Senior Night is always a cause for celebration and Rocky Hill football had a senior moment they’ll never forget last Wednesday night.
The group shined brightly during the Terriers 35-7 victory over Cromwell/Portland in the third annual Shunpike Showdown.
The Thanksgiving-eve win polished off an undefeated regular season and earned them a home playoff game in the Class S playoffs.
“We were driven to go 10-0,” senior Joe Catania said of the team’s mindset prior to the game, “Nobody has done it in school history and we were really going after that. Also getting a better spot in the playoffs and winning the Shunpike Showdown.”
Win or lose the Terriers were playoff bound, but the Panthers needed a victory to secured a postseason berth.
Ultimately it was a gadget play and an aerial assault that doomed the road team’s playoff hopes.
Late in the first half, seniors Matt Osgood and Diamante Baker just missed connecting on a well-designed wide receiver double-pass, but head coach Mark Fritz gave the two another opportunity on a fake field goal and they made the most of it. Osgood kept the ball as the placeholder and rolled right before finding Baker from four yards in the third quarter, providing the Terriers a 21-7 lead.
“We originally were supposed to kick it and then coach came over and wanted us to fake it. They knew it was coming but I just trusted it and fired it right in there,” recalled Osgood, “The coaches trusted us to do it and we went out and executed.”
Osgood earned the game’s MVP after catching two more touchdown passes from senior quarterback Danny Cavallaro, showing the rest of the state that the team’s passing attack is just as deadly as their potent running game.
“We’ve been throwing the ball around since the eighth grade,” Osgood said of his relationship with Cavallaro, “We’ve played together all the way through high school and there’s a lot of chemistry there.”
The duo’s first connection came with the score tied at seven when Cavallaro lofted a high-arching dime down the seam, which Osgood dove and hauled in near the back of the end zone for the go-ahead 29-yard score.
They hooked up again early in the fourth when Osgood high-pointed a fade route down the right sidelines from 21 yards out.
It was the third annual regular season finale between the two schools, with the Terriers taking home the shiny gold Shunpike Showdown trophy on all three occasions.
“We’ve been rivals since our sophomore year when we started the Shunpike Showdown,” added Osgood, “We’re the first team to ever go 10-0 in Rocky Hill history and that's what we wanted.”
Osgood provided the scoring highlights and is also one of the team leaders on a defense, switching to linebacker this season after thriving as a defensive back a season ago.
“It's tough. I’m still a little small playing the position,” said the 5’10, 170 pound Osgood, “Coaches like fast linebackers and I do my best.”
Osgood and the defense have been a consistent force all season, allowing only 10 or more points in two games and shutting out four opponents.
They had their work cut out against the Panthers offense, who entered the game averaging 40 point per contest, but their only score came early in the second quarter on a one-yard touchdown run from Brent Robbins on fourth down.
“We all just came out aggressive and we knew exactly what we needed to do,” Catania said of the defensive mentality, “We knew they were going to pull out all their trick plays and everything they’ve got. We had to bring everything and close it down in the second half and that’s exactly what we did. I couldn’t be happier for it.”
Catania did his normal damage on the ground, along with seniorbackfield mate Joseph Ferreira, who opened the scoring when hebroke free for a 38-yard touchdown on the team’s opening possession.
The do-it-all Catania also continues to impress each and every week as a the team’s kicker and punter. He was again perfect on extra-points and had his best punt to date when he boomed and angled a kick late in the first half, which pinned the road team inside the five-yard line.
“I played soccer until the eighth grade and I switched to football coming into my freshman year, so I already had a little kicking background,” added Catania, “In the offseason I knew I was the one that had to kick so I had to step up and I worked at it.”
The converted soccer player set up the game’s final score with a perfectly placed pooch kick following Osgood’s second touchdown reception. The kick was recovered by special teams’ standout Will White, who also tackled punter Matt Pepe following an errant snap in the third quarter. It was the second straight week that White had been a punter’s worst nightmare, also tackling Berlin punter Giancarlo Tufano for a safety in the team’s previous game.
On the ensuring play following White’s recovery, Cavallaro tossed his third touchdown pass of the night when he hit fellow senior Jack Hansen in stride down the left sideline from 38 yards out.
Cromwell/Portland’s season ended with an 8-2 mark, just missing a second straight Class S postseason appearance.
Despite missing the payoffs it was a solid season under first-year head coach Randell Bennett, who will lose 11 seniors, which includes captains Matt Wolak, Jack Shauck, and Robbins.
Bennett will have several starters coming back, including quarterback Bryce Karstetter.
Middletown also wrapped up a perfect 10-0 regular season,defeating nemesis Windsor 24-7 on the road.
The Warriors from Windsor had been a thorn in the side of the Blue Dragons for years and handed them a pair of losses last year, including a 40-14 defeat in the playoffs.
Windsor led 7-0 after the first quarter, but Middletown scored the game’s final 24 points thanks to a stingy defense and three total touchdowns from quarterback Stone Belzo.
Belzo ran for two and connected with DeAaron Lawrence for the polishing score in the fourth quarter.
Stephen Hill Jr. led the team with seven tackles and James Johnson had five stops and a sack for a defense that held the previously undefeated Warriors to a season-low seven points.
Ahmir Brackett also intercepted a pass in the third quarter, which set up a 32-yard field goal from Mike Aresco.
The victory earned the Blue Dragons a home playoff game and the top-seed in Class L.
In the battle for border bragging rights, Newington ended four straight losses to rival Wethersfield by defeating the Eagles 17-14 at Cottone Field.
The Indians intercepted Wethersfield five times on the night and quarterback Robert Sanchez found Carlum Caldwell for a 43-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
Newington (3-7) finished the year on a high note after winning their first two under first-year head coach Jason Pace before losing seven straight prior to last Wednesday night.
Pace will lose nearly 20 seniors, including dominant lineman Damon Stewart, defensive stud Luke Pappalardo, and Sanchez.
Wethersfield finished the season 4-6 and will graduate standouts Ro DiGiacomo, Ryan Skelly, Brendan Dowd, Matthew Gerhart, and Conor Keane.
Quarterback Craig Elliott and defensive force Mitchell Quadrato will lead a strong senior class returning to the gridiron next fall.
Rocky Hill's Anthony Feliciano tackles Cromwell-Portland's Brent Robbins. Feliciano was one of 16 senior players celebrated last Wednesday night.
Cromwell’s BuDzik headed to UNh
(Cromwell's Noah Budzik signed his letter of intent to play baseball at the University of New Haven. Pictured at CHS for signing with grandparents Betty Ann and John Hart , parents Michele and Tony, and his sister Sadie.)
Cromwell senior Noah Budzik has a season left on the high school baseball diamonds, but the future graduate has already inked his letter of intent to play collegiately at the University of New Haven.
“I really liked the coaches and players that took me around the campus,” Budzik said of his decision to play at UHN, “The school was nice and it had a major that I liked, in Business Management, that I could do and get a good degree.”
It’s a win for the state of Connecticut, as one of the area’s best players is staying in the Nutmeg State to continue his baseball career.
“It’s good because my family is close and they can come watch my games and I can visit home anytime I want.”
Playing college ball is the natural next step for Budzik, who has grown up in a family that values and excels in athletics.
“We’re all sports all the time in our house. We love it.”
The Budzik family moved to Cromwell from Maryland when Noah was four years old and quickly became a household name in youth athletics.
Noah’s older brother Christian starred on the same baseball fields and then went on to play collegiately at Eastern Connecticut State University. His older sister Maddy was a softball standout for the Panthers before graduating in 2016 and his younger sister Sadie is currently a sophomore at the high school, shining on the softball field and volleyball court.
“When I was young, maybe five or six, I would watch my older brother play,” said the younger Budzik brother, “I just wanted to follow him and do what he did. That’s how it all got started.”
Budzik is looking forward to the challenge of competing at the next level and can lean on his experiences from his early days on the field.
“Growing up I used to play a lot against older kids, so going in as a freshman I’ll like the challenge of playing against all the older upperclassmen. I think I’ll be able to learn a lot from the coaches and older kids on my team to be able to succeed and win a couple of games up there.”
The confident Budzik will be joining a solid Chargers clubhouse at UNH led by veteran head coach Chris Celano, who has won nearly 60% of his games since taking over the program in 2012.
Celano will love that that his new young prospect is versatile in the field and brings the added dimension of being a lefty at the plate.
“When I was younger my dad tried to get me to switch hit and I guess it’s just natural,” recalled Budzik, who added that he enjoys fishing trips with his father, “I golf lefty and play hockey lefty, but everything else is righty. I shoot basketball righty, throw righty. A majority of pitchers are righties, so I guess it’s an advantage because it’s easier to see the ball come out of their hand.”
Before heading to the southern part of Connecticut for college, Budzik has some unfinished business at CHS.
This winter he’ll be back on the court for the Panthers basketball team, where the sharp-shooter averaged 17 points per game as a junior a season ago. Budzik will highlight a strong nucleus returningto the court, including fellow seniors Reese Reyes, Austin Roy and David Dewey.
Despite being vastly different games, Budzik has used his experiences on the court to help him handle stressful moments on the field.
“The pressure of playing and being in close games gives you that experience. Even if they’re different sports they can help you in situations that you may not be comfortable in.”
So far the biggest and most pressured filled moment for Budzik came during the summer of 2016 when he was a key part of the RCP American Legion team that won the state championship and advanced to the regional World Series.
It was his third title in American Legion baseball, also winning two championships at the junior level.
In the spring, he’ll be putting on the Panthers uniform one final time before trading in his black and red for the blue and gold of UNH.
“We’re going to try and win back-to-back-to-back Shoreline Championships and obviously winning a state championship would be cool,” the senior shortstop said of the impending high schoolbaseball season, “I think we’re going to be pretty good. We have a lot of experience coming back. Pitching and defense should be ourstrength and we should be able to string a couple of runs together. ”
The Panthers welcome back their full pitching staff, which includes Budzik, Roy, Dewey, Jared Valentin and Zach Lombardo. The deep rotation of pitchers, along with a solid defense, will provide the Panthers their best chance to reach the Class M championship after semifinal and quarterfinal appearances the past two seasons.
As for Budzik, he pitches when called upon but his natural position is in the field and that’s where he’ll be in New Haven next spring when he writes the next chapter in his baseball diaries.
We once again tracked down our beloved local celebrity Kevin the Turkey before he went into the ‘Wit-nest Protection Program’. In many ways Thanksgiving is a day of celebration for our feathered friend, but it can also be an extremely hectic and scary time. He shared with us his Top-Ten tips for, literally, surviving the beginning of the holiday season.
(Dante Baker leads the way for Joe Catania)
Record low temperatures combined with a fierce wind last Friday night weren’t enough to cool down the red-hot rivalry between Rocky Hill and Berlin on the gridiron.
After nearly two and a half hours of bone-chilling hits, the Terriers remained undefeated and clinched a spot in the Class S postseason with a 26-10 victory over the previously unbeaten Redcoats at McVicar Field.
“To have our guys step up and to get to 9-0 is special,” said Rocky Hill head coach Mark Fritz, “It’s nice when you can play a great team like Berlin, a team that has already qualified for the playoffs, and come away with a win in November. Especially on a night like this when it could have gone either way in the first half.”
In the early stages it wasn’t what Fritz had envisioned as Berlin forced a three and out on Rocky Hill’s opening possession and then took a 3-0 lead on a 37-yard field goal from Giancarlo Tufano at the 7:34 mark of the first quarter.
From that point on the home team took complete control of the line of scrimmage, dominating time of possession and scoring all three of their touchdowns on the ground.
“We wanted to be physical, that’s who we are as a team,” added Fritz, “It’s always our game plan to be physical and play fast on defense. It’s nice when it works out.”
Rocky Hill’s offense heated up as the temperatures dipped, going on a mindboggling 22-play, 80-yard drive on their second possession, which culminated with a one-yard touchdown run from Joseph Ferreira. The marathon drive ate up over ten minutes off the game clock.
“It’s always nice when we can run our base plays and get first downs, it allows us to keep it simple and keep the ball moving forward. When we’re playing that style of football it’s just a matter of time until we get rolling,” added the fourth-year coach.
The special teams helped keep things rolling, racking up two points after Will White fell on Tufano in the end zone after a Berlin punt snap went awry.
On the ensuing possession, Joe Catania blasted up the middle from a yard out, ending an eight play drive and providing the Terriers a 16-3 lead with 4:33 left in the half.
The time-consuming drives featured heavy doses of Ferreira, Catania and quarterback keeps from Danny Cavallaro. The three were able to find running lanes thanks to a workmanlike offensive line that imposed their will on a Berlin defense that hadn’t allow more than 14 points in any of their previous eight games.
“In the beginning of the game it was pretty rough, but then coach talk to us and told us it was only the first drive and we had to keep fighting,” said Dante Baker, who starts on both the offensive line and at defensive end, “They [Berlin] were playing great and they had played some pretty good teams but the coaches work us all week and we’ve been practicing really hard. We’ve had people hurt, but we fought through it and we fought hard tonight.”
Baker is one of the many unselfish players that have sacrificed for the betterment of the team this season. He starred at tight end a year ago, but moved to the line to fill a need.
“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough for me but I had to do what I had to do for my team. This is a brotherhood and I love every single one of them. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Baker is a tone-setter on both sides of the ball and combined with the rest of his line mates to pave the way for the Terriers stable of backs and keep Berlin’s offense, which came into the game averaging 32 points per game, to a single touchdown.
The road team’s only end zone trip came midway through the third when junior quarterback Kevin Dunn kept it himself and scored from 10 yards out, narrowing the gap to 16-10.
The resilient Terriers marched right back down the field behind a series of runs from Catania, including a relentless effort on a 21-yard carry, which ultimately set up his own 24-yard field goal and provided the home team a two score advantage heading into the final frame.
“Joe’s a special kid. You could tell in the second half that we were just feeding him the ball and trusting him to get us first downs,” Fritz said of his senior captain, “He’s got a great work ethic and to see it payoff in game like this is special to see.”
Catania got so much of a workload that he cramped up early in the fourth quarter, but Ferreira and White continued to churn out first downs.
“It’s a testament to how hard these guys work and what a great job our o-line did and the great running backs that we have.”
Facing a fourth down with 2:31 to play in regulation, Cavallaro put the finishing touches on a ninth win when the gritty signal caller swept to his right and bulled over two Redcoat defenders before diving over the goal line.
The victory marked the Terriers third straight over their nemesis and their four in the last five meetings.
Next up for unblemished group is the third annual seasonal skirmish with Cromwell/Portland, who are 8-1 and coming off a 56-14 thumping of Nonnewaug.
Rocky Hill has won both meetings, once on Thanksgiving morning 2015 when the Terriers defense registered a safety late in the fourth quarter to break a 7-7 tie and last year on the eve of Thanksgiving when they amassed over 300 yards on the ground in a 28-6 victory.
The third meeting is shaping up to be the best one yet and, like the two previous powwows, major postseason implications could be on the line.
A victory for the Panthers would earn them a spot in the postseason, but Rocky Hill will be equally motivated for the border battle.
“That’s the great part about our team, they’re a very self-motivated group and we don't have to say much to keep them focused,” stated Fritz, “They have a goal to go 10-0 and qualify for the state playoffs, so we’re not done yet. We're hungry to keep going and a lot of it is on them. It’s their aspirations that keep driving them forward.”
The Class S showdown is Wednesday, Nov 22 at RHHS. Kickoff is 6:00 p.m.
Head coach Mark Fritz discusses offensive strategy with quarterback Danny Cavallaro. The Terriers clinched a spot in the Class S postseason.
Fall Sports Tourney Action
Cromwell had an up and down regular season, winning 7 of 15 regular season games, but flipped the switch in the Class S tournament. First they defeated Immaculate 3-1 behind a pair of goals from JJ Tracy and another from Luke Ayotte. Tracy scored again and senior Jack Holcomb tallied the other in a 2-1 second-round upset of #4-seed Lyman Memorial, who lost only two regular season games prior to the tournament. The Panthers miraculous run came to an end in the quarterfinals round where they fell to Morgan 2-1.
Wethersfield blanked Kennedy 6-0 in the opening round of the Class L tourney, behind a pair of goals from Brendan Barry on assists from Kenny Harrison. Justin Biraci, Dino Alihodzic, Brendon Mansaku, Christiano Labella registered the other four goals, while keeper Enrico Gionfriddo was flawless in net. The tournament ended for the Eagles in round two, with a 4-2 loss to Guilford.
Middletown defeated Newington 4-0 in the opening round of Class L action last Tuesday. Patricia Shettleworth, Amalia Sessoms, Madison Fletcher and Carleigh DeFrance each scored for the Blue Dragons, and keeper Veronica Meyer registered the shutout. Middletown fell in the second round to Glastonbury 3-0.
Rocky Hill lost only once in the regular season and continued to excel in the Class M tournament, shutting out Valley Regional 3-0 in the first round, behind a pair of goals from Emma Molloy and a third from Sara Zarrilli. Goalie Sammy Steinman was flawless in between the pipes and followed that up with another shutout in round two, a 2-0 win over Nonnewaug. Annie White and Maren Valente scored in the round two win. The Terriers run ended in the quarterfinals when they lost to Granby 3-2 on penalty kicks.
Cromwell was equally impressive in the regular season, losing only twice, before rolling Griswold 6-0 in the first round of Class M. In the victory, Jenna Serrantino had a tourney hat trick and Levi Belcourt found the back of the net twice, while Jordan Pare added the other goal and Jessica DellaRatta sent back every shot she faced. DellaRatta also blanked second round opponent Woodland 3-0, while Serrantino, Belcourt, and Erika Person tallied goals in the second-round win. The Panthers fell to Berlin 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Cromwell breezed through the first two round of Class S, defeating Wheeler in straight sets and the upsetting #3-seed Cheney Tech in four sets. Najla Cecunjanin had seven kills in the win over Wheeler and Sadie Budzik had nine in the victory over Cheney Tech. Amaya Feitel dished out a total of 32 assists and nine aces in the two tourney wins. The Panthers season ended following a five-set loss to Coginchaug in the quarterfinals.
Newington ousted East Hartford in four sets to open the Class LL tourney. Meghan Roberts had 16 kills and a pair of blocks and Blayne Wanner-Hyde had 17 digs in the victory. The Indians title run ended in the second round where they fell of Greenwich in three sets.
Wethersfield field hockey qualified for the state tournament with a win over Newington. Pictured is head coach Colleen Budaj with senior captains Amanda Gilbert, Megan Tonucci, Maya Mulholland, and Emma Zaleski
When Colleen Budaj took over as the field hockey coach in Wethersfield the program was coming off a one-win season.
Three years of rewiring and reshaping later, Budaj and her team have reached the state tournament after defeating Newington 1-0 in overtime to close out the regular season last Thursday night.
Caroline Kennedy scored the game-winner in the extra session and goalie Jackie Samse didn’t allow a goal, lifting the Eagles to their fifth win of the season and cementing a spot in the Class M postseason.
It was a milestone that the positive head coach and her girls set out to reach prior to the 2015 season.
“When you take over a program you can’t change too many thing at once, but you know you have to make some changes. I asked them to set goals with me and they said they wanted to be taken seriously, they wanted to be competitive, and to be respected in the community and the school,” recalled Budaj, “They set very reasonable goals and each year we moved closer and closer. It’s nice to see that their hard work and dedication has paid off. I kind of feel like they felt it was unrewarded before and I know they were working hard before I took over, but they wanted to feel rewarded. At times the little victories don’t show up on the scoreboard and we have those all the time, but in reality you’re going to be judged by wins and losses.”
The current seniors were sophomores during the regime change and the group grew stronger together through many trials and tribulations.
Captains Amanda Gilbert, Megan Tonucci, Maya Mulholland, and Emma Zaleski are four of the seniors that have endured the agony of defeat and now are experiencing the thrill of the victory.
“It honestly feels amazing,” said Zaleski, “I remember picking up a field hockey stick for the first time during my freshman year and thinking what is this thing and how am I supposed to play this game. I was actually a swimmer and wanted to try something new. Also there was such a nice group of older girls that were very welcoming to us.”
“Our team has really developed over the past four years,” added Tonucci, “Our freshman year the program wasn’t winning many games and now we’re winning and the development of our team means a lot to me because I’ve been with these seniors from the beginning. It’s a very memorable time.”
The group’s turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular.
In the fall of 2014, the team scored only five goals and allowed 82. Each of the past three seasons the team has narrowed that discrepancy and this season the Eagles tallied 16 goals while allowing only 34.
“It’s such a different game for them now that they are playing with confidence and with poise. When I first took over they were used to losing games 5-0, 6-0, 8-0 and they would end up playing in this defensive mind set because that’s all that they knew. I would jokingly call it playing in panic mode. They are not playing in panic mode anymore and we’re passing with a purpose and they are seeing the field. The beauty of this season is that except for one game we were within one or two goals, so we’ve been in every game.”
The rapid development of the program hasn’t gone unnoticed by the school or the town. Wethersfield field hockey has become part of the conversation within the community.
“People take the sport more seriously. Our fan base has grown so much since our freshman year when we could maybe get five people to come and they were all parents. Now we have a whole student section to cheer us on for our games,” said Mulholland, “It’s nice to feel important. Now people recognize that this is a real sport and we play hard.”
“It’s so nice when teachers ask me how the team is doing and when I tell them that we’re about to make states, their reaction is so great,” added Gilbert, “I like being able to surprise everyone with how far our team has come and I think it’s going to be able to do great things for the program even after we’re gone.”
The four, along with the rest of a large senior class, have been instrumental with the implementation of the recently developed feeder program for youth field hockey in Wethersfield.
“I couldn’t have asked for stronger captain. They’re just so positive and the last couple of summers we’ve done clinics with the Wethersfield Sticks program and any time that I needed volunteers to come in and help those four were there as well as some of the other kids,” said Budaj, “The leadership that these four have provided in different ways is amazing. It’s nice because they’re staggered across the field on each line and they lead through their work ethic, how they organize things, and how they keep the team morale up. ”
Once the games start, the captains have different ways of leading.
Zaleski and Mulholland are vocal leaders while Tonucci and Gilbert lead with their quiet confidence on the field.
Budaj added that they each bring a unique set of skills on the field.
“Emma is always in the right place at the right time and is a natural leader.”
“Maya runs the whole field and has that vision to make plays happen.”
“Megan will challenge people and she wins almost every low battle.”
“Amanda knows the game tremendously well and she’s truly one of those kids that never comes off the field because she has the ability to last the whole game.”
Gilbert and Mulholland, along with fellow seniors Hannah Reardon and Lexi Munger, have covered the backend of the defense, helping keep goalies Kaleigh Sullivan and Samse clean.
Samse had never played field hockey prior to this fall, but stepped up when the team needed someone in net this season.
“Jackie is new to field hockey this season, she came over from soccer and she transferred some of that to field hockey. She decided her senior year that she wanted to try something different and to be a part of a different type of program,” said Budaj, who also coaches softball at WHS, “Kaleigh was away for part of the season and Jackie filled in without hesitation. It takes a special player to put those pads on and she has a defensive mentality.”
Mulholland has also shown her versatility this season, moving towards the offensive end of the field.
“Maya and Amanda are the rocks of the defense, but if we were going to be more of an offensive team we had to slide one up and Maya said she’d do it to give us more of an opportunity to score goals,” added the third-year coach.
Mulholland has joined Zaleski, Tonucci, Kennedy, and Kaitlyn O’Brien to provide a much-needed spark on the offensive end.
O’Brien almost single handedly won a game for the Eagles on Oct 3 when she scored three goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to erase a two-goal deficit in a 3-2 victory over E.O. Smith. It marked the team’s first overtime victory in the three seasons under Budaj.
Sophomores Summer Mitchell and Zoe Kleeblatt have also received valuable playing time this season, while freshman Lorien Touponse has fit right in as the first player off the bench for a deep Eagles team.
The young talent is a direct correlation of the feeder program that includes two middle school teams and a pair of developmental teams which have been created the past couple of years.
“It’s great because we’re not spending time going over all the rules. They already know how to play and we’re not spending the first four weeks going over the basic fundamentals. We can hit the ground running because they have that experience,” stated Budaj.
Coaching with Budaj is her husband, Steve, who is helping manage a program that had over 40 kids come out for field hockey this season. It’s a far cry from the 20 that tried out three years ago.
They decided not to cut, allowing all 40+ players to participate and the coaching duo has stressed the importance of finishing games.
That message came into focus after the team lost their first handful of games.
“He’s been a really nice addition to the program. I think we compliment each other really well,” Budaj said of coaching with Steve, “We had some tough games early, losing 2-1 to Avon and 2-0 to Glastonbury, but we left those games thinking we can hang with people. When they realized that we can hang with the bigger schools that gave them the confidence that we could do this.”
Since the winless start, the program finished with five wins and lost only four more games in regulation the rest of the season.
In many ways this season has mirrored the three-year growth of the program, but the resilient bunch has dealt with much more than just wins and losses.
Last season the team and entire community mourned the loss of former goalie and friend Vanessa Carbone, whose life they honored during a recent home game against Northwest Catholic.
“We got together with the kids and a couple of the parents and we decided that we wanted to dedicate one of the games to her. It was an emotional game. We did a fundraiser for Cherish the Children, which is a nonprofit organization that helps families with medical crises that come up unexpectedly. We raised about $500 through that game to benefit a charity that her family has been involved in. We wore purple ribbons because that was her favorite color and the kids decided that they didn’t want anyone to wear her #99 jersey so we presented it to her father.”
Carbone would have graduated last season and her legacy will continue to be honored for years to come through the Vanessa Carbone Memorial Scholarship, which an annual scholarship open to any field hockey player that exhibits the qualities of sportsmanship, teamwork and fair play.
All in all, Budaj and her girls have persevered through the toughest of times and have now reached a goal that seemed improbably for a group of sophomores just three years ago.
It’s a senior class that the coach will not soon forget.
“I can’t even think about playing without them. It’s that kind of senior class where they have been the heart and soul of this team and their passion for this sport is amazing. Even as sophomores and juniors they were helping lead this team and it’s going to be hard to picture how this team is going to look next year, but five years down the road when we’re winning games they can look back and say they were a part of that movement.”
(Cromwell seniors Amaya Feitel, Julia Meadow, Dana Coughlin, and the Panthers volleyball team are heading to the state tournament in November)
Cromwell defeated rival Morgan in three sets (25-18, 25-14, 25-19) last Wednesday, finishing the regular season with a dozen wins. Senior Amaya Feitel served up 10 aces, dished out 19 assists, and had six digs in the season-finale victory. Feitel, Dana Coughlin, and Julia Meadow are the three seniors on the team’s roster and the trio has done a phenomenal job as floor generals for head coach Traci Capodice. Sophomore standouts Najla Cecunjanin and Sadie Budzik have helped the seniors by controlling the frontline this season, finishing one-two in kills. Cecunjanin had nine kills in the road win over Morgan, and also led the team in blocks this season. Next up is the state tourney, which starts on Nov 6.
Wethersfield and Newington closed out the regular season playing a rubber match last Thursday with the Indians coming out victorious in three sets, just as they had done in the first match earlier in October. The win secured Newington’s first conference championship since 1979. In the finale, Meghan Roberts added six more kills to her team-high season total and was also one of four Indians to serve up three aces. Blayne Wanner-Hyde added 13 digs and Yasmin Rincon dished out 17 assists. Cheyenne-Mone Smith had a team-high eight kills and four aces for the Eagles, who also qualified for the state tourney.
Rocky Hill lost their first five matches to start the season, but rallied to win 7 of their last 15 contests. Captains Grace Fisher, Julia O’Connor, and Maddi Santo carried the team through the rough start and ignited the turnaround. Seniors Gina Genovese and Victoria Acca also chipped in with great play down the stretch. The five were outstanding in a come from behind five-set victory (18-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 16-14) over Berlin on Oct 24.
Middletown had 364 days to stew over last year’s shocking loss at Newington.
Last Friday night the Blue Dragons got their revenge with a resounding 34-7 victory over the Indians, behind 117 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns from Xzavier Reyes.
The win erased any linger memories of the 2016 stunner when an undefeated Middletown team entered Newington and lost 27-24 to the two-win Indians.
This year had the same backstory with vastly different results.
Middletown again came to Newington without and loss to battle the 2-4 Indians, but this time the road team was ready and motivated, scoring four touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 27-0 lead into the halftime locker room.
After a scoreless first quarter, Middletown found the end zone on the first play of the second quarter on a one-yard plunge from Reyes, which punctuated a 16-play drive.
The junior tailback carried the ball an incredible 11 times of the team’s opening offensive possession and added his second score on Middletown’s ensuing drive when he scampered 16 yards to pay dirt.
Quarterback Stone Belzo continued to be efficient behind center, throwing a 15-yard touchdown to DeAaron Lawrence with just over a minute left in the first half. Lawrence was cutting towards the middle of the field when he nabbed a Belzo bullet, stopped on a dime and darting outside before diving over the goal line.
It was a relatively quiet night for Belzo, who was coming off his finest performance at the helm in a 55-7 victory over E.O. Smith the previous Friday when he totaling 253 yards and five touchdowns while celebrating his 18th birthday.
The senior has been both productive and protective this season, totaling 15 touchdowns without an interception through seven games.
Middletown has been impressive on both sides of the ball and has yet to be tested thus far this season, outscoring their seven opponents by a combined 288-68.
The lopsided games have allowed backup quarterback Jonta’e Dempsey to get time under center the last couple of weeks.
Dempsey complete four of six passes for 77 yards, including a 38-yarder to tight end Camryn Wynn for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Middletown’s stable of skill position players have been thriving behind a dominant and unheralded offensive line.
Maxwell Cry, Christopher White, Cameron Barrett, Nygell Smikle, James Johnson, and Osbourne Richards have paved the way all season and give the Blue Dragons a lot of size and versatility up front.
Richards also continues to be a force on the defensive side of the ball, registering five tackles, while Michael Souza led the team with seven stops. Wynn and Tavien Harris each pick up a sack for a defense that didn’t allow a score until the fourth quarter.
Next up for the flawless Blue Dragons is a lengthy east coast road trip to Jersey City, New Jersey to take on the Hawks of Hudson Catholic High School this Friday.
The loss was the fifth consecutive for Newington, who started the season with back-to-back wins.
Things unraveled for the home team after the first dozen minutes, but early on it looked like history could repeat itself.
Newington marched the ball past midfield on the game’s opening possession, but was forced to punt after an 11-play drive.
Quarterback Robert Sanchez was under heavy siege all night, but was able to find some open receivers and running lanes, scoring Newington’s lone score on an eight-yard quarterback keeper in the fourth.
Newington stays home this Friday, hosting Maloney (6-1) for a 6:30 kick.
Middletown was one of two area teams that remained undefeated after the weekend. Rocky Hill also stayed unblemished, breezing by RHAM 35-0 last Saturday.
The Terriers (7-0) play their final three regular season games at home, starting with Avon (3-4) this Friday at 7 p.m.
Cromwell/Portland suffered their first defeat this season, losing an overtime heartbreaker to Valley Regional/Old Lyme on Senior Night.
The previously unbeaten Panthers overcame a fourth quarter deficit when Bryce Karstetter connected with Dianta Highsmith for a touchdown and then converted the two-point conversion on the ground, tying the score at 28 and ultimately sending the game into overtime.
The home team was stopped on their first possession in the extra session and the road Warriors scored on their opportunity to secure the victory.
Despite the loss, the Panthers (6-1) are still very much in the Class S postseason picture and finish the regular season with three straight road games, beginning at winless Morgan this Friday, 6:30.
(Rocky Hill sophomore Elizabeth Stockman won Class M Cross Country State Championship. Stockman (left) is pictured with Lilah Devine, who finished 3rd. The Terriers finished fifth overall as a team.)
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin