WHS 2020 seniors Taylor Ayers, Leah Ayers, and Sydney Bowers pictured with 2019 graduates Meaghan Murphy and Emily McKenna after winning the conference championship in 2019
Over the next couple of weeks we’ll spotlight the local senior golfers, starting with the girl’s team at Wethersfield High School. The Eagles had five seniors, who were all big contributors during the program’s back-to-back conference champions the last previous two seasons.
Below is an open letter that head coach Carl Mearman wrote, focusing on the growth of his five seniors over the last fours years.
“It was only a couple months ago that I was sitting in my classroom with my 2020 golf team discussing the upcoming season. Little did we know fate had other plans. The anticipation for the upcoming season was growing as the days drew nearer to the start of our practice sessions. As we all know, this season was stolen. Not just for my players but for all athletes that thought they were going to participate on the 2020 spring sports season. For me personally I missed a season with a great group of players and sharing their experiences on the golf course has been missed. My heart breaks for my five seniors, Leah Ayers, Taylor Ayers, Sydney Bowers, Stephanie Breglio, and Abigail Dupont.
I have been coaching the Wethersfield Girls Golf Team for over ten years and this year is particularly difficult to come to terms with. I hurt for my senior players, and for all senior students. Each and every one of them missed out on so much…senior picnic, class night, prom, and a proper high school graduation that they worked so hard for over the past thirteen years.
This year’s girls’ golf team missed out on continuing their solid play that has carried over from the three previous seasons. The 2018 season was this year’s senior class’ second year on the team. They were all strong contributors as the team posted a record of 15-1. Winning the conference title was a high point for the team but there they set a new goal for the following year. They wanted to improve and so they did. The team came back the following year stronger posting a first ever undefeated season for the girl’s golf team, posting a 16-0 record. Once again, they won the conference title.
So, their goal for 2020 was to repeat their undefeated season and take the conference title once again. I truly believe they have all the talent and drive to complete the task. Not only that but I feel they would have improved on their best ever States finish of third place. Unfortunately, Covid-19 stole that from the girls.
Going back to March when we were first barred from school, I like many others hoped it would only be for a short time. The season was still weeks away. To the credit of the seniors on my team they took it upon themselves to form their own practice sessions by going out to the course in the cold weather and playing golf. They took the time to whip their games into shape anticipating the start of the season. As the delays were extended by the thankfully optimistic CIAC I have to commend my team’s over-the-top effort. They kept practicing anticipating the upcoming start of the season. A season that never materialized.
The season was to begin at the beginning of April. As the delays dragged on, we felt that maybe we could salvage a shortened season and possibly win the conference title once again. But it didn’t take too long to realize that the season was going to be totally lost.
Since the season is lost, I can confess that it’s not just the time on the course that was stolen from the team. Our team practice rounds at Wethersfield Country Club were always a fun spirited venture. I believe my team’s optimistic attitude is what helped them through this very unfair and difficult time. Our bus rides to and from away matches were always an event, this year they are sadly missed. I can picture the girls sitting in the back of the bus playing music, singing songs, eating snacks, and joking around. In other words, they were creating life-long memories with friends.
The season ending banquet is another tradition that has fallen victim to the virus. It’s a time when the girl’s and boy’s golf teams gather together to review the season’s high points and to properly recognize and send off our senior players. As their coach it is my last opportunity to publicly express my feelings and thoughts about my senior players. We all look forward to the banquet as the final memorable moment on their four-year golf journey.
Since I never had the opportunity to express my feelings at the banquet concerning my five seniors, I’d like to share my thoughts….
Over the years Abigail Dupont grew as a player and a teammate. In the beginning she lacked confidence in her game but over the years she developed into a player that continually contributed to our team’s success. I was so looking forward to seeing how much you’ve grown this season as a player and teammate.
Stephanie Breglio really surprised me. When she first joined the team, she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t the “strongest” player on the team. I am truly impressed at her dedication and her tenacious perseverance to improve. Always a great steadfast teammate, Stephanie would be there to support and encourage her teammates. The fact that her game is as strong as ever this year saddens me as she never had the opportunity to play in 2020 matches. I just want Steph to know her hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
There was a time when Taylor Ayers wasn’t the solid golfer she is today. During her first two years on the team she played in matches but lacked confidence. All that changed during the summer between her sophomore and junior years. Her competitive nature grew ten-fold as she worked all summer to improve her game. Upon returning to the team last year it was clearly evident that there was a new Taylor on the golf course. Taylor became a force to reckoned with during matches. Her burning desire to beat her sister’s score might have been a factor. It will always be a special memory watching the sisters compete. The bring out the best in each other’s game.
Over the past four years Sydney Bowers has been a steady contributing member of the team. I will always think of Sydney when I see her favorite on-course snack, baby carrots. Sydney always seemed to hold back confidence wise on the course. That changed last year as she greatly contributed to our undefeated season. As her confidence grew and improved so did her game. Always projecting a warm sincere smile Sydney helped to instill confidence in her teammates. A bright light on the team that will be missed next season.
The true energy spark for the team over the past four years was Leah Ayers. A girl that is constantly on the move, thankfully she channels a great deal of her energy into her golf game. Leah thrives on competition and the confidence in her game was evident from the first time I saw her hit a golf ball. No matter the weather Leah is out practicing trying to improve on her game. On the bus rides to and from away games Leah would play her Bluetooth speaker filling the bus with songs whether we wanted to hear them or not. A true leader and in her own way a consistent motivator for her teammates. Leah’s unabashed love for the game will be missed next season.
Time is an unrelenting taskmaster. Time lost is lost, never to be regained or relived. The time my senior players lost can never be replaced. The memories lost can never be replaced. I think of what could have been, what should have been and shake my head. I will truly miss my five seniors and always wonder what their lost season held in store for each and every one of them. Golf is a game that my seniors will always have and I hope they continue playing throughout their entire lives.
May your future be bright!!!”
Nick Polizonis (left) and Tyler Baldwin (right) were Cromwell's two senior baseball players this spring
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the high school spring sports season was over before it started. Over the next couple of months we’ll recognize several local senior athletes, who have invested countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years into their respective sports only to have it cut short by this unfortunate time in our history.
This week we focus on the senior baseball players. Information provided by head coaches: Cromwell-Christian Budzik, Middletown- Josh Cofield, Newington-Ben Alaimo, Rocky Hill-Bill Eller, Wethersfield-Mark Bagdasarian
Message from coach Budzik, “Both [of our seniors] were captains as juniors and really set a great example and high expectations for the younger kids on the team. This season had high promise and we were going to go as far as they would take us.”
Nick Polizonis was reliable behind and at the plate, racking up 23 hits while hitting .390, and leading the team with six double in 20 games a season ago. As a catcher, he threw out 75% of runners. Polizonis was also the winning pitcher in team’s most impressive win of the season against Haddam Killingworth last spring . He will continue his athletic and academic career playing baseball at the University of Southern Maine.
Tyler Baldwin was a dominant pitcher, posting a 1.98 ERA on the mound in 2019. Baldwin had 24 hits, averaging .387 at the plate in 16 games as the team’s starting shortstop, earning him first-team All-Shoreline Conference last spring. He will attend Southern Connecticut State University and is keeping his baseball options open.
Message from coach Cofield, “While it is heartbreaking that they couldn't play their senior year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a pleasure and an honor to work with each of them. If there is one thing this season has taught us it is to never take anything for granted and to enjoy every moment because you never know what tomorrow will bring. They will all be part of the Blue Dragon family forever, and I wish them the best of luck in the next steps in their lives.”
Cade Napoletano showed tremendous commitment and dedication to the game of baseball. Coach Cofield said Napoletano was a pleasure to work with for the past four years.
Lucas Radziewicz was a three-year starter and showed a great work ethic and commitment to improving during his time at MHS.
Cody Sanford played baseball all four years and led by example, giving 100% effort every day. Coach Cofield described Sanford as an extremely hard working kid
John Shettleworth played baseball at MHS for three years. Shettleworth brought a positive attitude to the field and was described as a supportive and encouraging teammate.
Jack Passamano played all four years and was known for being a hard worker. Passamano was described as a great team player who was always willing to support his teammates.
Greyson Pizzonia was slated to be the team captain in 2020. Pizzonia was a dedicated player who put up great numbers during his time at MHS. He’ll will be attending Adelphi University and playing collegiate baseball for the New York-based Panthers next spring.
Emily Meeker has been a student manager for the baseball team the past four years. Meeker was always willing to help with whatever is needed and will be missed next year.
Kailee Milardo was also a four-year student manager. Milardo’s dedication to the team has been extremely appreciated and she was always going above and beyond, calling in stats, and supporting each team as needed.
Message from coach Alaimo, “I feel very badly for all the players but especially the seniors. This was a special group of boys who have played and grown-up together on the baseball diamond. For them to lose the last chance to strive together to accomplish a goal they have been aiming at for years was tough! Luckily these boys have great heads on their shoulders and although they are enormously disappointed they will handle this adversity well and become stronger because of it. I know them well enough to know that is true.”
Gunnar Johnson was three-year starter, who was a rock behind the plate as a catcher. Johnson was a two-time all-state and two-time all-conference selection, leading the team in most offensive statistics for past two seasons. He set a single season batting average record in 2019, hitting .540, and was on pace to break the career RBI record and reach the 100-hit milestone in 2020. Coach Alaimo believed that Johnson was going to be in the running for Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020. Johnson’s playing days will continues, as he is off to play at DI Wofford College in South Carolina.
Anthony Parafati was a pitcher who was expected to play a key role after coming back from an injury in 2019. Despite the injury, Parafati stayed with the team to do what ever he could to help. Coach Alaimo called him a “terrific young man” and said he was going to make his mark in 2020.
Ryan Saindon was reliable in the outfield and at the plate, hitting .300 near the top of the line-up in 2019. Saindon had an OBP (on-base percentage) of .441 and was known for his speedy and smooth base running. He was in line to have an even better season in 2020.
Jon Pyne played outfield and pitched, earning all-conference in 2019. Pyne hit .309 and showed good pop with his bat with four doubles, and also possessing terrific speed by scoring 18 runs last spring. The lefty was slated as a starting pitcher in 2020.
Danny Crouse was set to take over at shortstop in 2020, after seeing spot duty a season ago. Crouse has smooth hands and high baseball IQ, which earned him the starting job this spring. Alaimo said he was extremely excited to watch him play this year.
Domenick Bukowski played second base and showed a ton of potential as a junior, hitting .286. Bukowski is a solid defender, a hard worker, and a great teammate, who was ready to play everyday this season.
Sam Dionne showed very good ability as a pitcher a season ago, starting three games and posting two wins. During those three starts, he gave up zero earned runs and struck out 16, while walking only one. Dionne was set to be atop the pitching rotation in 2020 and was expected to have a tremendous season. He was also a very good infielder with good range, clean exchange, and a quick release.
Matt Sevigny was a consistent pitcher and center fielder. Sevigny was described as a strong pull hitter with power at the plate, and having a quick first step with great tracking ability in the field. On the mound, he had a put away fastball with good location.
Ryan Robb pitched and played third base, excelling as a gap-to-gap hitter at the plate. On the mound, Robb had great hands with a plus arm and devastating movement on all pitches, specializing in the curveball.
Ryan Boyle played catcher and outfield, and could hit with power all over the field. Boyle was a great game-manger with a strong arm behind the plate.
Justin Fraleigh was a versatile fielder with a strong arm, playing first base, shortstop, third base and pitching at RHHS. Fraleigh was consistent at putting the barrel on the ball with power to put the ball in either direction and had a solid glove and footwork around the diamond. He is off to continue his academic and baseball career at Roger Williams University.
Rockwell Spalding played left and right field, and had a strong, accurate arm from either outfield position. At the plate, Spalding was a great line drive hitter.
Message from coach Bagdasarian, “We would have been a solid group because of [the seniors] leadership. Solid group of ball players, quality students and even better just all around kids in general. Feel bad for all the seniors who played winter and spring sports. Even the kids who didn't they lost proms, senior picnics, and maybe even graduation. Really sad.”
Matt Bagdasarian was entering his third varsity season, pitching and playing infield. Bagdasarian was a contributor on the Eagles 2018 state championship team as a designated hitter and third baseman. Last season, he earned all conference selection, as well as being selected to the CHSCA junior prospect All-Star game.
Brandon Bukowski was also entering his third varsity season and was named all-conference in 2019. Bukowski was a versatile outfield who would have been a top-of-the-order guy in 2020.
Hunter Dombal was the starting catcher for the 2018 state championship team and earned all-conference in 2019. Dombal was a solid defensive catcher was slated to be a mainstay in the middle of the lineup in 2020.
Ryan Koplin played first base year and had grown into a team leader in the off-season. Koplin’s role was set to expand in 2020, thanks to his solid bat at the plate and reliable glove in the field.
Joe Coleman played outfield and pitched, and was coming off a solid junior season. Coleman was in-line for a large role on the mound and was set to bat in the middle of the lineup in 2020.
Julian Gonzalez was an versatile infielder, playing shortstop, second base, and third base. Described as a top-of-the-order kid with middle-of-the-lineup pop.
Andrew Desrochers was set to roam the center field for the Eagles this fall. Desrochers tracks the ball in the outfield extremely well and has a good approach at the plate.
Joe Porriello would have been part of the pitching staff this year, either as a regular starter or a bullpen option that was brought in to get big outs.
Nick Babineau, would have played in the outfield and helped handle some of the catching duties when Dombal was used as a pitcher. Babineau was set to have a key role in 2020.
Owen Barnett was prepping for his first year on varsity, helping out in the outfield and at the plate for in 2020.
Ryan Santiago was another first-year varsity player who would have had opportunities in the outfield this spring.
Wethersfield senior Zoe Kleeblatt keeps a smile on her face no matter what obstacle arises.
That optimistic outlook has helped her process through the unprecedented finish to her high school career, which included the cancellation of the spring softball season.
“When we first heard about it, no one thought we wouldn’t be coming back the rest of the year,” Kleeblatt recalled when first hearing the news of cancellations and distance learning, “But it’s been a pretty good experience, considering the time. You don’t have that interaction with your peers and teachers, but the teachers at WHS are just amazing. They’re doing a great job connecting with the students and we’re learning just as much as we would have if we were in the classroom.”
Kleeblatt starred at both field hockey and softball during her time as WHS.
The four-year, multi-sport athlete contributed to the rapid growth of the field hockey program, which increased its win total in each of Kleeblatt’s seasons, culminating this fall when the Eagles finished the regular season 15-1 and won a tournament game.
“We had been building up the program and it was good to see all the hard work from the players and coaches had finally paid off. We were not only playing better, but we were winning too.”
Then there was softball, her true childhood passion.
Countless hours of playing catch with her father, Greg, in the backyard helped hone her abilities and years of competitive softball (both school and travel) allowed her to develop the skills need to play at the next level.
“For softball, I’ve been playing for so long. Every time I step on the field I feel excited about it. I just love getting on the field every day and it’s really special playing with all my friends.”
Colleen Budaj, who coached Kleeblatt all four seasons in both sports, called Kleeblatt a versatile player who is dedicated to the sport.
Budaj added that Kleeblatt also aided with the skill development of future WHS softball players, “She helped at a number of youth clinics that we helped run with Wethersfield Little League this winter, and in past seasons. She enjoys working with the younger players and sharing her love of the sport with them.”
“Our relationship is special because we’ve known each other for so long,” said Kleeblatt, who first had Budaj as a teacher in the sixth grade, “She’s been in my life for so long and she’s gotten to know how I learn as a player. I’ve really enjoyed working with her these past four years and I think she’s helped me develop as a leader too because she’s such a good leader. I take those aspects of her coaching to being a captain and a leader.”
When she wasn’t competing as an athlete, Kleeblatt was part of the Young Democrats Club and Skills21 App Development Club at WHS. In Skills21 she learned to write code and develop useful apps, which included a fitness app, an app to help save sea turtles, and an app for students on the autism spectrum.
Kleeblatt’s next stop is Dickinson College, where she’ll join the Red Devils softball team in Carlisle, Pennsylvania next spring.
“I’m super excited to go play at Dickinson. I really loved the campus and the students. It’s the right size for me and it’s not too close, but not too far. I fell in love with the school. It felt like my place.”
Photo credit : Lisa Slavin
Over the last year, Rocky Hill’s Megan Khanna worked tirelessly to recover from an injury, ensuring she’d be ready for her final high school season of the softball diamond.
Ultimately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, her senior season was over before it ever started.
“It sucks that I don’t get to finish high school softball but I feel a little bit better that I might still get a chance to play again,” said Khanna, who will be heading north to attend Plymouth State University where she’ll attempt to walk on to the school’s softball team, “I want to play at least another year. That’s all I want.”
Khanna was entering her fourth year as a starter, solidifying second base for the Terriers since 2017.
She got hooked on the spring sport as a kid while watching her role model Derek Jeter and learned to play the game from her father and childhood coach, Amir Khanna.
As a youth she played Jeter’s position of shortstop but moved to second base in high school.
“Second base was new to me, but I ended up liking it better than shortstop.”
Once in high school, Khanna learned the ropes from older players like 2018-graduate and mentor Sophie Kurdziel.
Head coach Tyler Catlin was also instrumental in Khanna’s maturation as a player, “He’s influenced me a lot. Even though I don’t need as much help as the younger players do, he still always gave me stuff to work on. It has made me a better player today.”
Catlin worked on making Khanna a more consistent player and called her a ‘fixture in our middle infield’, praising her reliability, “Each time Meg stepped to the plate, I was always confident she was going to get the barrel on the ball. She was not intimidated by any pitcher and I really appreciated her approach at the plate.”
The fifth-year coach added that there was a lot of optimism heading into the 2020 season prior to the cancellation, ending the high school careers of Khanna and five other seniors at Rocky Hill.
In her three seasons, Khanna was known for her power at the plate---racking up 53 hits (including seven triples), 38 RBI, 37 runs, while hitting .342.
During her freshman she injured her right arm but was able to play through it until she twisted her bicep and suffered a tear while throwing a ball last year.
She immediately got to work, rehabbing at Select Physical Therapy in Wethersfield, to repair her injured throwing arm.
With the help of PT and some emotional support of her parents, she was ready to go this spring before her high school softball career suddenly ended.
“It was a long journey. Right when I found out I could play softball again everything started getting shut down. That was tough on me.”
What was supposed to be a triumphant comeback has turned into another year of waiting to play the game she loves.
“I feel good. I’m still doing physical therapy but it’s just to strengthen the muscles. Everything is healed, I could go out and play today.”
Hard work and determination allowed her to recovery from the injury, clearing the way for more softball, and now her life’s journey is about to began.
Khanna stated that she will miss her family and friends but is looking forward to collegiate life in New Hampshire, where she’ll major in Business.
“When I visited Plymouth state, I fell in love with it and could absolutely see myself being there. I knew it was the place I wanted to be the next four years.”
Emily Lasek, Amaia Jackson, McKenna DeLuca and Dani Pantano are Newington softball's four seniors
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, spring’s 2020 high school sports season may never happen. Over the next couple of months we’ll recognize several local senior athletes, who have invested countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years into their respective sports only to have it cut short by this unfortunate time in our history.
Let’s start with the local softball players. Information provided by head coaches: Cromwell-Angelo Morello, Newington-Steven Markie, Rocky Hill-Tyler Catlin, Wethersfield-Colleen Budaj
Amanda McFarlin is a four-year starter, playing right field as a freshman and left field the last three seasons. McFarlin hit in the middle of the order, finishing with a batting average of .379, as well as excelling in the field, and was voted as a captain in 2020. She was a perennial honor roll student in the classroom and is headed to Eastern Connecticut State University.
Delaney Wood is a four-year player, starting at first base and also was a spot starter at third. Wood hit .260 overall and became one of our best defenders. Coach Angelo Morello believed she was the conference’s best defensive first basemen last season. Wood also played goalie for Cromwell soccer in the fall.
Megan Khanna is a three-year starter at second base, posting a .342 batting average, 53 hits, 38 RBI, 37 runs, and seven triples in 54 career games. Khanna was named captain for the 2020 season and will be attending Plymouth State University where she plans on trying out for the softball team.
Annie Ensign is a versatile utility player, playing five different positions; second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and pitcher. Ensign ignited a big rally versus Wethersfield last season, delivering an opposite field triple to the gap at Elm Ridge Park. She was named a captain for the 2020 season and will be attending University of Rhode Island.
Julia Rizzo played outfield and pitcher. Rizzo started her freshmen year, batting .284 through the first six games before sustaining injuries. Last season as a junior, Rizzo delivered the biggest hit for the Terriers with two outs in the bottom of the 7th to plate Ensign with the gRockyame-tying run versus Wethersfield. She will be attending Manchester Community College.
Thea Bonamico is a terrific infielder that made 52 of 54 defensive plays in her two seasons for an astonishing 96% fielding percentage. Bonamico made a major impact in her 19 career games after and will be attending Manchester Community College.
Elaina Giansanti delivered her first career varsity base hit last season versus Bulkeley. The three-year member of the program will be attending Roger Williams University with former Rocky Hill catcher Maddi Santo.
Sam Menendez is a two-year member of the program, who collected her first career varsity base hit versus Bloomfield last season. Menendez will be attending University of Hartford.
Dani Pantano is a four-year starter and was the team’s ace on the mound the past two seasons, racking up 19 wins with an ERA of 3.85. Pantano was also great from the plate, registering 58 hits, 50 RBI, and five extra base hits over the past three years. She was named captain as a junior and will be attending Springfield College next fall where she’ll attempt to walk-on for the softball team.
McKenna DeLuca was a four-year starter, posting 38 hits, 20 RBI, 71 runs, 17 stolen bases, and a pair of extra-base hits the past three seasons. DeLuca, who also played field hockey at NHS, will be attending Salem State University where she will be playing for the Vikings softball team.
Amaia Jackson played outfield and pitched, having a breakout 2019 season by scoring eight runs and having two multi-RBI games. Jackson was also an all-conference volleyball player at NHS.
Emily Lasek was a fielder who was scheduled for a larger role on the team this spring after scoring her first two varsity runs a year ago. Lasek is off to Westfield State University to major in Elementary Education.
Zoe Kleeblatt was a four-year varsity player, who coach Colleen Budaj described as a versatile, team player. Kleeblatt excelled all over the field, slatted to split time between shortstop and outfield this spring, and would hit early in the line up due to her high on base percentage and ability to see pitches. She will soon be off to Dickson College in Pennsylvania to continue her academic and softball career.
Kaitlyn Fischer would split time between second base, outfield, and pitching. Budaj said she is consistent as a pitcher and added that he was a strong defensive player on bunt coverage. Fischer plans on attending Manchester Community College to study Radiography.
Olivia Morais was entering her second varsity season, playing right field and centerfield. Budaj liked her range in tracking the ball and her ability to get back into her cuts quickly.
Rocky Hill softball has six seasons this spring
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin