Szymecki Lifts Eagles over Newington
(Wethersfield's Victoria Villagra and Newington's Maggie Callahan)
Alexis Szymecki has battled through a series of injuries and setbacks throughout her first three years at Wethersfield, but this fall the senior captain is healthy and thriving out on the soccer fields.
Her talent was on full display last Wednesday night when she scored four goals in a 4-0 victory at Newington, earning the Eagles their ninth win of the season.
“It feels better than anything,” Szymecki said about competing again, “I’ve been waiting three years to get out here and be 100% healthy. Just being out here feels great because it’s what I love to do.”
“This is the first year that she’s been healthy for us and we knew she was really talented, but we didn’t build around Alexis. She’s fitting in with our style.” stated Wethersfield head coach Emily Fanelli.
Szymecki tallied three goals in the first half and add another from long distance within the first minute of the second half, while the Eagles swarming defense and goalie Megan Keleher preserved the victory on a cold and windy night at Alumni Field.
“They outmuscled us everywhere. They used their physicality against us and it paid off for them. We just got dominated from top to bottom,” said Newington head coach Adam Wilkinson, who attempted to make adjustments at the break, “We spoke about the threat that Alexis Szymecki posed and I spoke about a few changes that I wanted to make at halftime but the girls didn’t execute it. It doesn’t help when Alexis bings one in from 30 yards to start the second half. We needed that goal, that goal really knocked the wind out of us. You could tell by how quite the crowd was tonight. We had a couple of fundamental errors which they capitalized on.”
This is nothing new for Szymecki, who has been a scoring machine for the Eagles all season, including posting a career-high five goals in an 8-0 win at Windsor on Sept 20.
She’s making up for lost time after a severe back injury derailed her freshman year and then torn ligaments in her right ankle required 18 months of rehab and recovery.
“It was physically and mentally straining. My confidence level was down because it was really hard to work back up to where I was at my peak performance,” recalled Szymecki, “It was definitely tough, but it actually helped me because I worked on my left a lot and strengthened that too.”
Her road to recover was long and she leaned on those closest to her for support and training, including her father, Maciek, and brother, Lukas, who starred at Wethersfield and is currently playing soccer at Southern Connecticut State University.
All of the months of hard work are paying off as she gets to share her senior season with lifelong friends and teammates.
“It’s amazing. I grew up playing with these girls and it’s such a fun group,” added Szymecki, “To be out here playing one last time with them and playing the way we are, it feels great.”
Keleher, Haley Whelchel, and Alyssa Prosperi have joined Szymecki as the team captains. The four field generals are helping Fanelli guide a deep and talented group.
“The best part of my team this year is I have a lot of depth. Everybody contributes in every single game and that’s the first time that I have ever had that. I can turn to the bench and see a player that will contribute just as much as my starters, so it’s absolutely the best thing this year,” added Fanelli.
Szymecki has shouldered the scoring load but Keleher and the defense have been equally brilliant. The shutout of Newington was the eighth time the Eagles have blanked an opponent this season.
“She was definitely an all-state keeper last year in my opinion, but she just missed the vote. So this year I’m pushing hard for her because I think she deserves it,” Fanelli said of her net protector, “When a shot goes off, I know that Megan’s got it. There is nothing that she can’t handle. I am so comfortable with her and I think that’s why we’re all comfortable, because we have a goal scorer and a really solid defensive line and goalie.”
In front of Keleher is an experience group that includes Whelchel.
“Three out of the four defenders are returning and one is a sophomore, Sierra Judson was a freshman last year,” added Fanelli, who referred to the defense as the heart of the team.
Keleher and the defenders posted another shutout last Friday night, registering win #10 and third straight overall, in a 1-0 victory over Northwest Catholic at WHS. Szymecki again carried the offensive load, scoring the match’s lone goal on a penalty kick.
The team is hitting their stride at just the right time, but there are a few areas of improvement that their coach wants to see before tourney time rolls around.
“We’re never going to be complacent. Winning any 50/50 ball is an area of weakness and has been all year,” said the veteran coach, “I think we’re more comfortable playing defense then winning the ball and attacking on offense, so we have to try and change that mindset on offense.”
For Newington, the loss to Wethersfield was not reflection on their season. They entered the contest with a record of 7-2-1 and hadn’t allowed more than two goals all season.
Goalie Jenna Scanlon has been a steady force between the pipes and fellow seniors Abby Molloy, Zoe Walk, Tatiana Bilbraut, Maggie Callahan, and Emily Petronio, along with sophomore Olivia Mullings, are providing leadership and production in the field.
“We’ve been good. The team comradery has been very, very good but we’ve had a lot of disruptions lately with the weather,” said Wilkinson, whose team finished last week with a 3-1 loss at Glastonbury on Friday, “We had a point where we didn’t play for 14 days and then got beat by Northwest Catholic, in a game that we probably should have won. I think the preparation or lack there of caught up with us today.”
Wethersfield and Newington will play one more time to close out the regular season, Monday, Oct 29, at Cottone Field. The rematch starts at 6:30 p.m.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Jessica Saucier- Rocky Hill (Swimming & Diving): Saucier has earned the most individual points on the team, qualifying for the state championships in two individual events (200 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly) and two relays. The sophomore was the team’s rookie of the year as a freshman and swims for MAC (Middlesex Aquatic Club) in the off-season, as well as, volunteers for the town's Sea Cubs program, a swim program for special needs students.
Emma Drzeweicki- Cromwell (Cross Country): Drzeweicki earned 2nd Team All-Shoreline Conference honors for the second straight season, after posting a team-best 22:26 at the Shoreline Conference Championships last week. Following a spectacular junior season last fall that saw her post her first sub-20:00 5K, the senior fought through offseason injuries but has come back to again lead the team, including to a 7th place overall finish at the conference finals.
Sienna Brodeur- Wethersfield (Diving): Brodeur had a fantastic meet against Bulkeley High School last Thursday, taking first place and also improving her top score by 34 points. The sophomore is a first-year diver and has already qualified for the Class L championships. She continues to learn high degree of difficulty dives and is a consistent top performer in every meet.
Amaia Jackson- Newington (Volleyball): Jackson served up a season-high seven aces and had three kills in a three set victory over Rocky Hill last Thursday. The junior also had three kills and a pair of aces the previous night, also a straight-set win over East Catholic. The victories were the Indians tenth and eleventh of the season.
Ariana Monarca- Middletown (Cross Country): Monarca finished atop the CCC-South leaderboard at the conference championship last Tuesday, setting a 6:30 pace. The junior is also a star on the track during indoor and outdoor track and field seasons, excelling in distance events and relays.
Rebirth of Newington Football
Jason Pace is in the midst of his second year rebuilding the Newington football program and the results are taking shape with each passing week.
Last Friday night the Indians continued to lay the foundation, thumping Bristol Eastern 25-7 at Alumni Field in Newington, improving the team to 3-2.
“We came out to play from the very beginning,” Pace said after watching his team match their win total from a season ago, “We were able to execute, we didn’t commit penalties, and we were able to make plays on defense. I’m proud of the guys and their effort.”
Quarterback Nick Pestrichello dazzled the home crowd with four touchdown passes in the first half, three to speedy wide receiver Izayah Ciarcia and the other to versatile star Gunnar Johnson.
The aerial assault and the physical running of Dylan Nees Fair carried the offense, while the defense and special team did their job---combining to create five turnovers.
The home victory came on the heels of an impressive and hard-fought 20-13 victory at South Windsor on Sept 28, earning the fast rising team their first back-to-back wins this season.
“It’s always good when you come out and you’ve had a good week of practice,” added Pace, whose team had a bye following the win at South Windsor, “When they see the results on the field it gives them that extra motivation.”
Despite having a younger roster, Pace has been able to plug in the right pieces at the right times and the team is gaining confidence with each snap.
Pestrichello is a prime example of that. The sophomore signal caller was thrust into the spotlight this season, replacing 2017 starter Robert Sanchez, and is showcasing a poise in the pocket that is uncommon for an underclassmen under center.
“He’s able to absorb the offense. We made some changes on offense and he fully understands it,” Pace said of his field general, “He’s an extensions of our offensive coordinator on the field and he does a good job at getting guys lined up. He’s got a good understanding of our offense at all times.”
Newington used their up-tempo offensive attack to score on their first two possessions, putting the visiting Lancers in a 13-0 hole before the first quarter was finished.
On the opening drive, Pestrichello hit Ciarcia on a three-yard scoring strike following an 11-play drive and on the ensuing possession connected with Johnson from eight-yards out on fourth down.
“I think it’s natural for him. He’s able to jump right in and it takes away the thinking and analyzing between plays,” Pace said of the no-huddle approach, “He does a good job commanding the offense. He’s not a vocal leader yet but he’s a leader on the field with his approach.”
In his first varsity start, Pestrichello completed 70% of his passes and tossed two scores, both coming in the opening quarter, during a convincing 41-0 victory over Amistad. Nees-Fair added three rushing touchdowns in opening week blowout.
The offense struggled over the next two weeks as Newington was outscored by a combined 66-7 in losses to Farmington and Platt, but the team has responded well with the road win over South Windsor and the home triumph last Friday.
In Pace’s first season at NHS the team won their first two games before dropping seven straight. 2017 did end on a high note for Pace’s Indians, who snapped the losing streak with a morale-boosting 17-13 victory over Wethersfield in the season finale.
It was their first win over the boarding rivals since 2012, following four straight losses to the Eagles.
This fall, the team is playing with more consistency and the defense is peaking at the midway point. They’ve allowed only 20 points in the last two contests and have been opportunistic in both games.
Teddy Fravel led a fierce pass rush against the Lancers and the Indians picked off quarterback Bryce Curtain three times, one each from the linebackers Zach Demarco, Julian Ortiz, and Julian Mulero.
Luca Briganti and Nees-Fair also recovered fumbles in the win.
“One of our goals is to have at least two defensive turnovers a game, so getting that many is great. That’s what we are looking for,” Fravel said of the five takeaways.
“Teddy had a great game, I thought up front we played well,” added Pace, “We bent but we didn’t break, only allowing one score and making the plays when we had to.”
Fravel is a force for the school’s state champion volleyball team and the middleman for the basketball team, now adding disruptive defensive end to his impressive resume during his senior year. He was consistently in Bristol Eastern’s backfield, pressuring Curtain and deflecting passes, and also making several tackles on backs and receivers downfield.
“That’s all hustle. You’ll see a lot of guys of film stand there and watch the ball, but that’s not me. I have to sprint over there and if nobody else is going to make the tackle I will,” Fravel said of his downfield tackles.
Next up is another home game against Bristol’s other group of gridironers, Bristol Central (2-3), on Friday Oct 19. Kickoff is at 6:30.
Another win this Friday night would completely flip the script from last fall when the Indians lost consecutive games to Bristol Eastern, South Windsor, and Bristol Central as part of their seven-game skid.
A win would also be another building block for Pace and the promising program.
“You could see tonight we came out fast, but now we have to learn how to put teams away,” stated Pace, “We just have to learn how to finish games.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Kelly Iskra- Newington (Field Hockey): Iskra had a memorable night last Tuesday, celebrating Senior Night with her fellow seniors and scoring a pair of goals in a 3-0 shutout over Windsor. The high-honors athlete is one of eight seniors, which includes Sharon Sherpa, who was in goal during the shutout.
Julia O’Connor- Rocky Hill (Volleyball): O’Connor posted impressive numbers in back-to-back victories over Hartford Public and Plainville last Tuesday and Wednesday. The senior spiker totaled 33 kills, 15 aces, and five blocks in the two wins as the Terriers moved one step closer to securing a tournament spot.
Max Karkos- Wethersfield (Soccer): Karkos scored three goals last week, including a pair in a win over E.O. Smith. The junior’s offensive production helped lead the eagles to a 2-0-1 week, which included a 3-1 victory over rival Newington last Saturday.
Sadie Budzik- Cromwell (Volleyball): Budzik had 17 kills, nine digs, and four aces in a four set victory over Valley Regional last Monday. The junior is the team leader in all three categories (kills, digs, aces) this season and is one of three captains on a Panthers team that could make some noise in the postseason tournaments.
Xzavier Reyes- Middletown (Football): Reyes has continued to bull over the competition, rushing for 171 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-7 victory over Farmington. During the Blue Dragons 5-0 start, Reyes has averaged 161 total yards per game and has tallied 13 touchdowns.
(Wethersfield captains Cassie Landry, Abby Francis, Zoe Adams are leading the Eagles in the pool)
Saying Lee Schwartzman doesn’t like to lose is an understatement.
Last year, the competitive head coach didn’t experience that defeating feeling as his swimming and diving teams at Wethersfield won all of their regular season meets, including the girls earning a memorable victory over Glastonbury, breaking an 18-year losing streak to their nemesis.
This season has been more of the same with the exception of a loss, decided on the final relay, to those pesky Tomahawks from Glastonbury.
“It would have been nice to still be undefeated,” admitted Schwartzman, “I told them after the meet that you can be sad, but many of them haven’t lived through it. We lost by two points and for a lot of years we lost by 40 or 50 points to them. The reality is that when you lose to a team 18 years in a row that’s not a rivalry, that’s just another time that this team beat you. The fact that the meet is circled on their calendar now and that there is importance to try and beat us is a good feeling. My goal is to be the best, because if you’re going to do it why not be the best.”
Despite the loss things are trending upwards for the Eagles, who have rebounded to win four straight meets, including an easy victory over Windsor last Tuesday.
“In the beginning of the season the team as a whole wasn’t practicing well, so the fact that we are practicing so well now is awesome because sometimes it’s hard to turn those things around. The practices are going incredible and are a lot of fun because everyone is pushing,” stated Schwartzman, “We never want to lose but the challenge with winning every meet is that winning shadows things, it hides things that you may not pick up on. The team feels they’re invincible and ultimately you get to the end and there are better teams, so losing does humble you.”
Luckily Schwartzman has a strong senior class that’s been able to forge ahead after the early-season set back.
As a matter of fact, the loss may have strengthened the unit.
Captains Zoe Adams, Cassie Landry, and Abby Francis are three of eight seniors that experienced the highest of highs following the win over Glastonbury last fall, and a year later were helping pick the team up after the loss on Sept 20.
“Losing to Glastonbury made us much stronger. It was tough for a week and you could tell everyone was still a little upset about it but we came back stronger from it and I think that it will make us do better at the state meet and the CCC meet,” said Adams, who has committed to swim at Assumption College, “Our team has grown closer because of it and it made us want to work harder and focus on the future and not try to be the team that we were last year.”
“Being honest, it wasn’t that easy to refocus. We struggled for about a week but after that we were able to come together and focus on each meet,” added Landry, who excels in the distant events.
Francis has been a force since she first entered the pool at WHS, breaking records and capturing a Class L state title in the 200 freestyle last fall.
The steady senior had continued to excel in the water and expanded her role out of the pool.
“Last year we had a lot of strong seniors that led the team, so this year as a senior class we grew and tried to be as good of leaders as we could and set examples for the underclassmen. We have a great freshman class here and we’re trying to incorporated them and we’re having a lot of fun doing it,” said Francis, “Being a captain there are a lot more responsibilities but we’ve really enjoyed team bonding. We’re all very supportive of each other. ”
Francis’ fantastic high school career is in the latter stages but her talent and leadership have been evident from day one.
“She’s always been pretty vocal, even as a freshman she was always encouraging. When you come in and you’re that good it’s natural,” recalled Schwartzman, “Over the years she knows what she needs to do and she’ll swim whatever she needs. Everyone else will be doing freestyle and she’ll be working on other strokes. I wish we had more races for her, but there aren’t many kids in a dual meet that are going to push her.”
Prior to this season Francis already achieved several pool and school records, and this season she’s added another to her resume, setting a new WHS pool record in the 100 breaststroke during the Glastonbury meet.
“It was a Glastonbury swimmer that had the record and it was a nine year old record, so it’s nice that it happened in that meet,” Schwartzman said with a grin.
“Every year I tend to focus on different events, it’s really just whatever I’m feeling and excited to try out that season,” added Francis, who can swim all the different strokes and is equally impressive in distance, mid, and sprinting events.
Kathryn Galusha, Shannon Hattie, Alyssa Pearce, Mackenzie Scutari, and Sophia Zagaja are the other five seniors that are helping the trio of captains
“This senior class as a whole is very strong. They’ve all come a long way, they’ve grown as people,” said Schwartzman, who gave his seniors a copy of John Wooden’s book ‘Wooden on Leadership’ and assigning each of them a chapter to report on.
“John Wooden is the man and none of them knew who he was,” a smiling Schwartzman said in disbelief, “When you’re a captain you’re just thrown to the wolves and by the time you figure it out the season is over. It’s the first time I did it, but the whole goal was to figure out what their strengths are.”
Schwartzman’s tactic worked as his seniors are mentoring a great group of young swimmers. The freshman class a year ago featured standouts Olivia Thompson, Haley Krawczyk, Riley Wilhelm, and Julia Pitchell.
The four have all continued to thrive as sophomores.
“Olivia’s playing a different role, she’s winning meets now. Last year at the Glastonbury meet I don’t think she scored a point and this year she won two events,” Schwartzman said of Thompson, who was always a fast sprinter and relayer but has expander her role to distance events as well, “She’s really taken a huge step forward, she had a really good drop at the end of last year and she came in very much further ahead of last year.”
Incoming freshman Alanna DePinto has also shined under the spotlight.
“Alanna has done really well. She has a state cut in every event expect one, which is amazing,” Schwartzman of DePinto, “The others are coming along, two more will probably qualify for states. When they come in it’s hard and it’s a big adjustment. The good thing is that all the girls know each other, they come in and they are already functioning as a team.”
The young swimmers are following in the waves of some great mentors that are hoping to enjoy every moment of the rest of their senior seasons.
For Adams this is the first time that she swam over the summer and the dividends are paying off.
“That’s has actually helped me a lot, my coaches have noticed it already,” said Adams, who also plays basketball and runs track at WHS, “I’ve notice a total difference by just swimming one extra season.”
For Landry the last couple of meets are a chance to do what she’s always done, work tirelessly.
“Just as long as I’m working my hardest in practice. Whatever the end result is, I feel like I’m proud of it,” stated Landry.
The team has one more home meet and it will be a special one for the seniors. Senior Night is Oct 26 against East Lyme at 5 pm.
It will be the last meet before the conference finals, class finals, and state open.
“We never really make a lot of goals for the state open, but this year I want to place the highest we have, which is top ten. This means we have to be really fast at the state finals and then be able to hold that through the long week, which is always really tough. We want to get as many kids to the open, the more swims you have the more points you have.,” said Schwartzman, who added that he’d also like to see at least one of his relay teams earn all-state.
“We have really good comradery here. That has really helped us during the season, especially now during the hard training months,” added Francis, “We’re getting closer as a team and we’re excited to get to the end of the season and show what we can do.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Carelys Benitez- Newington (Volleyball): Benitez had 17 digs and six aces in a three set victory over Wethersfield last Wednesday. The junior is very adaptable player, having played a variety of positions for the Indians over the past couple of seasons.
Sean Ahern- Middletown (Cross Country): Ahern finished first as the Blue Dragons upended Plainville last week. The sophomore is just reaching his potential on the trails and is an honor student in the classroom.
Anna Kallajian- Wethersfield (Field Hockey): Kallajian was again flawless in net, not allowing a goal in the Eagles 1-0 victory over Glastonbury last Wednesday. The senior goaltender has been steady as a rock and the shutout was Wethersfield’s fourth of the season. Freshman Logan Lisella scored the game’s only goal on an assist from Kate Anzidei late in regulation to secure the win over Glastonbury.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Cross Country): Stockman has continued to dominate out on the trails as a junior, winning the Wickham Invitational in Manchester last Saturday. The all-conference and all-state runner is getting ready to defend her state title later this month.
Eliza Weston- Cromwell (Soccer): Weston was an offensive power for a Panthers soccer team that won all three games last week. The senior scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 win over Morgan and scored again later in the week as Cromwell shutout both Westbrook and Haddam-Killingworth.
(Cromwell senior Kevin Hinkle intercepts a pass in a win over Lewis Mills. The Panthers are 4-0 this fall. Photo- Mark Wright Photography)
Cromwell/Portland football entered the 2018 season with high expectations and lofty goals, which included winning conference, making the playoffs, and competing for a state title.
But they’ve learned from past experiences that it takes a series of small accomplishments to achieve a greater goal.
“First off, we just want to go 1-0 every week,” said senior safety Devon Kilham.
So far, so good for the Panthers, who soundly defeated Haddam-Killingworth 47-19 last Saturday at Pierson Park, improving to 4-0.
Or better yet, the fourth straight week they’ve finished 1-0.
“We’re not taking anyone lightly,” quarterback Bryce Karstetter said prior to the game against H-K.
Karstetter is in his third season behind center and has been a rock at the helm for the Panthers since taking over in the fall of 2016.
As a sophomore he helped guide the team to a perfect 9-0 mark before an injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. The Panthers earned a playoff berth, but were eventually ousted in the semifinals.
Last season Karstetter threw 17 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions, leading the team to eight wins, but the Panthers finished on the outside looking in at the postseason picture.
“I've definitely seen that chip on his shoulder. He’s no longer the guy that is just existing between giving [Kristian] Sapp the ball or giving Brent Robbins the ball,” head coach Randell Bennett said of Karstetter, referencing the team’s leading rushers in 2016 and 2017, “Bryce understands that the game plan rests on his ability to get guys the ball with his arm. He’s got that next-level mentality, like a college player. He’s not just letting things happen, he’s trying to dictate the pace and he’s made my job easier.”
Karstetter wasted little time this fall, opening 2018 with the best game of his high school career in a 35-21 victory over Rockville. The seasoned senior threw for 300 yards and accounted for all five touchdowns, tossing four and adding another on the ground.
“We play a little different type of offense this year, we have a little more passing,” said Karstetter, who worked tirelessly during the offseason, “I went with a quarterback coach this summer, Travis Meyer, and we worked a lot on my throwing motions and techniques, like keeping my weight down and using power from my back foot.”
He also got a boost on the football field from a familiar face. First-year wide receiver and childhood friend Nick Wright quickly became Karstetter’s favorite target, developing an instant and dynamic rapport on the field.
“Our sisters always played on the same sports teams, so when we went to the games we would always have a football and play catch. Also we worked a lot this summer,” recalled Karstetter.
“I’ve played basketball my whole life and have always wanted to play at the next level. I wasn’t getting a lot of coaches looking at me,” said Wright, the leading rebounder on the school’s basketball team that won a state title last winter, “I’ve always been naturally pretty good at football, so I decided to give it a try.”
Wright’s first football game was a doozy, hauling in nine passes for 199 yards and three scores in the victory over Rockville.
“His catch radius is crazy,” Bennett said of his 6’1” pass catcher, “You would think he’s been doing this a long time. He’s a good athlete, his balance is great and his hand-eye coordination is great. He’s drawing from the other sports he’s played.”
Wright proved that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, following up his debut with another three touchdown performance, including the game-winner in overtime to defeat North Branford. The Panthers took a 20-0 lead only to see the Thunderbirds counter with 20 unanswered, sending the game to overtime before Karstetter and Wright did what they do best and the defense shut the door.
“The best thing about that game was that it tested everyone in the group. It tested the coaches, it tested the players, it tested everyone,” Bennett said of the overtime victory, “They were a tough team and everyone had to come together. We finally got a break and our defense really stepped up.”
Bennett’s defense continued to shine in a 55-7 victory over Lewis Mills the following week. The Panthers took a quick 27-0 lead before coasting to victory behind a defense that allowed less than 100 total yards and created three turnovers.
Kilham is the vocal captain of a fearless secondary, which includes Zac Cyr, Kevin Hinkle, and sophomore Matthew Pepe.
“We’re confident in ourselves, confident in each other. We’re all kind of undersized so we have to go into every game confident,” said Kilham, “We’re really closely knit and we back up everything we say.”
“We consider ourselves the captains of the defense,” added Hinkle, “We really try to carry this team.”
The secondary has been superb but it’s been freshman linebacker Owen Brunk that has solidified the middle of the defense.
Brunk caught the eye of his head coach in the offseason and has turned heads early in the season, leading the team in tackles.
“We scrimmaged Killingly and he’s covering a slot receiver and they run ball away from him. He starts chasing and the tight end comes up and he shed the block, a guard comes up and he shed another block and makes tackle on the outside,” recalled Bennett, “I watch plays like that from him and see his natural ability.”
Brunk’s quick development and replacing a dozen seniors from a season ago is a true testament to the work of Bennett and his experienced coaching staff.
The second-year head coach is joined by offensive coordinator John Bozzi, defensive coordinator Chris Theriault, and position coaches Bobby Lorenti, Lorenzo Baker, Dwight Bailey, Jack Hemsley, Andre Dixon, and Scott Hartan.
Both Karstetter and Wright credited their quick learning curve to Lorenti, who tutors the quarterbacks and receivers.
“Coach Lorenti has been great. I mean, he’s a Michigan fan and I’m an Ohio State fan so we bicker about that a lot,” Karstetter said with a smirk, “We have great chemistry with all the coaches. We have respect for them but it’s not one of those coaching staffs that are always yelling. We’re able to have fun every once in a while.”
Bennett and his staff had their hands full trying to replace four of the five starting offensive linemen from a year ago, creating a void on both sides of the ball. Luckily the trenches are Bennett’s specialty and he had confident captain Ismar Kandic back for his senior year.
“Ismar was the best lineman we had last year. He’s the first to tell me that he’s the best lineman to ever play here. I tell him ‘well you had me coaching you so you better be better than me’,” joked the 2004 CHS graduate turned head coach.
Kandic and his line mates dominated in the week three win over Lewis Mills, opening up huge running lanes as the Panthers rushed for 274 and four touchdowns. Junior running back Justin Stergos accounted for team-high 105 rushing yards and a pair of scores.
Deniz Pine, Mark Dufresne, Marc Treglia, Ian Conway, and Jaylen Jenkins have joined Kandic on the frontline, creating a consistent force on both sides of the line scrimmage.
The boys upfront again led the way in the latest win over H-K. Both teams entered unbeaten and the visiting Cougars jumped out to a 13-0 lead before the Panthers flipped the switch, scoring the next 41 points en route to the runaway 28-point victory.
“We knew they were going to come out working hard. We just had to get some drives going on offense and get some three and outs on defense,” said Hinkle, who caught three of Karstetter’s four touchdown passes in the victory, “Bryce is amazing, we have so much confidence in him and coach Bozzi runs our offense really well. We have a bunch of guys that can make plays.”
Kilham hauled in the other touchdown and running back Bryan Lockwood added three scores on the ground, upping his season total to seven touchdowns.
After four weeks the Panthers are right where they want to be in the deep and competitive Class S, which includes perennial powerhouses Ansonia and Bloomfield.
Next up is another home game against Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton (1-2) at Pierson Park this Saturday, Oct 6 at 3 pm.
“We know that everyone else is coming for us, we have a big target on our backs,” Hinkle said after the latest win, “We just have to take it one game at a time.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Alex Burke- Rocky Hill (Soccer): Burke was named the Player of the Match in a 5-0 win over Bloomfield last Tuesday and then earned the same honor from the Glastonbury coaches in a loss to the Tomahawks on Friday. The senior has been a consistent leader for the Terriers all season.
Aiden Toth- Newington (Cross Country): Toth finished with an invitational best time of 18:02 to take first place in the Bellringer Invitational last Friday, helping the Indians finish first overall at the event in East Hampton. The senior is having his best season yet, coming off back to back all-conference seasons.
Jonta'e Dempsey- Middletown (Football): Dempsey threw a go-ahead 91 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to Kenny Fountain, helping the Blue Dragons stay undefeated. The senior also blocked a punt, intercepted a pass, and had nine tackles in a 17-9 victory over Bristol Central.
Mark Rodriguez- Cromwell (Cross Country): Rodriguez ran a personal record 16:35.9 at the Winding Trails Invitational last Saturday, placing 12th overall against a strong field. To cap off his great week, he crossed the line in first place at the Shoreline League meet. The hardworking sophomore is coming off of a spectacular freshman season, earning first-team All-Conference and the Freshman Runner of the Year award for the Shoreline Conference.
Alyssa Pearce- Wethersfield (Swimming): Pearce was part of two new pool records (200 free relay/400 free relay) at Middletown High School and also has won every individual event she swam in two meets last week, posting state qualifying times in the 50 free and the 200 IM. The senior will always swim whatever is asked of her and is an incredible teammate and fantastic role model for the younger members of the team.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin