WHS, Szymecki is active in numerous areas, including serving as a captain of the track and field team and has competed in the triple jump, long jump, 100m, and 4x100 relay.
Szymecki is a member of the JETS team and has served on the Student Council. She has been a Corpus Christi CCD teacher and has participated with FSA Soccer for eight years and currently competes with the Ajax Premiere Soccer Club. She has also volunteered her time with the George D. Ritchie Soccer club as a coach and referee.
Keleher signed her letter of intent to play soccer at Central Connecticut State University next fall. Keleher is a three-year starting goalkeeper for Eagles, helping lead the team to two straight CCC titles. During her junior and senior seasons, she was named to both the CCC All-Conference team and the CHSCA All-State team. This past year she served as a captain and was selected to play in the 2018 Soccer Senior Bowl.
Keleher has been active at WHS during her tenure participating in the Yearbook Club, Future Educator's Club, and the Bridge Program. She also played on the golf team her freshman year and was part of the track and field team her junior year. As an honor student, she also received CCC All-Academic status for three seasons.
Outside the high school, she has played soccer for FSA as well as on the ODP U17 team. She also volunteered with the George D. Ritchie Soccer Club with the mini-kickers. Next year at CCSU she will major in Physical Education.
(Information and content provided by the Wethersfield Athletic Department)
The Starting Five: Area Athletes of the Week
Dominque Highsmith- Middletown (Softball): Highsmith went 4-4, including a walk-off homer, as Middletown rallied from a two-run deficit to defeat Glastonbury 10-9 in dramatic fashion last Monday. The senior has saved her best high school season for her last and has already committed to play softball at CCSU next spring.
Conor Senk- Wethersfield (Volleyball): Senk combined for 23 kills, 17 digs, and four aces as Wethersfield swept East Hartford and New Britain in back-to-back nights last Tuesday and Wednesday. The junior is part of a great front line for the Eagles, who have won their first five matches this spring.
Nick Polizonis- Cromwell (Baseball): Polizonis scored three runs as Cromwell earned their first victory of the season, 14-4 over East Hampton last Wednesday. The junior has been solid from the plate this spring, leading the Panthers in hits and runs through the first six games.
Teddy Fravel- Newington (Volleyball): Fravel had a .889 hitting percentage, racking up 17 kills and a block assists in Newington’s three-set victory over Lewis Mills last Friday. The senior has a dozen total blocks, which is tied for a team-high during the Indians’ flawless 6-0 mark this season.
Zac Cyr- Cromwell (Lacrosse): Cyr had a great six-day span, scoring 11 goals and dishing out three assists during the Panthers last three games. The senior scored six goals against Middletown, scored a pair more and dished out three assists against Valley Regional, and scored three more times against Morgan last Thursday. Earlier this month, Cyr scored his 100th career high school goal and has already committed to play college lacrosse at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire next spring.
Newington's Hannah Drew defends Middletown goalie Lee Ann Roy during the Indians 17-3 victory at Clem Lemire last Tuesday
A new era in Middletown sports started last Tuesday night as the girls’ lacrosse program made their varsity debut.
The Blue Dragons played valiantly but were ultimately overwhelmed by a high-powered Newington squad, 17-3, at Clem Lemire in Newington.
“We talked about playing like we practice and that it was just another game, just another day,” Middletown head coach Shannon Murdock said following the debut, “It’s varsity, but if we play like we practice we’ll be okay.”
After three years at a JV level, the team made the jump to varsity this spring.
Junior Isabella Maffucci scored the program’s first varsity goal with 4:32 left in the first half and sophomore Rachel Getek added a pair of goals in the second half.
“We’re very proud of them,” added Murdock, who was also complimentary of her sophomore goaltender Lee Ann Roy, who had a nice initial outing in net, “She’s actually our backup goalie, but she did an awesome job for having to step in there the first time ever playing goalie.”
The newly-minted team showed positive signs, especially in the second half, but Newington was relentless early on, scoring five goals in the first ten minutes of action before cruising to their second victory in as many nights.
“We had a really great win yesterday that was pretty well deserved,” said head coach Allison Hoffman, referring to a 16-11 victory over Windsor last Monday, “I wanted them to keep that momentum going into this game. We knew they were a newer program, so we wanted to focus on playing to the level of intensity that we had yesterday.”
Senior Maya Gajowiak scored a game-high six goals and assisted on four others, helping the Indians reach 2-0 for the first time since 2013.
“Having games back to back was helpful because we had a lot of things from yesterday that we had to work on, and they were fresh in our minds today,” said Gajowiak, who scored seven goals in the season-opener against Windsor, “Last year we lost to Windsor, so we were focused on getting that revenge. We’ve been working on whatever we needed to work from last year and pushing ourselves in practice.”
Gajowiak is again captaining the team, along with fellow senior Hannah Drew and juniors Reagan Pelton and Chloe Mamaclay.
Pelton got things started, scoring a pair of goals at the 24:20 and 21:13 mark of the first half. The senior finished with three goals, following up her six-goal outing against Windsor.
Drew polished off the game in the second half, scoring all five of her goals over the final 25 minutes. She also dished out three assists.
“We’re very close. We’ve been playing with each other since middle school, mostly,” Gajowiak said of the captain’s relationships, “We’re close outside the sport, which helps us with our chemistry on the field and we trust each other more of the field, which I think is really important.”
Hoffman wasn’t sure what to expect coming into this season after losing several seniors from her 2018 team that finished 6-10.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of surprised because we lost eight seniors, six were pretty much consistent starters. We have a lot of young talent this year and a lot of surprising young talent that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to come out as strong as they have. I thought we may have bigger gaps but I like what I saw yesterday against a team that stopped us from going onto states last year and to see they were able to come together like they did today,” said Hoffman, who is in her second year as a head coach following her stint as a player and an assistant coach with the program.
Since 2016, Gajowiak has been the one constant and is now expanding her role to benefit the team.
“Being a four-year starter, I’ve been working on new things that I’ve learned from people older than me and I’ve been going to clinic outside,” said the 3x all-conference honoree, “This year I’m looking to play more middie. The last couple of years I’ve been playing attack but since we lost a lot of people on the defensive side that’s a big thing I’ve been trying to work on. I think I can be a big help on the other side of the field.”
“She’s that safety net for the team,” Hoffman said of Gajowiak, “I think the other girls see how calm she is when she gets the ball, it almost looks effortless sometimes when she catches the ball. She really is someone that the girls look up to and she’s stepped up more as a leader, not only on the field but off the field too.”
Defensively the team is still working out the kinks and have a couple of different options at goalie.
Last year’s starter Kali Lessard got the nod in the opener, saving seven shots.
Senior Erin Stenvall started against Middletown, saving four of the seven shots she faced.
“This was her first full varsity game. I told her yesterday that she would start, I wanted to give her and opportunity to show what she could do in a game setting,” said Hoffman, “Kali played in yesterday’s game and did well but I did that with a lot of people today, trying to mix things up and see who is working where and the amount of effort they are putting in to prove they belong in that spot. That’s what I’ve been trying to drill into them since day one, that every single spot and every single minute is earned. We just have to keep working on the little things.”
Following the game, the victorious team celebrated the win by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mamaclay, who helped the defensive cause with three takeaways on her birthday.
Sophomore Kayleigh Sanchez added three more steals.
Hoffman likes the direction the team is headed after trying a different approach in her second year at the helm.
“I tried to have less expectations as far as who was going to go where. I feel like last year I already had it in my mind how everything was going to work, and I wanted to do it a little different this year because we have so many new people. We’re still figuring out who the consistent starters are going to be and trying to find that chemistry, but after the two straight wins it’s looking like we’re off to a good start.”
Last Thursday Newington suffered their first loss, falling to Southington 20-8 despite another six goals from Gajowiak.
Next up is a road test at Tolland, Monday April 15 at 4 pm, before they return home the following day against Conard at 3:45 pm.
As for Middletown, they’ll next play a home game against Simsbury this Friday, April 12 at 5 pm. It’ll be the next step in the process for Murdock and her young team.
“The plan is to keep kids interested and keep them wanting to play. Every year we want to work and get better.”
The Starting Five: Athletes of the Week
Jack Kelley- Newington (Baseball): Kelley pitched a complete game three-hitter, striking out seven, as the Indians defeated Rocky Hill 7-2. The senior also went 3-3 from the plate in the season-opening victory over the Terriers.
Kaitlyn Snyder- Cromwell (Softball): Snyder tossed a complete game, one-hit shutout as Cromwell blanked Old Saybrook 12-0, improving the Panthers to 2-0. Sophomore Monica Dewey blasted a grand slam in the team’s season opening, 18-2, victory over Westbrook last Monday.
Rachel Thureson- Newington (Softball): Thureson went 3-3 from the plate, scored four runs and drove in another as Newington dealt Rocky Hill a 25-8 defeat. The senior also scored a pair of runs and drove in two more in the Indians season-opener, a 14-13 victory over Windsor Locks last Monday.
Joe Chiappetta- Middletown (Lacrosse): Chiappetta scored four goals and assisted on two others as the Middletown boys’ lacrosse won their first ever varsity contest, defeating Jonathan Law 11-5. The Blue Dragons won two more contests last week; an 11-4 triumph over Enfield on Tuesday behind four goals and two assists from senior Kyle Dale and a 13-6 victory over Cromwell on Saturday thanks to four more goals from Dale and three goals and two assists from Chiappetta.
Molly Bowers- Wethersfield (Softball): Bowers earned her first varsity win in Wethersfield’s 17-10 victory over Rocky Hill last Friday night at Cottone Field. The freshman took the mound with the Eagles trailing 6-1 and battled tough weather conditions, helping steady the ship as the home team rallied to score 16 of the next 20 runs to defeat their rivals.
Newington's Teddy Fravel (left) with 'Double L' teammates Louis Egbuna (center) and Leonel Caceres (right) hope to lead the Indians to thier third straight state championship this spring
Newington boys’ volleyball is entering a stratosphere that few high school sports programs have ever reached.
This spring they began a quest for a third consecutive state championship, and if they complete the journey it would be the program’s sixth title in since 2012.
“We’re going for the three-peat, that’s the plan,” senior Leonel Caceres said following practice last Monday,
“I’m a very confident guy and of course it’s one game a time, but the goal is to three-peat.”
Caceres is coming off an All-State junior season, registering a team-high 321 kills and 45 aces.
2018 ended with a five-set victory over Joel Barlow in the Class M title tilt at Shelton High School and the confident Caceres is already making plans for a return trip to Shelton for the triple dip.
“I came in here as a freshman wanting to win a ring and I’ve got two so far. Now I want that third.”
Entering this season, the program has appeared in six championship matches over the past eight years--- winning in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, and finishing as the runner-up in 2011.
Veteran head coach Curt Burns has been the guiding force for each of those championships appearance and has most of his weapons returning for a potential 2019 championship campaign.
“It’s probably one of the best collection of athletes that I’ve had. The guys came back physically better. They’re older, they’re stronger, a lot of guys have been in the weight room,” said Burns, who is entering his 16th season at NHS, “The pieces are all there but as far as the cohesive unit, that’s still a work in progress. Believe it or not we still have to work on some things. We’re working on team chemistry and some guys are playing new roles.”
Burns has six of his seven starters returning, including all-conference outside hitter Louis Egbuna, who had a team-high 23 kills and seven aces in the 2018 championship match.
“I got more athletic. I got quicker, I can jump higher, my contact with the ball is better. I think I’m a cleaner player this year,” said Egbuna, who has committed to play volleyball at Nichols College next year, “They showed me the most love. They welcomed me to the team like I was a part of them already. It’s great because all of that extra pressure is off my back. I can just worry about playing volleyball for my high school team and about this season, trying to get back-to-back-to-back.”
The tandem of Caceres and Egbuna have been dubbed “Double L”, a play on their first names which they turned into a celebratory hand gesture.
The duo, along with middle hitters Teddy Fravel and Mason Romano, formed a brick wall at the net a season ago, each breaking the century mark in kills.
Newington’s fearsome foursome is back, each standing over 6’2” and each with the ability to jump out of the gym.
“I think we’re the best middle duo in the state,” a 6’7” Fravel said of his partnership in the middle with Romano, who stands 6’5”, “I don’t think anybody has two middles as strong as us, so that’s probably intimidating for the other teams.”
Since the program’s reign began, chemistry has been a key to the success. The current group gained experience together last season and a handful of players have familiarity with each other from time together on the basketball court.
Egbuna, Fravel, Romano, Julian Ortiz, and Jacob Baclawski are all fresh off a tournament run on the hardwood this winter.
“They all know each other and the comradery and familiarity they get from basketball will hopefully carry over to this sport,” said Burns
“It helps because we’re all comfortable with each other. Since November we’ve been playing basketball together, through the ups and downs and now we’re just transferring it to volleyball. We have such a tight-knit group,” added Egbuna.
2018-graduate and All-State setter Dan Cloutier is the only starter not returning, leaving a void at a key position.
“We lost a great player in Dan and replacing him is going to be a priority. We’re developing a couple of setters. That’s a very big position, being a setter is like being a quarterback or point guard, so we’ve got to work on that,” said Burns
Following his 2018 All-State recognition at outside hitter, Caceres has been filling the role as setter and is ready for the opportunity.
“Wherever I play I’m going to try my best. As the setter you’re like the QB and I accept that challenge,” said Caceres.
Junior Alex DiPaola, who was the setter for the 18-2 JV squad a season ago, will also be in the mix.
Libero Collin Liedke, who had a team-high 330 digs, and Riley Miller are back to round out the returning starters.
The experienced team, featuring six seniors, is laser focused on pulling the Pat Riley-trademarked “three-peat” but the senior class has also been busy mentoring the next generation of volleyball stars at NHS.
“Today coach was talking about the veterans helping out the younger kids with their serves. We want to have the hardest serves in Connecticut, so it’s just about helping them out because we have experience,” said Egbuna, wearing his 6x State Championship Newington Volleyball shirt, “When I was young the older group of guys helped me out so I want to pass it along and help them be as best as they can be, so we can go back-to-back-to-back-to-back.”
“It’s very important,” Caceres added about teaching the underclassmen, “You have to build them up as we’re winning and then they feel like they’re part of that.”
Baclawski is one of the young guys that is primed to take his game to another level this spring. The sophomore sensation has earned high marks so far from Caceres.
It’s a well-oiled machine that shows no signs of slowing down. The team started talking three-peat as soon as the dust settled at Shelton High last June.
“Right after that game we closed our back-to-back group chat and opened up the back-to-back-to-back group chat,” stated Fravel, who will be playing basketball at Clarkson University next season, “It’s got to be right from the gate. Everyone needs to know what to expect when they play Newington.”
Last Saturday, the team’s three-peat quest started off on the right foot, downing fellow powerhouse Cheshire in four sets in the season-opener at NHS. The Indians dropped the first set before winning the final three sets (25-27, 25-22, 25-20, 25-22).
Cacares debut as a setter was spectacular, dishing out 35 assists and a pair of aces. Egbuna earned player of the game honors following his team-high 15 kills.
Fravel and Baclawski each added nine kills, Romano added eight kills and a team-high three blocks.
The Indians next home game is this Friday, April 5 against Enfield at 5 pm.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin