Bacon Academy football enters a new era under new head coach Bill Chaffin, who has a core group of players returning to help turn the program around. Pictured are (l-r) Jack Holmes, Aiden Holt, Colin Olbrias, Brady Gould, and Aidan Fritz.
The Bacon Academy High School football team has encountered some rough waters the last two years.
First was the COVID-19 cancellation in the fall of 2020 and then last season the bottom fell out of the boat as the Bobcats lost seven straight games before forfeiting the final three games following allegations of Title IX violations.
Enter new head coach Bill Chaffin, who brings a new attitude and fresh perspective to a program that is primed for a redemption story.
“I’m a big action guy, less words and more action,” said Chaffin, who took over the program in the spring after Mark Farnsworth resigned following one year at the school.
Bacon Academy’s athletic director Kevin Burke said in a statement that Chaffin, “understands the importance of providing student athletes with a positive high school experience with a family type atmosphere within the football program.”
“Coach Chaffin brings a wealth of football knowledge and experience as a player and coach to our football program,” added Burke. “I’m excited for Bill to lead our football team with outstanding character, respect and leadership for years to come.”
Chaffin comes to Colchester equipped with a vast knowledge of the game from his multiple stops around the high school and college football circles.
After earning all-state as a senior in high school playing for the Coventry/Windham Tech co-op team, Chaffin played four seasons for Southern Connecticut State University where he was an all-conference offensive lineman for the Owls.
Following his graduation from SCSU in 2013, his coaching career began with stops at Peru State College in Nebraska and Lindenwood University-Belleville in Illinois before returning to his roots and serving under his former high school coach and mentor, Tony Bonito, during Coventry’s undefeated regular season in 2017.
Chaffin would then follow Bonito to Prince Tech in Hartford for a season before spending the last two years as an assistant at Xavier High School.
The coaching carousel has provided Chaffin a better understanding of how he wants to approach his first head coaching gig.
During his handful of coaching ventures, he has taught multiple offensive systems — from the triple option to the air raid to the spread option.
Chaffin said he plans to blend together the offensive approaches and tailor it towards his personnel, adding, “I’m going to run whatever gives us the best chance to win.”
But before the team sees results on the field, Chaffin wants to help set a standard of excellence off of it.
“When I first got the job in March I didn’t know what to expect, but once I got to know the players I realized that we have a group of great kids with the right attitude,” said Chaffin, a resident of Marlborough.
What surprised him was how eager the players were to get to work, even before they touched a football.
Over the summer, the team spent Saturday mornings cleaning up the grounds around Bacon Academy High School — mowing, weed whacking, cutting down tree vines. They also accomplished one of Chaffin’s main goals on connecting with the town’s youth football program – the Colchester Cougars – where the high school players spent time mentoring the next generation of Bobcats.
“They did it with enthusiasm,” Chaffin said. “They were genuinely excited to do it, because they are excited to change people’s perceptions of them.”
Chaffin added that his first order of business was to teach the players the importance of the weight room and he was pleased with how the team responded to the summer lifting program.
He also wanted to show them what a high-level high school team should look like, so he brought the players to a summer football camp ran by Springfield College at Xavier High School. The camp included the host Falcons, a Class LL contender, and Class M powerhouse Berlin.
“What happened was tremendous,” recalled Chaffin, who said his Class S Bobcats had a group of 40 players that embraced the challenge. “We competed against two quality football programs. The confidence that they got from the camp has carried throughout the entire summer.”
Following the camp, Chaffin began to realize that he has a core group of guys that are capable of leading and competing on a weekly basis.
Senior quarterback Jack Holmes will be tasked with running a complex offense. Holmes, who is also an all-conference lacrosse player at the high school, said the new regime is just what the team needed.
“I’m really excited. I feel the offensive really compliments everybody this year,” added Holmes.
Because of the size of the roster, many players will have to play on offense and defense. This included Aiden Holt and Aidan Fritz, who will each play linebacker and a skill position on the offensive end.
“Coach Chaffin brought in an entirely new offense and it’s unbelievable,” said Holt. “It’s a brand new culture and we are extremely motivated.”
Fritz added, “We’re becoming more of a family and working together just trying to get better. Everyone is putting in a lot more effort.”
Brady Gould, a junior, will also join the linebacker room.
“The culture is way different, I can already see it,” said Gould, who will also play tight end. “It’s very much a family aspect and I’m just ready for the season.”
All the players agree that the practices are more engaging and upbeat, which has increased their confidence heading into competition.
Whether or not the confidence translates to wins and losses on the field is yet to be known. However, Chaffin believes that this group has a chance to lay the groundwork.
“At the point and time I took over the program it was essentially at rock bottom,” said Chaffin, who also works for an insurance agency out of Wallingford. “Every team that has had continued success has had a group of players that started it. There was always that group of guys that kick-started that rise. What is to stop this group from being that group?”
Part of his plan to change the culture in the locker room was bringing in an entirely new group of assistant coaches. Joining Chaffin on the sidelines will be position coaches Jamie Lawton (defensive line/running backs), Pat Walsh (offensive line/linebackers, Ryan Gorra (tight ends/safeties), Lamar Mikel (wide receivers/cornerbacks), and Chris Gould (offensive line/linebackers).
“I’m a big believer that the head coach sets the standards of the program and assistant coaches buy into that philosophy and get the players to buy in,” stated Chaffin. “ If you continue to do all the right stuff and change the perception of the program, that is going to result in a product on the field that is respectable and competes.”
The Bobcats, which last won a game in the 2019 regular season finale, will open the 2022 season at home against East Catholic on Sat. Sept. 10 against East Catholic, starting at noon.
By the time the game kicks off, it will have been 1016 days since Bacon Academy last won a football game.
Chaffin is just hoping to see a confident group on the field that expects to succeed.
For the players, this season is a chance at change the perception.
“You can already see a difference from the team. I just want to shock the league,” said senior Colin Olbrias, who will play wide receiver and defensive back. “After coming off a really rough year last year we’ve improved a lot and I don’t think anybody has been working harder than us in the offseason.”
New Bacon Academy football coach Bill Chaffin instructs his players during a practice on August 18. Chaffin takes over for a program that last won a game on Nov. 28, 2019.
Senior Cole Brisson returns at quarterback for the defending Class S state champion Cromwell/Portland co-op football team. Brisson earned all-conference, throwing 30 touchdowns, during the Panthers undefeated season last fall.
It’s hard to top an undefeated state championship season.
But if anyone can, it’s the Cromwell/Portland co-op football team that has been sweating swagger since head coach Randell Bennett took over the program in 2017.
The Panthers are coming off a 13-0 season, which culminated with a 21-6 Class S state championship victory over Bloomfield last December. It was the program’s first state championship since 2008 and the first since Cromwell and Portland first combined forces on the field in 2015.
“The mentality is definitely still there, but we have to make sure we are sharpening any skills that we need to sharpen going into the season,” Bennett said of the team’s confident aura.
And there is a reason for the team maintaining that championship confidence. They have a slew of talent returning to the roster, including 9 of 11 starters coming back on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive coordinator Jack Wilson, who was named the state’s Assistant Coach of the Year, returns to lead a unit that created 33 turnovers and scored a half dozen touchdowns, while allowing a mere seven points per game a season ago
Senior Alex Hair returns to start on both sides of the ball — serving as the team’s primary ball carrier offensively and a disruptive defensive end.
“Honestly I haven't approached it differently,” Hair said of entering his senior season. “Maybe now I’m passing on the things I know to the younger guys, but I’m still working as hard as I possibly can like I did last year.”
In the championship quest last fall, Hair led the team with nearly 900 rushing yards and scored a dozen touchdowns. His 12 trips to the end zone were second on the team behind only Teddy Williams, who scored 30 times.
Williams and Owen Brunk will be the team’s two biggest departures. The prolific pair made the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) Top-25 Players in the State list a season ago.
Despite losing two all-state players, the Panthers have experienced pieces coming back in key positions.
Senior quarterback Cole Brisson is back behind center and four of five starters will be returning along the offensive line.
Brisson, who has started since his freshman year, threw 30 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions a season ago. He is now the undisputed leader of an offense that averaged nearly 38 points per game last fall.
“We’re not satisfied,” said Brisson. “We had a lot of playmakers on the field and we’re really deep. It gives me a lot of confidence that we have a ton of experience coming back.”
Senior Ryan Rozich, who started alongside Williams and Brunk to create a fierce linebacking trio last year, steps into a larger leadership role.
“I’m ready, I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get back out here,” said Rozich, who missed the final two games last fall due to an injury. “We are coming into this year with the same attitude we had last year. We have the same goal.”
Emeka Yearwood, who led the team with eight sacks, and Jack Nolan, who nabbed a team-high seven interceptions, will also be back to impact both sides of the ball.
Allen Cohen can play both ways in the trenches and will return to handle the kicking duties on special teams.
Jack Williams — the younger brother of Teddy William — will also be back to anchor the lines after posting six sacks a season ago. Williams and Matt Binezewski are the team’s two linemen that will be back following all-conference seasons.
Bennett added that Brandon Rose, Daevyon Lovelace, Ashton Rambrose, Ray Boudreau, Alex McKiernan, and EricTreglia will be asked to play major roles again, while young studs like sophomores Vaughn Payne and Matt Gish, along with a few freshmen could make waves this season.
So what can we expect from a team that is coming off a historic season?
“More of the same, we want to channel that same energy. It’s not broke; it works for us,” answered Bennett, “We know we have 10 games and we are hoping to play 13 again this year.”
The Panthers open the 2022 season at home on Thurs., Sept. 8 against Morgan. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. at Pierson Park in Cromwell.
“We have the same mentality. In my eyes nothing has really changed from last year,” Hair said about approaching the first game, “We’re still going to come out and we’re still going to go as hard as we possibly can.”
Both Brisson and Rozich said to expect “a show” in the opener, and if last season was any indication, the show may continue into December.
Alex Hair returns to start on both sides of the ball at running back and defensive end.
Julianna Violette, a dual-sport athlete at Rocky Hill High School, couldn’t decide which sport she wanted to continue to play in college.
So she decided to do both.
“I am so excited to announce my commitment to the University of Saint Joseph for swimming and lacrosse,” Violette announced on Instagram in the spring. “I would like to thank all of my coaches, teammates, and family for making this all happen. Go Blue Jays!”
Violette said her desire to stay close to home, along with the fact that her mom previously attended the West Hartford-based University, went into the decision.
Those factors, combined with her desire to continue both sports sealed the deal. .
“It was the right fit and the best choice for me,” said Violette.
Along with her success in the pool and fields at RHHS, Violette also was the 2022 Class Secretary and was part of Best Buddies, a unified program that encourages school involvement.
Violette said she will miss the positive environment surrounding the swim teams at RHHS and the connections she made during away games with the lacrosse team in the springs.
At USJ, she will join a pair of programs that will allow her to maximize her skills.
The swimming program has been a consistent contender in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC). The aquatic Blue Jays are led by head coach Brenda Straker, who coaches both the men’s and women’s programs at the university and is going into her ninth season in West Hartford.
USJ’s lacrosse program is up-and-coming and is guided by head coach Karen Nell, who also coaches the field hockey program at the university.
Swimming and lacrosse will take up a good chunk of Violette’s time at the next level, but the 2022-graduate is most looking forward to a fresh start.
“I’m excited to start something new in a new town,” said Violette, who will study elementary education. “It will be fun to be around new people and branch out.”
Cameryn Wilkinson will play soccer at the University of Hartford. Wilkinson is flanked by her mother, Jaime Wilkinson, and father, Adam Wilkinson.
Cameryn Wilkinson, a 2022 graduate of Wethersfield High School, will continue to live out her soccer dreams a few miles up the road.
“I’m very excited to announce my commitment to the University of Hartford to continue my academic career and play soccer at the collegiate level,” Wilkinson announced on social media. “Thank you to everyone who has helped me get to this point.”
It’s the natural next step for Wilkinson, who has had a soccer ball at her feet for nearly her entire life.
Her father, Adam Wilkinson, coached her in youth soccer and during the final few years of club soccer at the high school level. He also coached against his daughter over the past four years, serving as the head coach for the girls’ team at Newington High School since 2013.
Wilkinson called her dad her biggest influence and credited him with “shaping her into the player and person” she is today.
“He was a little harder on me with me being his daughter, but I feel like having him as a coach pushed me to continue my soccer overall,” Wilkinson said. “I could always ask him anything, whether I was playing or at home. I could always go to him for whatever.”
At the age of five she started playing youth soccer and didn’t initially love the sport, often opting to play goalie because she didn’t love running at the time. She originally wanted to focus on gymnastics, but her father encouraged her to continue with soccer.
Then in middle school, she had an “aha” moment while playing for her Connecticut Football Club (CFC) team. She recalled blowing by an opponent and beating the keeper for a goal.
“That's the first moment when I realized that I really loved soccer,” Wilkinson added. “My love for the sport expanded after that.”
Along with playing for CFC for 10 years and winning a summer league championship with her U17 team, she played all four years on the varsity team at WHS.
This past fall, she served as a team captain as the team won the Central Connecticut Conference division title, the team’s second in three seasons. Despite only playing in a handful of games because of a torn hamstring, Wilkinson was named all-conference and to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) All-State team.
The all-state selection was a combination of the impact she made on the field when she was healthy and the leadership she provided off the field.
Wilkinson said she was surprised by the selection but was honored and thanked WHS head coach Tony Leone for allowing her to act as another coach from the sidelines.
She recalled a moment early in the season when a teammate came over to the sidelines and was unaware why she had been taken out of the game. Wilkinson approached her to offer a few pointers. The teammate looked at Wilkinson and said, “Wow, you really are your father’s daughter.”
Along with starring on the soccer fields, Wilkinson was a member of the Art National Honor Society at WHS. She said that creating, mainly drawing and painting, allows her to unwind from the hectic soccer schedule.
For Wilkinson, who was born and raised in Wethersfield, leaving the community will be tough.
“Everyone has always been so supportive,” added Wilkinson. “Those core people that I have been with since elementary school are who I will miss the most.”
Luckily she will only be about 10 miles from her home base, playing with the Hawks in West Hartford. John Natale, who is a Wethersfield native and previously coach at WHS, has been coaching the Hawks for two decades and is the winningest coach in program history. Jimmy Slayton, a 2016-WHS graduate, is also on the team’s staff.
“There was some kind of attraction to it that I can't explain. The coaching staff, the team, the campus, everything just kind of fit and seemed right,” said Wilkinson, who will study exercise science. “I always wanted to stay close to home because I felt like all of my support comes from my family, and I wanted them close by.”
Her first season at UHart should be a memorable one as the team has a trip planned to Costa Rica at the end of October to play a few games overseas.
2022 Glastonbury 13U American Legion Team State Champions: Back row (l-r): Coach Jeff Bernabeo, MGR Ian Race, Camden Sadak, Adin Goldberg, Zachary Bernabeo, Jayden Korber, Derick Li, EJ Ross, Bryce Gregor, Coach Derrick Gregor, Coach Steve Fischer; front row: Zachary Rafferty, Cameron Morosky, Colin Gaudet, Cooper Saunders, Bennett Race, Paul DiSanto III, Jack Fischer, Ian Assante
Glastonbury Amateur Baseball (GAB) had a summer to remember. All four of Glastonbury’s American Legion teams (13U/15U/17U/19U) qualified for the state tournament, and the 13-and-under team won the first state championship in the history of the GAB.
GAB President Brian Suriner said the championship was a result of the strong relationship with the town’s little league program, led by Glastonbury Little League (GLL) president Don Longtin.
After finishing 23-3 in the regular season and earning the No. 1 seed in the state tournament, the 13U team swept through the state tournament with five straight wins, including a 7-0 shutout of Torrington in the championship game at Riverfront Park on July 30.
In the handful of tourney wins, Glastonbury outscored their opponents 39-12 and connected on 35 more hits than the opposition.
Zachary Bernabeo was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament after starring from both the plate and mound, and Derick Li was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Hitter after reaching base on 70% of his plate appearances, along with leading the team in hit and runs scored this summer.
Bernabeo, Li, Jack Fisher, and Cooper Saunders all made All-Stars.
The group was coached by Ian Race, who was assisted by Jeff Bernabeo, Steve Fischer, Derrick Gregor, and Matt Hill.
Suriner said what made the championship group special was they had chemistry from playing together throughout little league and were coming off an impressive showing in the spring.
“They had some unfinished business.” Suriner said of the team. “They had a target on their back and they knew that going into the season.”
GAB’s youngest team provided the fireworks and the three other teams held their own in what turned out to be a banner summer.
15U, coached by Mark Woodworth, finished the regular season 18-10 and added two tourney wins. Jacoby Crawford, Jacob Jablonowski, Bennett Bedard, and Danny Wallace were the team’s four All-Stars.
17U, coached by Dan Cantafi, won 13 regular season games and two more in the tourney, producing four All-Stars in Anthony Michaud, Chris Heap, Connor Cantafi, Cooper Pierro (honorable mention).
19U, led by Suriner, won 10 games and had five players make All-Stars: Drew Curto, Jayden Sgro, Danny Cantafi, Luke Rafferty (honorable mention), Jarrod Cosalan (honorable mention).
It marked the most successful season in the history of the GAB, which was started in 1995 to provide a local and competitive travel baseball league for summer and fall competition.
Suriner added that the number of players has continued to rise consistently over the past decade. He attributes the growth to the program’s “secret sauce”, which takes place as the little league level where no cuts are made and everybody gets a chance to play.
“GAB’s mission is parallel with the little league’s mission,” added Suriner. “We want to develop kids not only on the baseball field, but also in life.”
Longtin added that the idea is to “create baseball fans” and said that player’s paths through the system are not always the same.
“We see it every year, high school stars are not always the same as the stars from when they were in little league,” added Longtin. “A lot of people develop later on.”
Suriner said that the relationships with the town’s Parks and Recreation is also crucial, calling them “the third team in town”
“They have been great. They help us and they allow us to help,” stated Suriner. “We contribute money every year to a fund that goes into the fields for resodding and resurfacing, putting in new bases, and maintenance of fences.”
Suriner added that there is no offseason for the GAB. The organization is working on projects throughout the year, as well as thinking ahead to what needs to be accomplished five years from now.
They are currently working on redoing the softball field at the high school, which will include putting up new fences and constructing a press box behind home plate. They are hoping that phase one for the softball project will be completed by the spring with phase two wrapping up sometime next year. So far they have raised around $60,000 through grants and other sources, which is about halfway to their target goal of $125,000.
For more information about the GAB visit www.gburybaseball.com or www.glastonburylittleleague.org for additional details about the Glastonbury Little League.
Glastonbury resident H. Veronica Southby in front of Cathedral de Santiago in Santiango, Spain. Southby biked for 45 days and 803 miles across the Camino de Santiago this summer.
Prior to leaving on her extraordinary adventure across Spain, H. Veronica Southby had one goal — to talk to God.
She ended up getting her wish and much more.
In the beginning of 2022, Southby decided to make some changes in her life and began planning an epic biking expedition across the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James.
Southby, a lifelong resident of Glastonbury, had served in the military for 20 years prior to being medically discharged after being hurt on-duty in 2013 while serving as a nurse in the Navy.
From the injuries she sustained during her military service, she became dependent on pain pills and other over-the-counter medications. She also said she had developed a poor diet and would drink to excess on occasion.
After 45 days and 803 miles on a bicycle, Southby had shed the excess weight, weaned off all medications, and found a new lease on life.
Despite saying she met the worst version of herself on the trail, Southby described her lengthy journey across Spain as “the time of a lifetime” and “transforming.”
Starting her ride in San Sebastian, Southby “cathedral hopped” across the Northern Coastal route, making the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago before finishing off the quest by peddling to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Southby recalled being disappointed during the early stages of the ride because her intention to talk to God was not received, but she soon discovered the true meaning of her ride was the life-altering changes she was making along the way.
However, upon arriving at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral — the burial palace of Saint James the Great, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ — she was finally granted her original wish.
“He had a lot to say,” Southby recalled of her conversation with God. “I had to make some adjustments.”
Her trip started in early June when she got aboard the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed to England before flying to Rome to spend 10 days around Vatican City. She then made stops in Malta and France before finally beginning the grueling cycling odyssey.
Cycling Concepts, located on 2343 Main Street in Glastonbury, had fitted Southby with a bicycle and all the accessories, which were shipped overseas. She credited owner Keith Sherman with setting her up with the perfect bike — a forest green Cannondale — and getting her the proper gel seat and hand grips, which she said made all the difference.
Southby said she was amused that the staff at Cycling Concepts had a betting pool amongst them whether she would be able to finish the rugged ride.
She also joked that family and friends were “planning her funeral” and she recalled a time during training when she fell down while dismounting her bike near her house as a neighbor drove by.
None of the naysayers dissuaded her from tackling the goal she had set forth and, with the help of travel company Macs Adventures, she set off to prove them wrong.
And prove them wrong she did, battling through the elements — which included a heat wave that reached 110 degrees — and a series of setbacks that nearly derailed the trip.
First there was a flat tire that she had to endure in the Basue region about seven miles outside of Lezama. After discovering the flat, she spotted a farmhouse across a cow field and approached for help. At first, she was turned away by a man that answered the door, but as darkness crept in she approached the house again and this time the man’s wife answered the door — and her prayers.
Aingeru, which translates to Angel, had done part of the trail before and could sense Southby’s desperate situation, so she provided a ride to the nearest town.
Later in the journey, Southby took a wrong turn and was caught on a beach of Vega. After plodding through the dense sand, she eventually spotted the trail on the cliff above her but couldn’t get her bike up a steep, rocky slope. Two men, who were nude-sun bathing on the beach, carried the bike up the embankment wearing only their tennis shoes.
Southby said both experiences were “by the Grace of God.”
Upon finishing her journey, she decided to pay it forward and gave her $1,000 bicycle to the kid that was originally tasked with packing up the Cannondale to ship back over to the United States.
She said at first the young man didn’t want to accept the gift, but she insisted and when she returned to bring him the accessories, she recalled the boy had tears in his eyes.
Between the training and the trek, Southby lost 30 pounds and returned with a new perspective on life, saying, “I don’t worry anymore.”
Southby — a widower who lost her husband, Gary Southby, to complications from cancer on the day of the couple's 22nd wedding anniversary in 2019 — said the stresses from her past are behind her and that the experience has forever changed her.
“Things are different now and I will never go back,” added Southby, a 1981 graduate of Glastonbury High School.
Southby, now 59, has been retired from nursing for two years and said she wants to be a positive influence on her sons, Mac and Augie, and continue to eat a clean diet like “Jesus cooked.”
The conversation with God may have been the highlight, yet she added that she also changed her religious perspective in the process.
She discovered that it doesn’t matter if you’re in the most elaborate cathedral in the world or in a tiny wood chapel, “God will show up with a single candle” and added that “God was no more on the trail than He was back in Glastonbury.”
Southby said there are no future trips planned and for now, she will start playing the violin again and sew new altar clothes for St. Dunstan Church.
“I want to live what I learned. I want to keep the weight off and never again go back to the way I was living,” added Southby, “Enough happened that was not coincidentally that I am sure that God is here with each and every one of us if you want him to be.”
Following an all-state senior season, Bacon Academy’s 2022 graduate Aidan McLaughlin will continue to play soccer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts.
McLaughlin, who will major in mechanical engineering, said that competing athletically at the next level was a bonus and that he chose his next destination on academics first.
“My junior year, my mom and I sat down and looked at what colleges have good engineering programs and good architectural programs,” recalled McLaughlin. “WPI was on the top of that list.”
Since he could remember, McLaughlin was either engineering something or had a soccer ball at his feet.
The two hobbies have consumed him for a better portion of his early life and McLaughlin said that when he wasn't practicing or playing soccer, he was spending his free time figuring out how thing work or drawing sketches.
It was during his junior year that he figured out that he’d potentially be able to do both at the next level, saying that playing soccer for four more years at a place like WPI was a “dream come true.”
Bacon Academy boys’ soccer head coach Skip Starks called McLaughlin a “coach’s dream” who was a great leader and praised his team captain for being the ultimate scholar-athlete.
After missing his freshman season in high school due to a broken leg, McLaughlin returned from his rehab to post a trio of productive seasons.
During his three years as a starter, he shined as a defender yet his coach said he would have thrived anywhere on the field.
“He was a top defender in the state but he could have played any position,” Starks said of his versatile star. “His on-the-field IQ set him apart. Not to mention his speed, foot skills, his demeanor, and he had the perfect attitude.”
McLaughlin’s senior season at Bacon set the stage for an easy transition to WPI.
The Bobcats won 11 regular season games and then a pair of tournament contests, including a memorable victory over Weston, winning on penalty kicks, in the second round of the Class M tourney.
“I liked how we all came together and stuck it out,” recalled McLaughlin, who said the resiliency the team showed in the game was a reflection of the entire season.
Along with making all-state, McLaughlin made first-team All-Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC) and was an ECC Sportsmanship Award winner. He was also honored as a Connecticut Coaches Associations Scholar-Athlete, was selected to the Senior Bowl, and was one of 54 players nationwide that were named by the US Soccer Coaches Association as All-Americans.
“It was amazing,” McLaughlin said of his senior year.
McLaughlin’s older brother, Liam McLaughlin, was an all-state soccer player at Bacon Academy in 2015 and 2016 before graduating in 2017 and playing collegiately at King’s College in New York.
After seeing his older brother’s success, the younger McLaughlin made it a goal of his to follow in his all-state footsteps while at Bacon.
At WPI, he’ll join a team led by Brian Kelly, who is entering his 10th season as the team’s head coach and 14th year overall with the program. Kelly has won nearly 70% of his games since taking over as the head coach, along with guiding the Engineers to a share of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regular season title in 2019 as the program won their first NCAA tournament game in 43 years.
“He went to the school for all the right reasons. He’s a top student and that is one of the top engineering schools in the country,” added Starks, who is entering his sixth season with the Bobcats. “He’s going to make somebody proud and do something special. He’s just one of those kids.”
McLaughlin, who was born and raised in Colchester, said leaving behind his home base will be tough, but he added that the freedom to focus his energy on his passions is appealing.
“The things that I really like in my life are the things I’m going to be doing,” he added. “I’m looking forward to representing a school at a high level.”
2022 RHAM graduate Emma Heslin will join the inaugural female wrestling team at Western New England. Heslin is flanked by her mother Andrea Tatasciore to her left and brother Jackson Heslin and father Matt Heslin to her right.
Emma Heslin, who became the first female wrestler in RHAM High School history to win a state championship, will continue to wrestle at Western New England University (WNE).
When she first steps on the mats at WNE, she will again be making history as a member of the school’s inaugural female wrestling team –– which will debut this winter.
“I really liked how I’ll be part of the first woman’s program at the school,” Heslin said about choosing the Golden Bears in Springfield, Mass. “I loved the coach and the campus. It has good vibes and it’s small, but it’s not too small.”
Heslin’s ascent to collegiate wrestling was quick. She had participated in club wrestling previously, but didn’t wrestle in high school until this past winter.
RHAM wrestling head coach Ryan Fitch said he tried to get Heslin to join the team for a couple of years and once she finally did, she made a significant impact on and off the mat.
“She was an inspiration to our team. They rallied around her and she was the cohesive figure that got everyone together,” recalled Fitch.
Despite only wrestling at the school for one year, her name is forever etched in RHAM’s record books after defeating Southington’s Elena Quintaro to win the girls’ State Open championship in the 99-pound weight division on February 27.
Her brother Jackson Heslin, who wrestles for Xavier High School, also won a state championship at the State Open. The Heslins, who live in Marlborough, became the first pair of siblings to win high school wrestling titles on the same day in the state’s history.
She said the championship was fantastic, yet is just the beginning to what she hopes are more years of success.
“It feels good, but it’s in the past. It doesn’t mean anything when I step out on the mat the next time,” added Heslin. “I’m working towards more championships at Western New England, and to make it on the banners and make my mark there.”
She added that her one season of high school wrestling was unforgettable, adding, “I love my team so much. We have such a good close bond and I will miss them so much. I don’t think I’ll ever be on a team like that again”
Fitch said that he knew of Heslin’s potential coming into last winter and, despite her lack of experience, could sense her championship potential.
“We thought she had a real good chance because of her strength. She was wrestling girls that wrestled at 130 [pounds] and persevered through it,” recalled Fitch.
Heslin wrestled “folk style” in high school and will transition to “freestyle” in college. Thanks to club wrestling, she is used to wrestling both styles.
Fitch said that Heslin has unique power for her size and that strength should allow her to excel in college. He added that committing to wrestling 12-months a year and the work she put in this year will also go a long way.
Heslin will study business as she looks to add to her short, yet already accomplished wrestling resume.
“I want to grind and take [wrestling] more seriously,” Heslin said about her goal at WNE. “Being new I have a lot more drive and dedication for it. I really want to see how far and I can take it.”
Newington High School boys’ basketball will have a familiar face on the bench next season.
“It is my pleasure to announce Scot Wenzel as the head basketball coach at Newington High School,” NHS Athletic Director Chris Meyers said in a statement on August 8. “Coach Wenzel successfully served in the same position at Newington High School from 2003-2017. He most recently served as the head coach at Plainville High School from 2020-2022.”
Wenzel replaces Ed Quick, who replaced Wenzel after he stepped down following the 2017 season. Quick leaves NHS after four seasons and will now take over the boys’ basketball program at Southington High School.
In his second stint at Newington, Wenzel inherits a team that is coming off an 11-win season and a berth in the state tournament. He will look to duplicate the success from his first time on the bench where were led the team to four conference championships and the Class L semifinals in 2016, as well as helping several players makes all-state, all-conference, and all-academic
“Coach Wenzel brings a commitment to student athletes both on and off the court. He works as a Physical Education teacher at Plainville High School and has shown a commitment to the academic success of his student athletes in the past, along with ensuring their growth socially, emotionally, and physically,” added Meyers. “Through the interview process, Coach Wenzel emphasized his dedication to education and basketball, which set him apart as a leader of our education-based basketball program. We are excited to watch Coach Wenzel continue his history of success at Newington High School.”
(1) Carly Reilly will play lacrosse at Swarthmore College. Reilly is pictured with parents Joseph and Isabella, sister Lenna, and coach Elena Hynes. (2) CHS 2022 graduate Grace Michaud will play lacrosse at Kean University. Michaud is pictured with mother Renee and brother Matthew.
Grace Michaud and Carly Reilly helped launch the girls’ lacrosse program at Cromwell High School.
Four years later and following all-conference senior seasons, the 2022 graduates will continue their lacrosse careers collegiately.
Michaud is headed to Kean University in New Jersey to study exercise science and Reilly will major in astronomy and physics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
Cromwell lacrosse head coach Drew O’Connor, who coached both players since youth lacrosse, said the departing duo have high IQs and were instrumental with building the program at CHS, which debuted in May of 2019.
O’Connor added that the two graduates will be “huge assets at the next level” for their new teams.
Michaud served a defensive captain who made an impactful from the first day she stepped onto the field her freshman season in Cromwell.
“Being with the program since it started, it’s been cool to see how the program has grown,” said Michaud.
Along with playing lacrosse, she also starred as a standout soccer player at the school. Off the field, she was on Student Council all four years and was part of National Honor Society and the World Language Club.
“Grace is phenomenal at seeing the field. I look to her for leadership on the field everyday” said O’Connor. “She is a very confident young lady that is not afraid to advocate for herself and that will help her at the next level.”
Michaud will now join a Cougars program in Union, N.J. led by head coach B.J. Johnson, who has guided the program to a NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) tournament appearance in every season she has been there.
Michaud said she knew that Kean was her next destination following a conversation with the coach and a visit to the campus.
“It really just felt at home. I knew it is where I wanted to be for the next four years,” recalled Michaud, whose long term goal is to become a physical therapist. “I’m super excited to see that level of play.”
Reilly was an offensive force and captain at Cromwell, starring as a main attacker this spring.
She grew up playing basketball and decided to focus exclusively on lacrosse prior to her sophomore year before the season was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At that point, Reilly said she could never have dreamed that less than two years later she would be committing to play the sport at the next level.
“Lacrosse was fun but I never thought I would be playing in college,” recalled Reilly. “But coming into junior year I played club lacrosse and that solidified that I wanted to play in college.”
Along with lacrosse, Reilly also was part of World Language Club, National Honor Society, and was the President of the Spanish National Honor Society at CHS.
O’Connor said that Reilly’s combination of knowledge and athleticism will allow her to excel at the next level, adding, “Her skill set is really high. She is a wicked stick handler and no matter where the ball is, she’s going to catch it.”
At Swarthmore, Reilly will join a program led by head coach Karen Borbee and associate head coach Kathy Krannebitter, who have over a half century of combined coaching experience.
“Swarthmore had been on my radar for a long time and academically it was everything I wanted,” said Reilly, who chose the school on academics first and then realized that lacrosse was also a possibility. “I reached out to the coach and they saw me play at a summer tournament. It all worked out; it was almost like it was meant to be.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin