Ryan Bagdasarian, a 2016 graduate of GHS, is playing center field for the New Britain Bees
As a kid, Ryan Bagdasarian and his family would attend New Britain Rock Cats games.
Now he’s starring in center field for the New Britain Bees, playing on the same field of his local childhood idols.
“It’s a great experience, I am really thankful,” Bagdasarian said of playing at Beehive Field in the Hardware City, “We have little kids cheering us on and it’s really come full circle. I was a little kid cheering on those players and asking for autographs, and now here I am signing autographs.”
Playing for the Bees is the latest stop for the Glastonbury native, who is a 2016 graduate of Glastonbury High School. He was raised in what he referred to as a “baseball family”, developing his skills under the tutelage of his father, Dean, and uncle Mark, who is the head baseball coach at Wethersfield High School.
At GHS he earned a reputation for his effort and leadership, winning the Coaches Award as a senior.
“I remember him as consistent player who I knew I could pencil in every day,” stated GHS baseball coach Dennis Accomando, who was a first-year coach in 2016, “Also being new to the job I learned just as much from him and that group of players as they hopefully learned from me. I have really enjoyed watching Ryan's journey through the college baseball process as well and am glad he kept sticking with it.”
During his final season at GHS, he delivered the game-winning hit on Senior Night to beat Berlin 8-7 at Riverfront Field on May 20, 2016.
“Picking up my teammates on a special night like that is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’ve met some of my best friends [at GHS] and it was awesome to take the field with them,” recalled Bagdasarian, who realized following high school that his playing days were not over, “I played travel baseball for the Connecticut Capitals and I had a really good summer that year, so I reached out to the Avery Point coach and he gave me an opportunity.”
At Avery Point, the University of Connecticut regional campus based in Groton, he expanded his skills under hitting coach Ed Harvey, who is the father of current major league pitcher Matt Harvey.
In his first season in Groton, the team won the NJCAA East Division II District Championship and NJCAA XXI New England Regionals, earning a spot in the NJCAA Division II World Series tourney in Oklahoma.
“It was a surreal experience,” Bagdasarian said of the World Series trip, “Just to be around that atmosphere and go to that part of the Unities States. To have that memory is just awesome.”
During his sophomore season at Avery Point he found a comfort level at the plate, hitting .338, scoring 45 runs, and adding 36 RBIs on 48 hits in 2018.
Following a short stint as a redshirt junior at The University of Connecticut in Storrs, Bagdasarian transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University in 2020.
His first season at Eastern was shortened because of COVID and then last summer he received an opportunity from the Bees, who are a summer league team in the FCBL (Futures Collegiate Baseball League).
The Bees were Bagdasarian’s fifth baseball team in five years since graduating high school.
He’s relished all of those experiences, “After playing so many years of baseball you make so many memories. You meet so many great people, get to know families, and get to know fans. I never really expected to get to this point but the opportunities that I’ve been given, I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Last summer he played 29 games for the Bees, registering 22 hits and scoring 14 runs.
His confidence bled over into his 2021 season at Eastern, scoring 31 runs and driving in 16 more as the Warriors finished 32-8 this spring.
Bagdasarian then committed to the Bees again, becoming the team’s first signee this summer.
“They reached out to me again and that felt awesome, to have the opportunity to come back with one more year of eligibility. It was a no-brainer. It is a lot of baseball, but it’s fun. You have to take advantage of the opportunities while you’re young.”
Bagdasarian has thrived in his second season in New Britain, recently having his most productive stretch of games with the Bees. He scored three runs against the Brockton Rox on June 18, was named the Player of the Game after going 5-5 with 2 RBIs versus the Pittsfield Suns on June 19, and then delivering three hits and two more RBIs against the Rox on June 20. The Bees won all three games, marking their first three-game winning streak on the season.
Bagdasarian and the Bees have upcoming home games (7/1) vs the Silver Knights and (7/2) vs the Starfires. First pitch for both games is 6:35 p.m.
At the conclusion of the summer season, Bagdasarian will one more year left at Eastern next spring as be finishes his degree in Business Administration.
The Warriors of Eastern will have a stacked team returning, led by Bagdasarian and Luke Broadhurst (who also plays for the Bees).
“We’re bringing a ton of guys back, we just need to replace some components. I think we’ll be in for a solid spring coming up.”
It’ll mark yet another chapter in Bagdasarian’s baseball journey.
“I’m really thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve been given. Just having the opportunity to play every day and being part of making unforgettable memories.”
2021 WHS grad Luke Latina will be playing at post-grad season at St. Thomas More. Photo credit : Jo-Ann Campbell
Recent Wethersfield High School graduate Luke Latina has some unfinished business left on the basketball courts.
Latina, who starred on the Eagles basketball team, will be taking a post-graduate year at St. Thomas More Prep to showcase and improve his game.
“It’s a great program,” Latina said of the Oakdale-based school, “I’m going to play against guys that are a lot better than me and I’ll get my butt whooped, but that’s what you need to get better.”
Basketball is in Latina’s blood. His dad, Anthony Latina, is the longtime basketball coach at Sacred Heart University and he has two godfathers coaching, one at Wesleyan and another at East Catholic.
The game has literally become a way of life for the Latina family.
“When you’ve seen as many basketball games as I have, thousands of basketball games at every level, you just fall in love,” stated Latina, “When I watch film with my dad or watch my dad’s team you just learn so much about the game. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Unfortunately, the game he loves so much was cut short in each of his last two seasons at WHS.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, causing the cancellation of winter sports activities shortly before Latina and his teammates were schedule to take on Middletown in the Division II tournament in March of 2020.
The Eagles season was once again abruptly ended this year when COVID-related precautions caused the team to cancel the last two regular season games and miss the conference tourney.
“It’s a huge mental battle and we leaned on each other. The first time was a little different because everybody was going through it, but this year was so tough to take because we were feeling really good about ourselves,” said Latina, who averaged 17 points per game this winter, “This is why I came here, my two high school decision were between East Catholic and here, and I wanted to stay home. I wanted to try and win something for the school and not getting a chance to deliver on what I wanted to do stinks, but it’s something that you have to deal with. It’s really taught us to deal with everything that’s thrown at us and make the best out of the situation.”
Despite the setbacks, Latina did have some epic moments at WHS, including two standouts during the 2019-2020 season.
In the 2020 regular season finale against Newington, the then-junior made an acrobatic lay-up off glass to beat the buzzer, sending the game into overtime. The Eagles ended up losing the finale, but their confidence was sky-high heading into the state tourney after knocking off #1-seed Tolland in the CCC tournament.
“It felt like everything was cooking for us,” Latina recalled, “We had a belief in our locker room that we were good, and we knew we were better than what we had played like earlier in the year. We were peaking at the right time.”
When he wasn’t playing basketball, Latina was a hurdler on the outdoor track and field of the track team, and also helped manage the girls’ soccer team.
The Wethersfield native, who is turning 18 this month, will now use his post-grad year to attract basketball scouts that were dormant during a recruiting dead period caused by COVID.
“I want them to believe in me and I want to believe in the program. I don’t care at what level, I just want to play,” said Latina, who will pursue a degree in education with the hopes of becoming a teacher and basketball coach, “I’ve dreamed of winning a championship my entire life. I want to go to college and win a championship, that’s the goal.”
Recent WHS grad R.J. Darrell, pictured with parents Rick and Jill, along with coach Rob Jachym during his commitment signing to play soccer at Emmanuel College
R.J. Darrell, a 2021 graduate of Wethersfield High School, will continue his soccer career at Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts next fall.
“The coached reached out to me and I went on a tour in February. They were awesome,” Darrell said of his collegiate decision, “It just looked like a really good fit academically, they have a strong business program, and I can play on the soccer team and live in Boston. It was an overall good fit for me.”
Darrell played a variety of sports as a kid, eventually finding his passion on the soccer fields.
“Growing up I played a lot of sports, my parents got me into them. I played baseball and basketball through the town and I was always diversifying but then as I got into middle school and high school I noticed that soccer was my top sports, so I started focusing on soccer,” recalled Darrell, “I realized how much I loved it and I was getting better every year.”
His older sister, Megan, played soccer at Wheaton College in Massachusetts after graduating from WHS and his younger sister, Lauren, plays soccer and just finished her freshman year at the high school.
Darrell called his family a “soccer family” and recalled Megan “schooling” him in the backyard, teaching him lessons he would later use in high school.
Once at WHS, he shined as a four-year member of Eagles soccer, starting on varsity each of the past two seasons.
As a junior, he helped lead the Eagles to a conference championship and a berth in the state tourney. After a pair of tourney wins, he scored the team’s only goal in an overtime loss to Wilton in the semifinal round.
The Eagles used that loss to Wilton as motivation this last fall, winning conference again and finishing undefeated behind a strong senior class.
Darrell, who was a team captain, earned All-State honors.
“This year meant a lot because going into the year nobody knew if we’d even have a season. It wasn’t a normal season by any means but at the same time we were lucky to have a season,” said Darrell, who used quarantine to improve his skills, “This past summer I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked. I wanted these seniors to be celebrated and carry on that tradition. There’s a lot of pressure at Wethersfield to deliver a good team, so we wanted to continue that.”
Darrell shined off the field as well, earning both CCC All-Academic and CHSCA All-State Academic distinctions. He was also an active member of the JETS Design team, an engineering team that designs and builds devices to help disabled persons in the workplace.
He departs WHS with a ton of accolades and even more fond memories.
“I’ll definitely miss the under the light games in front of student section. I’ll miss the comradery with my teammates and I’ll miss everything about the state tournament,” said Darrell, who added that this year’s graduating class was battled tested because of the obstacles they faced over the past 15 months, “We all helped each other through it. It was the toughest time in our lives and now I don’t take anything for granted. You have to treat every game like it could be your last.”
Next fall, he will join a Saints team in Beantown that will be eager to play following an unfulfilled 2020 season because of COVID.
“I’m super excited to hopefully elevate my game and work even harder to improve myself,” said Darrell, who will major in Business, “The next step is going to be a challenge and I just want to me the best soccer player I can be.”
GHS 2021 graduate Jaci Budaj, pictured with parents John and Barb, will play soccer at Sacred Heart University
Recent Glastonbury High School graduate Jaci Budaj will be attending Sacred Heart University next fall, continuing her education and playing soccer for the Pioneers.
Budaj just completed four fabulous years at GHS, carving out a legacy of winning. She was a junior on the girls’ soccer team that won the Class LL state championship in 2019, defeating top-seed Southington in the championship game. This past fall, she helped lead the team to an undefeated (13-0) mark, which culminated with a 3-0 victory over South Windsor in the conference championship game. During the conference-clincher, Budaj set up the team’s second goal with a perfectly placed corner kick.
In the winter, she was a captain and defensive specialist on the Guardians basketball team that also captured a conference title.
“I am definitely going to miss the community at GHS,” stated Budaj, who was also part of National Honor Society at the high school, “Every time I stepped on the field or court, I wasn’t just playing for myself or my team because there is a whole community of people supporting you in this town and I think that is why Glastonbury is so special.”
Outside of school, she expanded her soccer skills at CFC (Connecticut Football Club) in the spring and she will soon be taking those skills to Fairfield, joining a soccer team at Scared Heart that is looking forward to their first full season since 2019.
“I loved the campus and the welcoming environment,” said Budaj, who will major in Exercise Science on a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) track, “I just knew it was the perfect fit for me. I am just excited to get another four years doing what I love at the division 1 level.”
This year was unfair to the local high school football players, particularly the seniors. Not only did they face the same issues that every student-athlete battled, but they also had their final football seasons squashed as most other high school sports were played without incident.
Rocky Hill head coach Rich Dance and Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon are two local coaches that helped their seniors navigate through the disappointment of an unfulfilled final high school season.
Here are the two coaches, in their own words, reflecting on the senior players.
Coach Dance on his Rocky Hill seniors
Omar Ahmed (Captain): “Omar is a leader on and off of the field. He sets a great example for what a student-athlete is supposed to be and has a great mix of intelligence and athleticism. He is no doubt going to be successful in anything he puts his mind to.”
Christopher Cruz: “Football has meant so much to Chris and his family and even though the season did not turn out the way anyone wanted, he can leave with many positive and rewarding memories. He has a great work ethic that will certainly help him as he moves forward.”
Maxwell DiMatteo (Captain): “Maxx is such a coachable and hard-working young man. Anything the coaches asked of Maxx he was able to do without hesitation and do it well. His presence and ability will surely be missed next season.”
Matthew Gwara: “Even though Matt only came out to play in his senior year, he was always positive and enjoyed his time on the field. The players and coaches were fortunate to have Matt on the team, if only for one season.”
Michael Hamann: “Mike did anything the coaches asked of him and was ready to do anything to get himself on the field. His positive attitude and contributions did not go unnoticed among the coaches. That attitude will benefit him as he continues in his goal of becoming a firefighter.”
Ryan LeVie: “The team was really looking forward to seeing Ryan's progress at free safety this season. He was constantly asking for feedback on his performance and what he could do to be a better player, which the team greatly appreciated and made Ryan a pleasure to coach.”
Ethan Meister: Ethan was new to Rocky Hill in his junior year but he embraced his role on the team and came to practice every day giving his maximum effort. He was ready to go at all times, even as the team's practice punter.
Ethan Moreno: “Ethan was not only one of the toughest players on the team but also one of the funniest. He could put his head down, play downhill, and make a big tackle. He could also spontaneously have his teammates and coaches laughing uncontrollably.”
Arber Ndoni: “Arber is such a naturally gifted athlete who has ability that cannot be taught. His size and speed had opponents constantly worried about where he was on the field. Those talents, along with his coachable and competitive personality will be difficult to replace.”
Admin Nukic: “Admin is another young man that worked very hard to make himself a better football player. He was poised to be a big contributor on the field this year but unfortunately the season was cut short. Despite that, he should be very proud of his contributions and dedication.”
R.J. Onyina (Captain): “R.J.'s commitment to making himself a better football player has been a joy to watch. He is one of the most athletically gifted players the coaches have had the pleasure of coaching and we look forward to seeing him continue to excel at Southern Connecticut.”
Alijah Ruocco-Smith: “Alijah transferred to Rocky Hill at the beginning of his senior year. Despite being the new guy on the team, he was immediately embraced by his teammates and coaches. He is a competitor that was always looking for an opportunity to contribute on the field.”
Sufwan Shahid: “As a player and student, Sufwan is an incredibly polite and personable young man on the field and in the classroom. He is a reason why coaches enjoy coming to practice every day. The team is sure that Sufwan is destined for great success in life.”
Gabriel Wilkowski: “Gabe worked hard day in and day out at practice on the offensive line and ended up working his way onto the field on defensive line as well. His size and speed would have certainly made him a force in his senior year. Gabe and his family have a long history with Rocky Hill football, and the team is thankful for all of their contributions.”
Sunkee Wong: “While undersized, Sunkee was a dedicated and hardworking member of the team that was ready to contribute at tailback in his senior year. Despite not having a true season, he was able to make his presence felt in 7v7 and would have certainly been a big part of our offense if circumstances were different.”
Joshua Young: “Josh did not hesitate to volunteer or contribute to anything that was needed of him on the field. Even a job like being the placekicking holder was embraced by Josh, and he was ready to go at all times.”
Coach McKinnon in his Wethersfield seniors
Connor Gray: “Connor is an overall terrific kid, who was part of our program. His work ethic and commitment to the program was tremendous. He would have been our Special Teams Phenom this season.”
Dylan Knapp: “Dylan stepped up big time for us on the defensive line in his junior season. He would have had a monstrous season for us this fall at defensive end. He was always willing to be coached and get better. He led by example in practice for his teammates to follow.”
Sam Marchio: “Sam was a leader on our offensive line, holding everyone accountable for their play. He led with toughness and dedication to get better every rep in practice. He had all of his teammates backs and left his mark on the program.”
Marcus Nieves: "Marcus will be one of the best players to ever come through the Wethersfield football program. He is a dynamite player, who had a very good chance in making the All-CT Team for all-state if we played. He is a fearless leader who the program will miss dearly. He leaves behind the MLB position to guys who learned from him all during fall practice the past 2 years. Marcus left some big shoes for his younger brother Mathyas to fill the next two years. It upsets me they won't share the varsity field together, as it was taken away from them this fall. Nieves left his mark on the program and will be someone in film cut-ups we use to teach the position at its finest to our players."
Gustavo Reyes-Alvarez: “Gus was well respected from the coaches and his teammates. He was an outstanding running back and helped us on defense at the middle linebacker position. He led by example in the weight room for his peers to follow.”
Julius Sanchez: “Julius led by example in the weight room. He transformed his strength throughout the 4 years in our program. He would have been our center this season and was very smart reading the defensive box. His fundamentals were one of the best on our offensive line.”
Nick Thompson: "Nick is a fierce warrior. He wanted to go against the best every play. He loved the challenge and let his teammates know he was going to war for them. His sense of humor and dedication to greatness made him so enjoyable to be around. He will be a player who the program will never forget. All defensive players learned from him these past seasons with how hard he executed in practice and showing the determination to win. He broke his entire hand, wrapped it up and played lights out the last 3 games of the season, including the playoffs. Nick is a great person who we enjoy so much."
Vasilios Tsipouras: “Vas would have been our starting QB this season. His leadership role of the offense set the tone for future QBs in the program. He understood the game and knew how to read a defense. Vas has a strong arm and continued to show growth throughout the fall.”
Hakeem Williams: “Hakeem was a player who was competing for time at wide receiver. He was learning the position and would have helped us this season on offense.”
Alessandro Zabalza: “AZ was one of the strongest players in our program. His strength and quickness would have made him a force this season on the offensive and defensive lines. He was determined to get better every rep in practice.”
Zak Zurzola: “Zak was one of our fastest players in the program. He played defensive back and wide
2020 GHS basbeall seniors (l-r) Jack Dolan, Luke Stephens, Jordan Murphy, Andrew DiSette, Matt Propp, Cam Pedemonti, and Shaw Pedemonti
The state of Connecticut just completed an entire high school sports season, the first in the state since the fall of 2019.
During the past 15+ agonizing months, the state saw the rise and fall of a pandemic which caused the cancellation of many sports seasons, including last spring’s high school baseball season.
A year later, the 2020 baseball seniors from Glastonbury High School reunited, along with previous GHS baseballers, for the 2nd annual Alumni Game at Riverfront Park on May 25.
“It’s exciting to see everyone. One of them came back with a beard,” GHS head baseball coach Dennis Accomando said with a smile, “The alumni game in general is special to me because this is what we’re all about. Hearing some of the older guys talking about how this is special to them and more so just watching these guys play and have fun.”
2020-graduates Shaw Pedemonti, Cam Pedemonti, Luke Stephens, Jack Dolan, Andrew DiSette, Matt Propp and Jordan Murphy returned from college for the special occasion and were honored before the game. The only senior unable to attend was Riley Harmon.
“When the opportunity arose, we took it right away. It’s awesome and great to see the guys one more time,” Shaw Pedemonti said of the reunion, “This whole squad hasn’t played together since our freshman year in high school because everybody was on different levels, so it’s nice to get back together for one more game and have a good time.”
Cam Pedemonti added, “The thing I missed the most during the COVID-era was not being able to play baseball.”
The Pedemonti brothers, who are identical twins, leaned on each other to get through the hardships of last spring. Both have continued their baseball journeys at Skidmore College in Saratoga, NY.
“Basically we’ve been attached at the hip since day one and it was definitely nice to have someone next to me going through the same thing. We were all going through the same thing, and we were able to talk about it,” recalled Cam Pedemonti, “[Shaw] was also someone that helped me stay motivated and keep working. We would go hit and field, do whatever we could just to stay healthy and active, knowing that we’d play in college and hopefully make some noise together.”
Last spring, the brothers continued to grind in the hopes that they would have a senior season. Eventually they started to play basketball to take their minds off the baseball.
Shaw Pedemonti added, “It’s been a really crazy experience but at the same time it’s good to have people in your corner who support you. That’s what got me through, just relying on other people and asking for help when I needed it. Obviously losing the senior season was tough but it gave us motivation to get back to work and have a good four years of college baseball.”
Stephens has also continued baseball at the next level, playing at St. Josephs College in Maine, “It definitely sucked when we found out that we wouldn’t have our senior season and senior night and all that fun stuff, but knowing that I would have another four years made it a little easier.”
Stephens, who has two younger brothers playing baseball at the high school, along with Dolan came back to attend a Guardians practice this spring, offering some advice.
“I told [the players] not to take anything for granted. You never know, whether it’s an injury or something unprecedented might happen,” said Dolan, who is currently studying business at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, “Last year was tough. We didn’t know if the season was going to be on or not, so I just kept staying prepared.”
Their senior season never happened, but Dolan and a few other seniors were able to compete on the high school diamond one last time following graduation, playing for the town’s Legion team in the summer of 2020.
“I played in the summer, and we had somewhat of a senior night, but it wasn’t the same” said DiSette, “This is really cool to have everyone together, especially to play with some kids that graduated before us.”
DiSette, who is currently studying finance at Bryant University, reflected on the struggles of 2020, “We all kept working throughout the season. We were in the weight room, we tried to hit the field and play catch, and we stood together. That’s what kept us intact. We tried to keep the mindset that we were still going to play and have a season.”
Propp, who is a business major at UConn, also played last summer, “Legion was good and now to be back here is great. More than just playing baseball, just seeing everyone again was really good.”
He added, “I think it was hard when the season got cancelled, especially because all the guys here worked their butts off leading up to last season. It was definitely one of the toughest things I ever had to deal with it. I missed all the shenanigans in practice, and I feel like nothing is a lock anymore, so I definitely appreciate things more now.”
Murphy is currently studying business and economics with a minor in sport management at Salve Regina University in Newport R.I.
“Most of my work I did pre-COVID and then once COVID hit I kept thinking that there’d be a glimmer of hope that we could still play. Unfortunately we weren’t able to play but we just had to keep the right mindset. It was hard trying to get my head in the right place and understanding that I wouldn’t play again,” said Murphy, who was thankful for the alumni game opportunity, “I jumped on this, I couldn’t wait to play with my boys again.”
The alumni game featured blue skies, high-quality baseball from GHS baseball legends, and comic relief from the public address announcer.
Portions of the money raised during the alumni game went to the GHS 2021 Safe Grad program, a drug/alcohol-free celebration on graduation night featuring fun activities along with food, music, and other entertainment.
Early on during the alumni game, last year’s seniors shined as Shaw Pedemonti tripled, before Murphy sent him home with an RBI single in the top of the first.
Dolan then showcased his rocket right arm, pitching in the bottom of the first.
It was as if the band of brothers had not missed a beat.
Accomando recalled how his 2020-class tackled the challenges of last spring, “What impressed me the most is how they have handed it. They were never negative about it, and they turned it into the best positive that they could. I was impressed with their character and how they accepted it and moved on.”
The veteran coach now uses it as a teaching moment for his current teams at GHS.
“It‘s just about cherishing every moment that we have,” he said, “You have to cherish the moments you have out here because you never know it could be taken away.”
Shaw Pedemonti slaps a shot during the GHS baseball Alumni Game on May 25
Solecki will play lacrosse for the Falcons team at Bentley that finished 12-3 this spring, which included an invitation to the NCAA championship tournament.
“I chose Bentley for the home like feeling I got when I first stepped on campus and how welcoming the team was to me when I went on my visit. Their academic side of things stood out a lot to me as well because I knew I wanted a good four-year education and Bentley offered everything I needed to succeed,” stated Solecki, “I’m so excited to meet new people from all over and get the chance to create a sisterlike bond with new teammates, just like I did in high school.”
Solecki leaves GHS after four fantastic years, both athletically and academically. She was multiple-time All-Conference selections in lacrosse, scoring 33 goals and dishing out 16 assists as the Guardians won their 13th straight division title this past spring. She also ran cross country as a junior and was part of the indoor track team as a sophomore. Off the field, she earned All-Athletic honors and was on the honor roll every quarter at GHS, as well as being involved with her church outside of school.
Solecki, who was born and raised in Glastonbury, is excited but will miss certain things about her hometown, “I’ll definitely miss living five minutes away from my best friends, knowing all of the coaching staff and faculty, and all the sporting events and state championship games as well.”
Tino Gagliardi, a 2021 graduate from Cromwell High School, will continue his athletic and academic journey at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts.
Gagliardi was rock at first base and stud at the plate for Panthers baseball, making All-State last season after leading the team in hits, RBIs, doubles, and home runs. He was also a first-team All-Conference selection and was selected All-Academic, making the honor roll in each quarter.
“There is no doubt that Tino is ready to make an immediate impact in a college lineup. The presence he has at the plate, along with his approach and mental makeup is something that I have only seen at the collegiate level,” said CHS head coach Christian Budzik, “Tino is a player and person that you build a program around. There are not enough positive things I can say about Tino as a person and a player, as he is the type of kid who makes every coach look like a genius. Our program will miss Tino greatly next season but the impact that he had on our returning players will be the reason we continue to be successful.”
At Curry College, Gagliardi will study finance as he joins a baseball team that is on the rise.
“I chose Curry because it seemed like the best fit for me. I loved the campus and I loved everything I heard about the coach, and the sports and baseball program,” said Gagliardi, “I’m excited to learn more and become an even better player at the next level.”
Junior Suhani Sheth (left) and senior Jennifer Kimball (right)
Rocky Hill girls’ tennis recently wrapped up the most successful season in the program’s history, winning 15 of 18 regular season meets to capture a division title and set a new standard of excellence, on and off the court.
“My goal coming into this season was to win 13 of the 18 matches. After a year off where we lost six seniors last year, I didn’t know what to expect,” said head coach Mike Dudis, “Coming back this year I thought we had the talent level to do it if we put people in the right spots, but I didn’t know we would be breaking school records.”
Filling the Terriers two singles slots were Suhani Sheth and Jennifer Kimball, who more than lived up to the billing.
Sheth went undefeated, winning all 18 matches in the regular season.
“It definitely exceeding my expectations,” Sheth said of her success, “I wasn’t really planning or thinking that I’d go through the season undefeated, especially considering the tough competition from Glastonbury and Farmington.”
The junior, who made All-State, had notable wins over Catherine Zak (Glastonbury) and Krithika Santhanam (Farmington) in the regular season. She went on to soundly defeat Watertown’s Sarah Cipriano (6-2, 6-0) in the Class M Tournament and Valley Regional’s Ava Ramos (6-2, 6-2) in the State Invitational Tournament.
“I’ve said this to anyone that will listen that Su is better at her sport than anybody else at this school is at their sport. Obviously, I come from a little bit of bias and we have great players at this school, but what makes her great is not just her skills set, which is phenomenal, but it’s her mindset. She never gets down on herself, she’s never negative. Win or lose, she’s the same. Even against Glastonbury, she lost that first set to Catie who is an excellent player, and at the end of the set she was still relaxed and never down.”
Dudis added that Sheth works just as hard outside of competition, “She is probably the most joyful player that I’ve ever coached. She’s amazing, I can’t say enough positive things about her as a person or as a player. At the end of practice, she would be with our kids who are beginners and hit with them and work on their confidence, just trying to boost the team’s spirt. That’s the type of person that she is.”
Kimball, a senior, was equally impressive, winning 19 of the 20 matches this spring. She closed her high school career by winning 37 consecutive games, sweeping her final six opponents, including both in the state tournament.
“I definitely didn’t think I’d go 17-1 in the regular season,” recalled Kimball, “I was feeling comfortable coming into the season, but I never expected a result like that.”
Kimball, who also played soccer and basketball at RHHS, was back at full strength after suffering a high ankle sprain early in her sophomore season and missing last year because of the COVID cancellation.
She used tennis as an outlet during quarantine, “Tennis was helpful during that time because it was a safe place, a socially distance sport that you can play during those times. Even though we weren’t practicing at the school I was able to go play with my family and get ready for next season.”
Dudis said that Kimball had the best first serve in program history, adding, “Jen was determined. She had that same determination as a sophomore and that injury was a huge bummer, but she came back and played doubles on basically one leg that season. It was something that she hadn’t done before, but she wanted to help the team.”
“This year she realized how good she could be. Her competitiveness is unbelievable, she sets her mind to it and wants to win and succeed at it. She ended her last match playing the best tennis she has ever played. She was playing at the same level Su was playing. I didn’t look at it at 1-2, I looked at it as two 1s.”
It was the Glastonbury meet where the the team found confidence in competition.
“I remember I played [Su] in a really competitive set in practice the day before our big Glastonbury match, so I went into that match with so much more confidence. I knew if I can hang with Su, I can beat anybody at 2,” recalled Kimball, who defeated Glastonbury’s Annee Bess Blair, “I think that was a big turning point. Glastonbury is always so good at every sport, and they have such a strong reputation, so winning against her was a big confidence boost.”
Both Sheth and Kimball won, yet the Terriers fell to the Guardians. The team used it as a springboard for the rest of the season, winning 14 of the next 15 matches.
“I started to realize how good we could be after the Glastonbury loss. I thought the team unity was great, especially after Glastonbury. The way the team rallied and watched those two play the third set and recognizing that it was against Glastonbury, the team that we talk about in the conference. When you compare any team in the league it’s Glastonbury, Farmington, and then everybody else,” said Dudis, whose team responded with six straight wins, “It was a huge lift to everybody else. The other girls saw what Su and Jen did and the pressure went up. They’re our two best players, they’re our two captains, and they are working extremely hard and leaving it all out there.”
Wins over Wethersfield and Newington during the final two weeks of the season assured a division title.
It turned out that it was a pair of sophomores that helped lock up the division. The #3 doubles team of Katie Oostendorp and Alyssa Gua were the difference, breaking 3-3 ties against both Wethersfield and Newington.
The duo did it again in the tournament win over Watertown, earning a distinguished label from their coach.
“I call them my closers. When it came down to Kaite and Alyssa I knew at that point we were going to win. That was our recipe all year,” said Dudis, who saw the maturation of the young pairing, “Their confidence levels went up, their serving improved dramatically, their groundstrokes were better. They are very close friends, and that absolutely helps when finding those right doubles combinations. Sometimes it takes you five, six, seven matches but for them it was natural.”
Senior Hannah Conneely, who played #3 singles, finished 15-4 and won (6-3, 6-0) in the Terriers tourney triumph over Watertown.
Dudis said that Conneely was a confident and calming influence on the team. He added that senior Caitlyn Kownacki (who played doubles) was an extension of the coaching staff.
“I gave her the Coaches Award because I can vent to her about tennis. She’d give me lineup suggestions, talk other kids up, and she was awesome with Su.”
Jasmine Ly, Kira Ravat, Palak Jain, Sophia Pawlak also played key roles this spring.
“I think a lot of us became close. We supported each other and stayed for each other’s games. That helped push people during their matches because I think it’s a lot more beneficial when others are cheering you on,” said Sheth, who will return at #1 next spring, “It was just about how close everyone became throughout the season. Between the team dinners and everyone supporting each other, a lot of us became really good friends. Practices were fun, games were fun, tennis became a really good distraction.”
Kimball, who will attend Worchester Polytechnic Institute, added, “It means a lot to me to have a season like this, especially being on this team for four years and having the ups and downs, like missing half of a season and missing an entire season. To have a season like this and to now be in the school record books with the best record is amazing.”
Dudis added, “Team comradery really matters. I’ve seen a lot of high school teams and I’ve coach tennis for ten years and I’ve had more enjoyment coaching this team than I’ve ever had before. And it’s not about the wins and losses, even though I’ve enjoyed winning those 16 matches, but it was generally that kids where excited to be at practice and we had zero negativity. They wanted to be there, they had goals, they were genuinely happy for each other.”
Championship caliber track and field teams are built with an assortment of athletic talents and the Glastonbury girls had all the right pieces in 2021.
The Guardians swept through the regular season, before winning both the conference and class championships behind a group of athletes that were good as individuals and crowned champions as a team.
“In other years we might have been strong in certain areas but not all of them, so having a well-rounded team does make it a lot easier,” said head coach Brian Collins, “This year we had a great combination of jumpers, throwers, distance and sprinters.”
The Class LL championship triumph on June 1 marked the program’s first state title since 2010.
Collins credited his team captains, “All the captains are extension of the coaching staff. They know their roles, they know what is expected of them and they have stepped up and helped the younger kids. They want to succeed but they also want to have others succeed, not only this year but in the future.”
Emma Smith, Mallory Malz, Casey MacElhiney, Kate DeSousa, Molly Harding, Monica Robinson, and Meghan Smith served as captains. The six were anxious to hit the ground running after 2020’s outdoor track season was cancelled, and this winter’s indoor season was limited to practice-only.
“I think we all were just so excited to be able to compete again and do what we love. With so much being taken away from us this year because of COVID, track made it so easy to focus on what we still have,” said Emma Smith, “I love running next to these girls everyday, and I think we all used this to motivate us. This team is my family and when we run we run for each other, not just ourselves.”
Malz added, “The team has so much depth, from distance and sprints to the jumps and throws, it is definitely the work of each and every girl that has gotten our team to where it is. There’s no way you can just say that one person got us here, it really was a team effort of great performances across the board. The coaches have been a major part of our success as well. Their encouragement, passion, and commitment to the team has enabled us to become the best versions of ourselves, and the group as a whole is so dedicated, and the dynamic where we all feed off of each other’s energy has been incredible. I am so proud of these girls for rising to the occasion and doing the best to their abilities, and I feel so lucky to have been able to call them my teammates.”
Along with maneuvering around a pandemic, GHS was literally under construction this year. The renovations left the team without a Field House and other practice essentials, such as a Triple Jump Pit.
It did not slow down Malz, who broke her own triple jump record, as well as breaking the school’s pole vault record this spring.
Malz filled another team need this spring by competing in the long jump, adding more events and more championships to her resume.
“Mallory really didn’t do the long jump before this year, but we were really short on long jump girls, so we had her do it because she’s a really good athlete,” said Collins, who said the jumpers practiced their steps on the track and turf, “Our long and triple jumpers basically did it without a lot of practice and seeing Mallory jump over 17 feet and break the school record in the triple jump without a lot of practice is unbelievable.”
Collins’ runners were just as productive and diverse, spanning the distances and combining for some incredible relay results.
The 4x800 relay team (Ava Gattinella, Kelley MacElhiney, Casey MacElhiney, and Jackie Caron) won both the Class L Championship and the State Open, leaving no doubt they were the best 4x8 relay team in the state.
“The success my team and I have together is always extremely meaningful to me. It was especially special this year since a lot was taken away from us, so we had to make the most of every opportunity we had,” said Casey MacElhiney, who teamed with her younger sister, Kelley, for the relay championships, “Being on the winning 4x800 team with my sister was very important to me. We’ve always been a tight duo, so getting to achieve something as great as winning the State Open 4x800 together meant the world to me. I’m so proud of everything she and everyone on our team have accomplished this season.”
Collins admitted there were a lot of unknows coming into the season due to last year’s cancellation and the modified Indoor Track season this winter.
“We knew we had some good kids, but we just didn’t know how well they’d perform or how strong they would be,” he said, “I think they are very appreciative to be out there competing, especially because we weren’t able to compete in the indoor season. The kids appreciated it more, being at practice or just being around their friends.”
It was also a family affair in more ways than one. The team had several sets of sisters, including two sets of sophomore twins in Layla and Zoe Spann-McDonald and Alyssa and Caitlyn Healy.
The family dynamic created a welcoming atmosphere.
“The best part about it is that this team welcomed in anyone, whether they are a top athlete or an average or below average athlete. The expectations are the same for everyone and it’s about how hard you work every single day. They are all treated the same,” stated Collins, “We don’t do cuts, all are welcome as long as they are showing up and doing the work.”
Emma Smith added, “Track was a big part of my high school career, because we accept everyone, from the girls who are struggling to jog a lap, to the ones who are trying to break five minutes in the mile. My freshman year I was nowhere near as fast as I am now, but I still feel the same love and support that I did then. I don’t know how else to put into words how special this team is to me, and as hard as it is for me to say goodbye, they’ll always be in my heart.”
After steamrolling through the regular season, the Guardians won eight events to run away with Central Connecticut Conference crown, scoring 217 points at the CCC championship on May 25.
Malz won the pole vault, along with the triple and long jumps. Emma Smith won both the 100m hurdles and 300m hurdles.
Molly Harding, who battled a hamstring injury all year, won the 400m and Layla Spann-McDonald won the discus.
The 4x400 relay team (Alyssa Healy, Riley Carrol, Meghan Smith, and Emma Smith) also took home first place.
During the Class LL finals, the team placed or scored in 15 of the 18 events, besting runner-up Southington by over 20 points (109.50-88).
Collins said the championship victory was greater than he anticipated, “The coaches kid me because I set up a matrix before our meets. We went in knowing that is would probably be very close, especially with Southington, but Southington didn’t get as many points as we thought and our kids exceeded what we thought they would. A close meet turned out to be a 21-point win.”
Malz did her usually thing, winning three events, and the 4x800 took care of business.
Sophomore Jackie Caron was the runner-up in the 800m and freshman Ava Gattinella was a leg on the state champion 4x800.
“We knew what Jackie was capable of doing. She has so much potential, and he showed that she is one of the better distance runners in the state in my opinion,” said Collins, “We were fortunate to have Ava for cross country season and she was a big surprise. She worked hard during cross country season and during indoor season, and she was ready for outdoor season. As she saw her times getting better, she became a big part.”
The 4x100 (Hannah Caiola, Alyssa Healy, Emily Smith, and Riley Carroll) and the 4x400 (Alyssa Healy, Riley Carroll, Emily Smith, and Meghan Smith) placed second. Emma Smith finished third in the 100m hurdles, while Meghan Smith and Riley Carroll finished fourth and fifth in the 400m.
Layla Spann-McDonald placed fourth in the discus and Kate DeSousa finished fifth in the high jump.
Malz (Villanova), Casey MacElhiney (Lafayette) and Emma Smith (Tufts) will all be continuing their track and field dreams at the next level.
“Those three have continued to do the extra work and the best part about those three is that they took kids under their wings. All three are outstanding and they stepped up even without being asked,” said Collins.
Collins added that Emma Smith was instrumental in helping fill a team need by grooming Alyssa Healy and other hurdlers.
Smith stated, “This team has made a huge impact on my life. I know that I’ll always have people that will support me in everything I do, and I wanted to pass that on to the younger girls. I know it is our time to move on, but I also know that if there was any way for me to help the future of the team, I would do it. I love them all so much and I want nothing but the best for them as they all continue to grow into the best runners, jumpers, throwers, and people they could possibly be. I absolutely love being able to help the future of the team, and want to have an impact on them in the years to come.”
Collins, who just finished his 22nd year, is part of a coaching staff that trains both the girls and boys programs at GHS. Mark Alexander, Bob Gemske, Tom Cieslowski, Brain Gaudreau, and Sara Heredia round out a knowledgeable staff, each specializing in different areas of running, jumping, and throwing.
The coaches, along with the perfect mixture of girls, are not only champions in 2021 but they also helped restore a sense of normalcy, joining spring’s other title teams as the first state champions since 2019.
“Although COVID restricted a lot of what we were allowed to do, we did not let it get in the way of our hard work and training,” stated Casey MacElhiney, “We pushed each other during every practice and race, even when having a normal season was questionable. I could not be more proud of everything my team has accomplished this year, or more thankful for everything they have allowed me to achieve this year.
Malz added, “It was extremely rewarding to have come back from the drought of competition and camaraderie of COVID to become state champions. It’s definitely a testament to the work ethic of the team. Ending my senior year like this especially after the absolute roller coaster it’s been for the past year felt amazing. I am so grateful to have had such a great finish with such great girls”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin