East Hampton volleyball has won seven of eight games to start the season. From left; Delaney Russell, Olivia DeMartino, and Mackenzie Player are pictured at a game inside Cromwell High School last Wednesday. The Bellringers beat the host Panthers in straight sets.
Coming off the program’s first state championship in 2022, some of the names on East Hampton’s volleyball roster have change, yet the mindset remains the same,
“We have a different lineup with the same goals,” said senior captain Delaney Russell.
So far, the Bellringers have seized on the momentum from last fall, winning seven of eight games to start the 2023 season, including a three-set sweep (25-15, 25-12, 25-18) of Cromwell on Sept. 20.
It was the Bellringers third straight win and head coach Molly Grabowski said the team is forming into shape.
“I’ve liked seeing everyone get better,” Grabowski said of her new-look squad. “We started out really raw and we were plugging in new people and filling some big shoes, so it’s nice to see that those holes become smaller and smaller.”
In the road victory at Cromwell High School, senior captain Amber Murphy led the charge upfront with six kills and three blocks.
Grabowski credited Murphy for her consistent work at the net, saying, “Amber is becoming more and more aggressive.”
Joining Russell and Murphy in the captain’s chair is returning setter Chelsea Woods, who dished out a season-high 24 assists in the win at Cromwell.
Grabowski said, despite several new faces on the court, Woods has again done a nice job at running the offense, distributing the ball to a new cast of characters.
The trio of captains –– along with fellow seniors Mackenzie Players, Madison Reola and Emily Tinson –– have become the veteran voices for a team that is fresh off both a Shoreline Conference title and the Class M state champions last fall.
“We’ve had to step up and lead the team a little more,” Murphy said of the expanded role. “We lost some players from last year, but I think we have a strong team this year.”
A year ago, Murphy’s older twin sisters Jordan and Jenna captained the team with Reagan Burt.
Jordan Murphy earned all-state and was named the Class S tournament’s Most Valuable Player as the Bellringers captured the program’s first state title, defeating Hale Ray in the title match last November.
With the three influential seniors departing, it was up to the returning players from a year ago to carry on the winning ways.
“The seniors are finding their leadership footing,” stated Grabowski. “Last year they were able to stand behind Jordan, Jenna and Reagan, but now they are finding their own way to lead the team.”
It helps that the team returned plenty of experience a season ago, with four of six starters back in their roles.
For the second year in the row, Woods is the team’s setter, again leading the team in assists and distributing in a different way.
“We were a power hitting team and we’re still trying to do that, but we had to make changes in our lineup and how we are approaching the games,” said Woods, who was named first-team all-conference as a junior last fall. “We are going to be a smaller team and are getting recognized for how we play rather than just putting the ball down every time.”
Junior Olivia DeMartino is back in her libero position, leading the team defensively, averaging 15 digs per match.
DeMartino closed the first set against Cromwell with an ace and then the Bellringers started the second set by scoring four of the first five points behind a pair of aces from Woods.
After falling behind early in the second set, Grabowski said she liked how her team responded against their Shoreline Conference (SLC) rivals.
“Cromwell has a way of putting the ball back at us at different times when we’re not ready,” added Grabowski. “I think we responded well and I think [they players] did a good job as the game went on.”
The Bellringers used a seven-point scoring run midway through the third set to take control before Amber Murphy polished off the match with consecutive points, powering home a kill and a block.
Sophomore Stephanie Martin also shined in the victory, finishing with a career-high 10 kills off the bench.
Following the victory over Cromwell, East Hampton made it four wins in a row with a four set (25-18, 25-21, 17-25, 25-9) win over Haddam-Killingworth on Sept. 22 as Woods matched her season-high with 24 assists.
On Tuesday, East Hampton defeated Cogincaugh Regional in three sets (25-11, 25-18, 25-13) behind nine aces from DeMartino.
Since a Sept 13 loss to Hale Ray, the Bellringers have won five straight games, taking 15 of 16 sets during that streak.
Russell said the three captains are leaning on the leadership skills from those before them.
“Luckily we’ve had awesome seniors during our time here that have been great role models for us,” added Russell. “It’s still early in the season and we are still navigated it, but we are staying positive and I feel like the team is looking to us for guidance.”
The Bellringers are in the middle of a four-game home stand and look to keep the momentum going when they welcome North Branford to East Hampton High School for a match today (Friday, Sept. 29) at 5:30 p.m.
The boys soccer team at East Hampton High School has started 5-0 this fall. The Bellringers are coming off a state championship appearance a season ago and welcome back a slew of talent, including returning all-conference junior Will Nafis, who was named a Standout Athlete of the Week.
Here is a double dose of Rivereast Standouts of the Week for the week of Sept. 18 – 24:
Will Nafis - East Hampton High School (Soccer): Following an all-conference selection as a sophomore, Nafis has continued to power a Bellringers team that has won all five games this fall. Nafis, now a junior, scored a goal during the team’s latest victory, a 3-2 road win over Morgan on Sept. 22. Ethan Marshall and Nick Guarino also scored in the Shoreline Conference (SLC) triumph. Next, the undefeated Bellringers will welcome conference foe Cromwell to East Hampton High School for a game today (Friday, Sept. 29) at 4 p.m.
Maya Korczak - East Hampton High School (Soccer): Korczak picked up right where she left off after an all-state junior season last fall, scoring three goals as the Bellringers started the 2023 season with a pair of victories. Korczak, a senior, netted a pair of goals in a 6-1 win at North Branford and then added another goal in the team’s home opener, a 3-1 victory over Valley Regional. The Bellringers are in the middle of a four-game road trip, heading to Lyman Memorial on Saturday, Sept. 30 for a game at 4 p.m.
Parker Thompson - Portland High School (Soccer): Thompson scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner in the closing minute as the Highlanders defeated Cromwell 2-1 on Sept. 23. Thompson, a junior, sparked the offense while senior goalie Erik Medvecky solidified the back end. Two days earlier, Medvecky blanked Valley Regional 3-0 behind a pair of goals from Gio Discenza and another from Alex Dawson, with two assists coming from Thompson. Next is a road game at New Britain High School on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 11 a.m.
Cristina Austin - Portland High School (Soccer): Austin scored the contest’s only goal as the Highlanders dealt Bristol Eastern a 1-0 defeat. Austin, a sophomore, provided the offense and sophomore goalie Gracie DeRing kept the net clean with the help of a stout defense led by senior Lily Carroll. The team next hosts Westbrook on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 4 p.m.
Brady Gould - Bacon Academy (Football): Gould scored four touchdowns as the Bobcats visited the capital city and throttled Weaver 49-6 on Sept. 22. Gould, a senior captain, was one of four Bacon Academy players to find the end zone. Avatar Disher, Julian Rodegher, and Eddie Gignac also scored touchdowns, while kicker Jace King connected on all seven extra point attempts. Dylan Ward, who was celebrating his birthday, intercepted a pass to lead a defense that also shutout Bethel, 21-0, in their home opener on Sept. 9. The Bobcats now welcome Griswold/Wheeler to Bacon Academy for a game this Saturday, Sept. 30, kicking off at noon.
Boden Paul - Bacon Academy (Cross-Country): Paul ran a 19:06 to take first place as the Bobcats defeated Waterford 23-33 at Zagaway Farms in Colchester. Paul, a freshman, led the way as Bacon Academy took four of the top six spots with Michael Dickey (3rd / 19:30), Carson Brown (5th / 20:06) and Ian McLain (6th / 20:07) rounding out the top four Bobcats to finish.
Ava Machowski - RHAM High School (Soccer): Machowski scored her eighth goal of the season during the Raptors 3-1 win over Granby at RHAM High School on Sept. 29. Machowski, a senior, has been a main offensive threat for a Raptors team that has started the season by winning four of five games. Next up is a home game against South Windsor today (Friday, Sept. 29) at 3:45 p.m.
T.J. Machowski - RHAM High School (Soccer): Machowski made five saves as the Raptors shutout powerhouse Glastonbury 1-0 on Sept. 21. Machowski, a junior, has been manning the net for a Raptors defense that has blanked four of their first six opponents this season. Senior Troy Miller scored the only goal in the win over Glastonbury and now RHAM travels to South Windsor for a game today (Friday, Sept. 29) at 4 p.m.
GHS girls volleyball won a pair of games last week, extending their winning streak to five matches. The team is pictured after winning 12 of 12 matches at The Glastonbury Volleyball Jamboree earlier this month.
Following a loss to RHAM in the season opener, the Glastonbury High School girls volleyball team has been flawless.
The Guardians have reeled off five straight games, including a three set win (25-14, 25-15, 25-3) over Maloney last Tuesday at GHS.
“We just found our groove; we found ourselves as a team and we really got to know each other,” senior captain Rebecca Lavoie said following the sweep of the Meriden-based Spartans. “We’re at our best when we are having fun on the court.”
Lavoie is captaining the Guardians ship with Amanda LeClair, who had a team-high eight kills in the win over Maloney.
“We only have three seniors this year, so we’ve had to step it up into those leadership roles,” stated LeClair. “We honestly just like each other and it’s so much fun being out of the court — it’s like one big family.”
Melissa Reynolds is parenting the “family” in more ways than one, serving as the team’s head coach and she is also the mother of starting sophomore setter Mckenna Reynolds.
“They worked a lot in the offseason,” Melissa Reynolds said of the young team. “Most players played some form of club or got in the gym with our strength and conditioning coach, and that makes a big difference.”
The second-year coach credited her two captains and fellow senior Samantha Edelheit for serving as mentors, stating,
“They have kind of been big sisters for the younger players.”
“I’m very happy with their leadership,” she added. “They have been really good with junior varsity and freshman players and they are bringing everyone together by communicating with the players beyond the practice and games.”
In the win over Maloney, Mckenna Reynolds shined by serving up 24 assists, adding four aces and a pair of blocks.
Following a slow start in which the Spartans scored the first three points, the home team found their footing, using a 15-5 scoring run to take over the opening set.
A pair of kills by LeClair on perfect passes from Mckenna Reynolds highlighted the rally.
LeClair said that the connection with Reynolds, who took over as the team’s starting setter as a freshman a season ago, is “stronger than ever.”
In the second set, a kill from Kara Shea followed by an ace from Lavoie sparked a 13-6 run in the second set, giving the Guardians complete control of both the set and match.
Lavoie took over as the team’s libero as a junior, leading the team in digs in 2022, and has continued that role this fall.
“There is a ton of support with everyone around us,” stated Lavoie. “We feel comfortable with each other on and off the court. We work really well together and love being it out there”
The Guardians left no doubt in the third set, scoring the first five points before cruising to a 22-point edge in the final frame.
Junior Lauren Mosca served out the final six points of the final set and a block by Melissa Reynolds polished off the match.
Following a 15-win season in 2022, the team graduated seven seniors. The departing seniors included Evelyn Brenton and Jordyn Mik, who are currently playing college volleyball.
Melissa Reynolds said that the returning players’ dedication in the offseason, combined with the development of the young talent has allowed them to come together so quickly. She credited a strong junior class that includes Shea, Mosca, Peighton Snyder, Alexandra Edgington, and Claire Ha.
Shea (51) and Edgington (50) lead the team in kills, while Mosca and Snyder are each averaging nearly two kills per set. Ha is tied for the team lead in aces with 13.
“They are playing more together as a team,” added Melissa Reynolds. “Even though they may have played on different teams in the offseason, they have come together and jelled in a positive way.”
The Guardians made it five in a row by closing the week with a sweep on New Britain (25-9, 25-12, 25-7) on Thursday.
Mckenna Reynolds dished out 14 more assists and added four aces, while Shea led the team at the net with five kills.
LaClair said that a key to the team’s success is the selflessness on the court, adding, “It’s rewarding to see everyone getting so excited after a big point.”
The Guardians wrap up a four-game home stand this Friday, Sept. 29 when they welcome Northwest Catholic to GHS for a match at 5 p.m.
Rocky Hill girls volleyball won a pair of matches last week and #20 Maleena Muzio is a senior captain who had eight aces in a win over Hartford Public.
Maleena Muzio - Rocky Hill High School (Volleyball): Muzio served up eight aces as the Terriers swept Hartford Public in three sets on Sept 21. Muzio, a senior captain, is leading a Rocky Hill squad that has won three of their last five matches and next travels to Wethersfield High School for a conference match tonight (Thursday, Sept. 28) at 5 p.m.
Piper Kovacs - Cromwell High School (Volleyball): Kovacs had a career-high nine kills and added four digs in the Panthers four set win over New London earlier this month. Kovacs, a sophomore captain, leads the team in kills and blocks through the first eight matches this fall. Next is the team’s fundraiser game to promote cancer awareness with the proceeds benefiting the Connecticut Children's Medical Center as the Panthers welcome Portland to CHS tonight (Thursday, Sept 28) for a match at 5:30 p.m.
Junior Napoletano - Newington High School (Soccer): Napoletano scored two goals as the Nor’easters took down Berlin 3-1 at Sage Park on Sept. 21. Shawn Lungu scored the other goal for Newington, who next hosts Bloomfield Friday, Sept. 29 on the turf field at Clem Lemire Complex, starting at 6 p.m.
Madisyn Aurigemma - Rocky Hill High School (Soccer): Aurigemma scored a goal and dished out an assist as the Terriers upended Hall 2-0 on Sept. 19. Addie Grant scored on the assist from Aurigemma and goalie Angelina Daley earned the shutout in net, stopping eight shots. Aurigemma, a sophomore, also had a pair of goals as the Terriers tied Newington in the previous game. Rocky Hill is next slated to host Hartford Public on Friday, Sept 29 at 3:45 p.m.
Cole Lisella - Wethersfield High School (Golf): Lisella posted a (+4) 39 to place atop the leaderboard as the Eagles defeated Rocky Hill 169-181 at Rolling Greens Golf Club on Sept. 14. Lisella, a sophomore, shot par on five of the final seven holes to finish as the medalist. Junior Tatum Skruk (40) and sophomore Justin Crossen (41), both of Wethersfield, finished second and third individually. The Eagles and Terriers will rematch at Goodwin Golf Park Course in Hartford on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 3 p.m.
WHS swim and dive team took down conference foe Glastonbury, winning by a single point at WHS on Sept. 19
Prior to last Tuesday night, WHS head coach Lee Schwartzman had never been involved in a swimming and diving meet decided by one point.
Now, the veteran coach can check that off the list after his Eagles edged Glastonbury 93-92 in the team’s dramatic home opener at WHS on Sept. 19.
“I can’t think of a more exciting dual meet we’ve had at that pool. I looked like I jumped in the pool by the end,” Schwartzman joked.
Winning by a single point was stressful enough, yet beating an opponent like Glastonbury added to the overall celebration.
The Eagles had not defeated the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) powerhouse since 2017 and a year ago at Glastonbury High School, the Guardians soundly defeated Eagles.
Schwartzman said GHS has been the gold standard in the conference and added that the win didn’t come down to a single swimmer or single evert, but rather the entire team.
“This is the true example that everybody counts,” he added.
Senior captain Sabrina Schuster led the way by being involved in four wins as the Eagles took first place in eight of the dozen events.
Schuster, Milena Brodowicz, Ava Gill, Jilian Pitchell started the meet by winning the 200 medley relay and then Schuster placed first in the 200 freestyle before Brodowicz won the 200 individual medley.
Schuster (100 butterfly), Brodowicz (500 freestyle), and the foursome of Schuster, Brodowicz, Pitchell, and Morgan Tracy placed first in the 200 freestyle relay to round out the first place finishes in swimming.
Schwartzman credited both Schuster and Brodowicz, a sophomore, for leading the pack this fall, adding, “They are so battled tested. They have bene in some many big meets, whether it’s at high school or their club teams.”
Dayna Miller, Wethersfield’s only diver in the competition, also took first — besting three Guardians divers.
But it wasn’t just the first place finishes that propelled the Eagles to victory.
Schwartzman noted that it was all the close calls in the second, third, fourth, and fifth places finishes that ultimately made the difference,
One particular photo finish was in the 50 freestyle where Wethersfield’s Isabella Korzinski placed 4th with a time of 27.70 and Glastonbury’s Kaylee Polnik placed 5th with a time of 27.75. The 5/100th of a second difference made a crucial one-point swing.
Prior to the meet, Schwartzman showed his team the results and video of the last time his team beat the Guardians six years ago in an effort to convince his young team that “it’s not impossible.”
“They have been working hard and we looked at what we did in 2017 training-wise because it worked,” stated Schwartzman, who added that the team has done more speed work early in the season. “Some years you have a shot and some years you don’t, and this was definitely a year we had a shot.”
Coincidentally, the latest win over Glastonbury was exactly six years ago to the day of the 2017 triumph.
Schwartzman also credited a strong freshman class that accounted for a quarter of the team’s individual points in the narrow victory.
Gill, Tracy, Madison Kelly, and Julia Cartiera headline are strong Class of 2027 that are making waves this fall.
“You never know how they will react when the lights go on and they’ve been amazing,” Schwartzman said of his freshmen. “We always count on our freshmen, but for them to come in a make and impact in a win like this is incredible.”
Captaining the ship this year for Schwartzman are Schuster and fellow seniors Payton Roth and Sophia Lynch
He praised his captains for believing in the system.
“I’ve been pushing them really hard at practice and last week over the course of two pretty challenging practices, something just kind of switched,” Schwartzman recalled. “Everything just kind of worked out perfectly and this is the proof
for a decade to come that every practice counts”
Following the emotional victory, the Eagles closed the week with a convincing road victory over Newington (89-70) on Sept. 22, improving the team to 3-0 overall. In the latest win, Wethersfield took first in all 11 swimming events, with Pitchell (200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke), Brodowicz (100 freestyle and 100 backstroke), and junior Katie Moran (200 freestyle and 100 butterfly) each scoring a pair of individual victories.
Next up is a home date with Berlin on Friday, Sept 29 at 5 p.m. It will mark the Eagles first meet back at WHS since the nail-biting victory over Glastonbury at Backman Pool.
Sophomore running back Danny Mantilla scores one of his three rushing touchdowns during RHAM football's home opener against Lewis Mills. The Raptors defeated the visiting Spartans 35-7 on Sept. 15.
It didn’t take long for the RHAM football team to find the end zone in their home opener last Friday.
On the second play from scrimmage, sophomore running back Danny Mantilla broke through the heart of the Lewis Mills defense before sprinting for a 63-yard touchdown.
Mantilla’s quick strike within the first minute of the game opened the floodgates as the Raptors reeled off the first 35 points, coasting to a 35-7 victory over the visiting Spartans last Friday at RHAM High School.
After having their season opener postponed midway through a game at Avon due to inclement weather on Sept. 9, RHAM head coach Dakota Fleming said he was impressed with his team’s focus in the home debut.
“The kids did a good job and prepared well,” added Fleming. “They came out and saw exactly what we needed to do and they got it done.”
Senior quarterback Brady Hulland noted that the team’s mindset was to start fast, adding, “We wanted to send a message from the jump, so what better way than going out and scoring early.”
All five of RHAM’s touchdowns were scored by the backfield tandem of Mantilla and Joey Fahey. Mantilla scored three on the ground and Fahey added a rushing touchdown and caught another from Hulland.
Mantilla took his trio of trips to the end zone within the first 15 minutes of the game, providing the Raptors a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before Fahey scored his first when he hauled in a rollout toss from Hulland and found pay dirt from nine-yards out with 4:24 to play in the half.
With 9:01 to play in the game, Fahey added a 48-yard touchdown run around the right end to complete the Raptors’ rout.
“We just wanted to set up the blocks and the o-line opened the holes,” said Fahey, a senior. “We got the runs working and keep moving forward with it.”
Mantilla and Fahey are filling the void left by 2023 graduate Max Nylen and Mike Marquez, who combined for nearly 3,500 all-purpose yards and scored 32 touchdowns as the team’s starting running backs last fall.
So far, the Raptors ground attack has continued that trend, amassing nearly 300 rushing yards as a team in the home opener.
“They have done a great job at taking on the role of leaders on this team and everyone respects them,” Fleming said of Mantilla and Fahey. “They also have great respect for each other and that helps them out a lot.”
Fleming noted that having four of five starters returning along the offensive line has allowed the offense to have cohesion in the trenches
Jack Smith, Brody Magnanini, Thiago Delacruz, and Lino Amodeo are all back with starting experience and sophomore center Cayden Caplette has joined a unit that Fleming says is an area of strength for the team, crediting his linemen for their dedication in the weight room over the last couple of off seasons.
Captaining the ship is Hulland, a senior in his second year behind center. Despite playing in windy conditions, he showcased his ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, coming up with key runs and throws to extend drives.
“Brady has improved a lot — we made the decision that we can run our offense through him,” added Fleming. “Teams are going to have to prepare for not only our running backs and o-line, but they have to prepare for Brady. He has done a great job for us; we’re excited for what he’ll look like as the season progresses.”
Hulland took over the helm a season ago, helping guide the team to seven wins and a playoff berth for the first time in the history of the program.
The second-year starter says he feels more comfortable this fall, crediting the players around him, adding “we have a great o-line.”
The offensive supplied the fireworks, yet it was the defense that did the dirty work.
Lewis Mills was unable to generate a fist down in the first half and didn't score until a minute to play in regulation when quarterback Alex Weaver connected with receiver Mateo Dolzadelli on a 45-yard touchdown to prevent the shutout.
Delacruz, also a defensive tackle, had a pair of sacks and two more tackles for loss.
Fahey, who also had a pair of tackles in the backfield, said the defense has a simple, yet effective approach.
“It’s 11 wolves to the ball — wolves hunt for fun,” said Fahey. “We don’t want them to gain an inch.”
Fleming credited assistant coaches Glenn Doughty and Shane Doughty for implementing a defensive scheme a year ago that they have continued to carry out this fall.
“The kids have really bought into [the system],” added Fleming. “They trust their teammates and trust their coaches.”
The Raptors are now aiming to start for 2-0 for the first time since 2018 when they travel to Guildford to visit the unbeaten (2-0) Grizzlies tonight (Friday, Sept. 22). Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Joey Fahey (#3) and other members of the Raptors defense celebrate after making a tackle in the backfield during the team’s home opener against Lewis Mills on Sept. 15.
Here are the Rivereast Standouts of the Week for the week of Sept. 11 - 17:
Lily Tabellione - Portland High School (Cross-Country): Tabellione, a senior, picked up right where she left off last year, winning the Blue Dragon Invitational at Veterans Memorial Park on Sept 15. Tabellione, who won a state championship in the 1600 meters during the outdoor track and field season in the spring, ran a 20:29 at the latest invite to defeat runner-up Abigail Van Hoof of Avon by 50 seconds.
Troy Miller - RHAM High School (Soccer): Miller scored the only goal of the match as the Raptors defeated Tolland 1-0 on Sept. 14. Miller, a senior, scored on a bicycle kick in the second half and goalie TJ Machowski made a handful of saves throughout the match to preserve the shutout, improving the team to 2-0 this fall. The Raptors, who began the season with a 3-0 win over Bacon Academy, now began a three-game road trip at Hall High School in West Hartford this Saturday, Sept. 23 at 10 a.m.
Delaney Russell - East Hampton High School (Volleyball): Russell had a career high nine kills as the Bellringers swept Morgan in three sets (25-8, 25-11, 25-15) at East Hampton High School on Sept. 15. Russell, a senior, added two aces and a pair of blocks as the team improved to 4-1 this fall. The Bellringers next host Haddam-Killingworth today (Friday, Sept. 22) at 6 p.m.
Alyssa Blanchette and Audrey Palmer - Bacon Academy (Soccer): Blanchette and Palmer provided a bulk of the offense, each scoring two goals and dishing out two assists as the Bobcats beat Fitch 4-0 in their home opener on Sept. 15. The pair of scoring threats are helping power a Bacon Academy bunch that is currently on a four-game road trip, heading to Lyman Memorial tonight (Friday, Sept. 22) at 6:30 p.m.
To nominate an athlete as a Rivereast Standout or with sport-related comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel DiTunno - Rocky Hill High School (Cross Country): DiTunno ran a 17:12 to finish as the runner-up as the Terriers won the Blue Dragons Invitational on Sept. 15. DiTunno, a junior, led and impressive set of Rocky Hill runners with six Terriers placing in the top-13. Brian Smith (17.32) finished 6th, Ayden Collura (17:38) placed 7th, Corey Christensen (17:40) finished 8th, and Logan Simons (18:08) finished 13th. As a team, the Terriers finished 71 points ahead of runner-up Lewis Mills.
Julian Tuminski - Cromwell High School (soccer): Tuminski scored a pair of goals, both off penalty kicks, as the Panthers won 2-0 on the road over conference rival Westbrook on Sept. 12. Tuminski, a sophomore, is slated to be one of the main offensive threats this fall for a Panthers team headed to Portland High School this Saturday, Sept 23 to take on the Highlanders at 6 p.m. Cromwell returns home on Wednesday, Sept. 27 to host Rockville at 3:45 p.m.
Miranda Dominguez - Wethersfield High School (Cross Country): Dominguez ran a 24:21 to win the junior varsity race at the Blue Dragons Invitational on Sept. 15. Dominquez, a sophomore, finished 16 seconds ahead of the runner-up Casey Utzler of Sacred Heart Academy to comfortably win the race at Veterans Memorial Park.
Kyle Klimas - Newington High School (Golf): Klimas shot a 37 to finish as the medalist in the Nor’easters match against New Britain at Stanley Golf Course on Sept. 15. Klimas, a senior, shot par on seven of nine holes to finished three strokes ahead of the competition and atop the leaderboard.
David Czubat - Rocky Hill High School (Soccer): Czubat led the charge as the Terriers defeated Newington 2-1 on Sept. 14 on McVicar Field at RHHS. Rocky Hill head coach Paul Horta called his senior defender’s performance “outstanding” as the Terriers earned their first win of the season. Rocky Hill has a road test at Glastonbury this Saturday, Sept. 23 at noon, before returning home to host Wethersfield on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m.
To nominate an athlete for The Starting Five or with sports-related questions, email email@example.com.
Vaughn Payne catches a touchdown over Chauncey Jones during the Panthers 22-20 victory over SMSA on Sept. 14. Photo credit – Robert Dzurka @Dzurka.flics on Instagram.
It took a half to settle in, but once they did Randell Bennett’s team showed the grit and determination that have become synonymous with the Cromwell/Portland football program.
The Panthers defense stopped a two-point conversion late in regulation, holding on for a 22-20 victory over Sport and Medical Sciences Academy (SMSA) co-op at Pierson Park on Sept. 14.
“We were just preparing ourselves to go into overtime if they got in, but the defense came up with the stop,” said Bennett.
Following a late touchdown, the visiting Tigers from Hartford threatened to extend the game, but speedy cornerback Paul Wimbish led a contingent of Panthers that tackled SMSA’s quarterback Zahkeer Kerr short on the goal line.
The win also marked a successful home debut for junior quarterback Jess Elfreich, who threw for a touchdown and ran for another, both in the second half.
“It’s great — I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I can remember,” Elfreich said of playing under the lights. “The atmosphere here is better than ever and there’s nothing more I can ask for.”
Following a nine play drive to open the game, the Panthers drew first blood when sophomore sensation Tyler Cipolla jetted around the left and scored from eight yards out.
SMSA would score the next 14 points on a pair of touchdowns from junior TJ Thompson, who ran into the end zone from eight yards out in the second quarter and then scored on a screen pass from Kerr with 17 seconds left in the first half.
But as they have done so many times before, the Panthers took control of the game over the final two quarters.
“It was just about stepping up and correcting the easy mistakes that we were messing up on,” said senior captain Jack Williams, who starts on the line on both sides of the ball. “They were easy fixes, we just had to come out and play harder.”
Along with facing a second half deficit, the Panthers were also confronted with the challenge of a limited kicking game.
Senior captain Alex McKiernan, an all-conference player who is also the team’s kicker and punter, suffered an injury in the first half, forcing him to miss the rest of the game.
Losing McKiernan forced Bennett to gamble on fourth down, often in his own end.
The mentality paid dividends in the second half as both touchdowns were set up by four and long conversions.
Facing fourth and 14 from their own 25 in the third quarter, wide receiver Jack Nolan drew a pass interference penalty on a bomb down the right sideline, extending the drive.
Elfreich seemed to settle in after that and complete his next five passes, including a 29-yard scoring strike to junior Vaughn Payne, who high-pointed the ball in the end zone.
An Elfreich to Nolan connection on the two-point conversion knotted the game at 22 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Facing a 4th and 20 from his own 35 in the final quarter, Elfreich again delivered with a high-arching ball down the left sidelines which was hauled in by Cipolla, who was able to tap his right foot before going out of bounds.
On the ensuing play, Cipolla then took a screen pass 44 yards down to the one yard line before Elfreich called his own number and scored on a quarterback keeper from a yard out.
Nolan caught another two-point conversion to make it 22-14 with 5:35 to play in regulation.
Elfreich said the offense was unfazed during the difficult fourth downs.
“I trust my guys. I know anyone out there can make a play at any time. If they want to key on one guy, we have another guy coming,” said Elfreich, who threw for 307 yards, 102 of those yards to Cipolla.
With 1:41 to play in regulation, the Tigers finally stopped the Panthers on a fourth down, which would have sealed the game.
SMSA then converted their own fourth and long when Kerr hit Thompson down the seam from 33 yards out, bringing the visitors within two points with 1:10 to play
However, similar to when they earned a home victory by stopping a two-point conversion against Valley Regional a season ago, the Panthers defense was again up to the task on the two-point try last Thursday.
“We knew we needed a stop and that’s what we did,” said Williams, who finished with a handful of tackles and a pair of sacks from his defensive end position. “We sent everybody and we got that stop when we needed it.”
Senior Noah Decker preserved the victory by recovering the ensuing onside kick attempt by SMSA.
Coming into the season, the Panthers had won 23 of their last 25 games, including a state championship in 2021, but graduated an influential senior class last season that included starting quarterback Cole Brisson and all-state linebacker Ryan Rozich.
Elfreich spent the last two seasons learning from Brisson and if his home opener is any indication, Bennett has another gem behind center.
“He’s a tough kid and he understands that it is on his shoulders now,” Bennett said of his first-year starter, who completed 22 of 36 passes. “He watched a guy for two years put it on his shoulders, so it was his time to step up and he did a great job tonight.”
The successful home opener marked the Panthers first official win this fall. They opened the season of the road against Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton, a game that was postponed midway through due to inclement weather. At the time of the postponement, the Panthers led 28-13 and the game is slated to conclude on Nov. 11.
Bennett is hopeful that the thrilling home opening victory could be a springboard for a team with an abundance of talent, yet short on experience.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played this season,” added Bennett. “We have a lot of young guys and they just need reps.”
Next up is a conference test at Pierson Park against Valley Regional/Old Lyme this Friday, Sept. 22, kicking off at 6 p.m.
Cromwell/Portland football players get amped up before kickoff of the team’s home opener at Pierson Park last Thursday.
Glastonbury’s Jack Shaheen competes for the ball with Conard’s Aidan Policelli during the Guardians 2-2 tie at GHS last Thursday.
Trailing 2-1 in the 72nd minute, Glastonbury junior captain Tim McGuire headed in a corner kick from Shane Keenan to tie the game before the boys soccer teams from GHS and Conard High School settled for a 2-2 tie on Sept. 14
Head coach Chris Vozzolo said the home-opening tie was a stepping stone for his team, which was coming off a 1-0 loss to Hall in West Hartford to open the 2023 season.
“I thought we played a little better [today]. We came out on the road the other day with a little bit of nervous energy and today we looked a little more settled in,” noted Vozzolo. “We want to come out here with a better result, but it’s early in the season and we have a lot of work to do.”
Not only did the game end in a tie, but the first and second half were mirror images of one another.
In the first half, GHS senior Drew Stranko scored with an assist from Keenan and senior Chris Roberts scored for Conard.
Glastonbury out shot Conard in both frames, threatening to score early in the second half with eight shot attempts, but each shot was either saved by Conard goalie Ben Hammond or wide of the mark.
“One of the themes of the game was not being able to finish,” stated Vozzolo. “Maybe it’s about having more composure in the box or maybe it is putting a couple of more shots on frame, but we will continuously work on our finishing and hopefully later in the season we will be burying some of those chances we had.”
Senior captain Collin Martin was particularly aggressive in the second half, attempting four straight shots over a five minute time span, including one that ricocheted off the post and into the side of the net.
With nine minutes left in regulation, Conard’s senior captain Colin Scrimgeour scored on a penalty kick before McGuire bounced in his header less than a minute later to even the score again.
McGuire, Martin, and junior goalkeeper Patrick Butler are the team’s three captains, leading a team on the field that graduated four all-conference players a season ago.
Butler made a handful of saves, including a spectacular sliding save in the first half and heading away a desperation kick by Conard with less than a minute to play.
Vozzolo was hoping for a victory to counter the loss in the opener, yet was happy with his team’s effort.
“It is a little disappointing — we want to come away with a little more than just a tie, but overall we think it is a step forward with our play from the other day,” added Vozzolo.
The Guardians next travel to Hebron (today) Thursday, Sept. 21 for a match with RHAM at 3:45 p.m. before returning to GHS on Saturday, Sept. 23 to host Rocky Hill at noon.
“We are still trying to complete the puzzle with our personnel and putting the right guys on the field,” stated Vozzolo. “We’ve got a couple of things to work on going forward.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin