The 43rd meeting between Newington and Wethersfield highlighted the local gridiron scene on eve of Thanksgiving with the home Indians coming away with an emotional 27-20 victory last Wednesday night on a frigid Alumni Field.
Newington defense dominated the first half, shutting out their rivals and intercepting five passes to take a 27-0 advantage into the halftime locker room.
“It’s a great rivalry and we knew it would come down to the end,” said Newington head coach Jason Pace, “At halftime the message was that we can’t let up. You can’t give up until the game is over. The feeling is great right now but we wanted to make sure we had that feeling after the game.”
All told the Indians picked off seven passes but still needed to sweat out the last couple of minutes of the game after the Eagles made a fourth quarter charge, scoring two late touchdowns behind backup quarterback Craig Elliott, who took over after starter Matt Silver threw his seventh interception on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Newington was able to run out the last couple of minutes of regulation behind the legs of quarterback Nick Pestrichello, who had a 28-yard run to seal the game late in regulation.
The sophomore signal caller also ran for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns, including a 31 yarder on fourth down. He threw for another touchdown on the game’s first possession when Gunnar Johnson caught a wide receiver screen pass before jetting down the right sideline for the 36-yard score.
Wethersfield entered the game needing a win and some help to qualify for the playoffs, but Newington was determined not to let their rivals play beyond the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The whole week we were hearing if they beat us they could possibly make the playoffs so we just basically wanted to go out and ruin their season,” said tight end/linebacker Julian Ortiz, “This group is special to me because everybody could have given up when we were down. We were at some really low points this season but everyone stuck together and we were able to get this win.”
Ortiz was part of a senior class that finished their high school careers with a win over Wethersfield for the second consecutive year, retaining the Thanksgiving Classic trophy. The Indians’ 17-13 victory a year ago snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eagles.
Newington now leads the all-time series 23-19-1 in the annual matchup, which dates back to 1976.
It was also a historic night, as the seven interceptions were a record for the program and tied for the third most in Connecticut high school history.
Johnson, Dylan Nees-Fair, Izayah Ciarcia, Javier Polanco, and Michael Maslauskas each had one; and Keenan Esau picked off two passes.
Julian Mulero and Teddy Fravel also made defensive impacts for the Indians. Mulero had a sack and several pressures and Fravel deflected three passes, one of which was intercepted, and had several quarterback hurries.
“In the first half we were all over the place attacking the ball,” Pace said about the defensive approach, “For some reason we were a step slower in the second half but in the end we got the victory. It’s an emotional rivalry and both teams are playing in the last game of the year, so we knew all of those emotions would be really high. We had to be able to control all those emotions and still play with emotion.”
Newington had a few miscues in the second half that almost allowed Wethersfield to erase the large deficit.
Silver connected with David Colon in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 27-6.
Luke Kelleher then intercepted Pestrichello in the red zone late in the third quarter. The interception was the Eagles second of the night, as Colon had picked off Ciarcia on a trick play in the second quarter.
Elliott then replaced Silver early in the fourth and led Wethersfield to 14 straight points. Elliott was the team’s week one starter but an injury and a position change forced him to a backup role for the second half of the season. The senior nearly capped his high school career by leading a comeback for the ages.
Fellow senior Mitchell Quadrato was a monster in the fourth quarter, scoring from a yard out and also recovering a fumble to set up a 42-yard strike from Elliott to Evan Sipala, narrowing the deficit to a single score with just over two minutes remaining.
After both scores, Wethersfield attempted onside kicks but the 6’6” Fravel recovered both on high hops.
Fravel’s second recovery allowed the offensive to run out the clock, and the season.
“He was basically asking the seniors, do you want to go out this way or do we want to go out and play hard as a winning team,” Ortiz said of Pace’s message in the fourth quarter.
The victory wrapped up a 4-6 season, Pace’s second on Newington’s sideline.
It was a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Indians, who started the season with a 41-0 victory but also suffered a four-game skid prior to Wednesday’s victory.
Despite the up and down nature of the season, the team never wavered thanks to a strong senior class.
“Those guys have had our backs, as a staff and a program. They never question anything we do and they would run through a wall for us,” Pace said of his seniors, “Just them sending that message to the underclassman and that they believe in us is the impression that they’ll leave on the program.”
Wethersfield finished the season 6-4 and will lose a dozen seniors. Despite his struggled in the finale, Silver should be back under center next fall after showing some positive signs this fall, including posting 12 total touchdown opposed to only three turnovers prior to the Newington game.
Other Football Action
Rocky Hill- The fourth time is a charm for Cromwell/Portland football. After losing the first three Shunpike Showdowns, the Panthers easily defeated Rocky Hill, 30-0, in the fourth meeting.
Playing on the road following a last-minute venue switch, Bryce Karstetter threw for a touchdown and ran for another at McVicar Field in Rocky Hill.
The win secured a 9-1 regular season, which qualified the Panthers for the Class S playoffs.
Karstetter’s touchdown toss was a 61 yarder to Nick Wright in the first quarter. Wright finished with three catches for 127 yards and became the program’s all-time leader for receiving yards in a single season with 1425, eclipsing Michael Antonio’s previous mark of 1423.
The final two quarters belonged to senior running back Bryan Lockwood, who finished with 112 total yards and a pair of rushing touchdown, both in the second half.
The shutout was the second for the Panthers defense this season, also blanking Woodstock Academy 41-0 in the previous game. Zac Cyr had a big night, registering 13 tackles and a sack, and Justin Stergos had eight stops, a forced fumble, and blocked a punt.
After back-to-back playoff appearances, the Terriers were in rebuilding mode with a young roster and finished the season 2-8.
Middletown- Middletown fell to Windsor 7-0 at MHS, ending their bid for consecutive undefeated regular seasons.
The Blue Dragons offense sputtered but their defense played admirably in defeat. Nygell Smikle had 14 tackles (three for loss) and Stephen Hill Jr. had a dozen stops, also forcing and recovering a fumble.
Despite the loss, Middletown still earned the #2-seed and a home playoff game in Class L following a 9-1 regular season.
2018 Fall Tournament Roundup
Girls Cross Country
Rocky Hill’s Elizabeth Stockman defended her Class M championship, running an 18:45 to win her second consecutive state title. Senior Lilah Devine finished 12th at the event, with a time of 20:55, as the Terriers finished fifth overall as a team. The following week, Stockman placed sixth at the State Open at Wickham Park in Manchester.
Middletown’s Ariana Monarca finished ninth at the Class L championship, running a 20:09. Samantha Gorski of Newington and Meghan Gregorski of Wethersfield ran team-best times at the same event.
Emma Drzewiecki ran a team-best (22:25) for Cromwell at the Class SS championships.
Boys Cross Country
Newington’s Samuel Geisler (16:33), Aiden Toth (16:52), and freshman Michael Bohlke (16:57) placed sixth, 13th, and 16th to help the Indians finish third overall as a team at the Class L championships.
At the same event, Middletown’s Matthew Lecky placed ninth with a time of 16:44.
Mark Rodriguez placed fifth as an individual and his Cromwell team also placed fifth overall as a team at the Class SS finals.
Rocky Hill’s Ethan Arcata ran a 16:33 to place sixth, helping the Terriers finish seventh overall at the Class M championships.
Owen Gagne ran a team-best time for Wethersfield at the Class MM finals.
Wethersfield was defeated by Sacred Heart Academy, 3-0, in the opening round of the Class M tournament. The loss ended a succsessful season for the Eagles, who won nine games and will have nearly their entire roster coming back next fall with the exception of two seniors; goalie/captain Anna Kallajian and Afton Dyjak.
Wethersfield advanced all the way to the semifinal round in Class L before falling to Daniel Hand, 3-2, in double overtime. Seniors Mike Manousos and Brendon Mansaku scored in the season-ending defeat at Naugatuck High School. The Eagles had defeated Fitch 4-1 in the opening round and then upended both Hartford Public and Weston by the same 3-0 score to reach the semifinals.
Middletown pulled off a shocker in the first round of Class L, defeating East Lyme 3-2. The Blue Dragons were the last team to qualify for the tourney, entering as the #27-seed, but upset the 12-win Vikings behind a pair of goals from Gael Badibanga and another from Joao Oliveira. Middletown fell in the second round to Bristol Central, 2-0, which was the final game for four seniors; Badibanga, Connor Vogel, Javier Prince, and Jacob Shettleworth.
Cromwell made a quarterfinals run in the Class S tourney. In the first round, JJ Tracy tallied a hat trick in the first half in a 5-1 triumph of Thomaston and then the Panthers knocked off top-seed Lyman Memorial 2-1 behind a pair of goals from Nate Sousa. Their run came to an end in in the quarters, losing at Notre Dame-Fairfield 3-0.
Newington won seven regular season games, but lost to Glastonbury (2-0) in the first round of Class LL. It was the final game for several seniors, including leading goal-scorer Hermish Adarkwah and goalie Jack DeGirolamo.
Rocky Hill finished with a losing record in the regular season but took 13-win Lewis Mills to the limit, before losing 1-0 in the opening round of Class M. It was the final game for nine Terrier seniors.
Wethersfield earned a first-round bye, thanks to a 12-4 regular season, and then blanked Barlow 3-0 in the second round of the Class L tournament. In the tourney win, Katherine Neilan, Alexis Syzmecki and Olivia Destefani scored and goalkeeper Megan Keleher registered her 13th shutout of the season. The team fell to Tolland, 1-0, in the quarterfinals round.
Newington defeated Guilford 3-1 to win their Class L first round match. Olivia Mullings, Riley Jackson, and Abby Molloy scored in the tourney victory. The Indians nearly upset Masuk in the second round, but lost a 4-3 heartbreaker in overtime.
Cromwell was upset by Old Lyme, 2-1, in the second round of the Class S tourney. The Panthers earned a first-round bye in the tournament, following a 12-2-2 regular season, but Eliza Weston was the only Cromwell that scored in the second round home loss.
Rocky Hill fell to Nonnewaug, 3-1, in the first round of Class M. It was the final game for a great senior class, featuring Annie White, Emma Molloy, Gianna DiMatteo, Isabella Calafiore, Karalina Valente, and Daniella Castanho.
Girls Swimming & Diving
Abigail Francis dominated at the Class L finals, winning state titles in the 100 Breaststroke and the 200 IM by nearly two seconds. Francis also teamed with Alanna DePinto, Olivia Thompson, and Alyssa Pearce to win the 200 Freestyle Relay. Thompson and fellow sophomore Julia Pitchell each had fifth-place finishes in the 50 Freestyle and 100 Backstroke, respectively. The pair of sophomore also teamed with Francis and DePinto for second place in the 200 Medley Relay. The Eagles finished fifth overall as a team at the Class finals and ninth overall at the State Open. Francis finished second (200 IM) and fourth (100 Breaststroke), and the 200 Freestyle Relay finished third at the open.
At the Class L finals, Newington’s Amber Rocheleau took home third place in the 100 Butterfly and fifth at the 200 Freestyle.
Jessica Saucier of Rocky Hill and Rachel McAdams of Cromwell completed admirably at the Class S finals.
Cromwell finished the regular season 10-9 before losing in three sets to Lyman Memorial in the first round of Class S. The loss was the final game for the Panthers only senior, Aijah Caccio, who was a captain and finished second on the team in kills. Junior Sadie Budzik earned All-State after leading the team in kills, aces, and digs this fall.
Rocky Hill fell in three sets at Granby in the first round of Class M. It was the final game for a trio of seniors, including Julia O’Connor who led the team in kills, aces, and blocks. Setter Amanda Schuman and libero Isabelle Miazga were the other two seniors.
Newington earned a home Class L tournament match, following a 14-win regular season, but the Indians were upset in the opening round by Fitch in three sets. The loss was the finale for four seniors; Azya Bass, Alaysiah Hall, Olivia St. Remy, and Rashelle Mezquia.
Zachary Cyr, with his brother Carter Cyr to his left, signed his letter of intent to play college lacrosse at Division II, Franklin Pierce, last Friday at Cromwell High School. Cyr is the first Panthers lacrosse athlete to receive scholarship money.
Eagles Soccer Makes Tourney Run
Fitch traveled to Wethersfield as heavy underdogs for their Class L first round match and almost drew first blood, but their first shot on goal was just off the mark and sailed high.
Less than two minutes later, Wethersfield had scored twice and cruised the rest of the way to a 4-1 victory over the visitors from Groton.
Kenan Mujic and Max Karkos each netted two goals for the #7-seed Eagles, who ended the season for the #26 Falcons on a damp evening on Cottone Field last Tuesday.
Unlike in recent seasons when prolific point producers Lukas Szymecki and Brendan Barry carried the scoring load, it has been a committee that has supplied the offensive this fall.
“This year we have three guys, Dino [Alihodzic], Kenan and Max that have 12 or more goals each after today, so it’s spread out a little bit more,” said head coach Rob Jachym, who was without the services of Alihodzic for the opening-round victory, “It’s good and it’s bad. Sometime you want that superstar to step up and get it done, but this year different guys have stepped up in different games. They’ve been lifting each other up. If Dino is a little off, Kenan kicks one in and Max is always dangerous with his speed.”
Mujic got the tourney party started, scoring at the 31:29 mark of the first half on an assist from Karkos.
Less than a minute later, Karkos added his own goal on a header.
Fitch’s Tyler Cady narrowed the margin to a single score, but Mujic quickly added his second and Karkos finished off the scoring with 1:13 left in the first half.
“Even at 3-1 it didn’t feel comfortable because #7, Tyler, is so dangerous. We scored two goals in two minutes and there was no reason they couldn’t,” Jachym said of the team’s mindset, “They’re high school kids and some of them get nervous when it’s a close game, but once we got that fourth one the coaching staff took a sigh of relief on the sideline.”
Junior Riley Carlson assisted on two of the goals, setting up Karkos on his first and Mujic on his second.
“Riley stepped in as a center back this year because Brendon Mansaku was coming back from ACL injury, so he played a little deeper and did a real solid job for us,” Jachym said of Carlson, who changed positions after the return of Mansaku, “The team needed him to push up a little bit and he’s done really well with that too. He’s grown a lot in one year. He’s shown a lot of maturity on the field and looking ahead he’s going to have a huge year for us next year.”
Jachym’s defense polished off the victory with a flawless second half.
Senior goalie Mark Accarpio was again solid in net and the Eagle defenders thwarted every Fitch attack over the final 40 minutes.
“Mark has done great, last year he split games and this year he knows it’s his position,” the veteran coach said of Accarpio, who shared the goaltending duties with Enrico Gionfriddo in 2017, “He’s confident because the guys in front on him are confident and we’re playing more balls back to him. Early on last year his footwork was a little off but now we feel comfortable playing back to him and that he’ll be able to play the ball forward.”
Mansaku, Rei Koni, Michael Manousos, Christopher Scacca and others have solidified a defensive unit that registered six shutouts in the regular season.
“The best way I can put it is that our defense has matured,” stated a smiling Jachym, “We knew Brendon was going to come back eventually, so now with him back we have the lineup that we wanted. Now we’ve settled in a little bit, the guys know their roles. The group is comfortable together now and they know each other and they know Mark’s strengths and weaknesses. Brendon and Rei have helped him along.”
Late in regulation, Accarpio sustained an injury and versatile team player Dante Burgos finished the job in goal.
“We had used Dante in goal for the last ten minutes against Newington, just to get his feet wet. We’re always preparing ahead just in case someone gets hurt, to have a backup plan.”
With a comfortable lead, Jachym was able to rest some of his starters early in the second half, keeping his players fresh for their round-two tilt with Hartford Public. It was a rematch of the regular-season finale when the Eagles and the Owls from the capital city came to a 1-1 draw on Oct 30.
The rematch wasn’t as competitive as the Eagles blanked the Owls 3-0 last Thursday at WHS, earning a trip for the quarterfinals round where they again were victorious by the same 3-0 score on the road at Weston last Saturday.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Ethan Arcata- Rocky Hill (Cross Country): Arcata ran one of the fastest times ever recorded among Rocky Hill athletes at the Class M state meet at Wickham Park. The junior finished the state meet in sixth place with a time of 16:33, qualifying him for the State Open, where he again performed well. His efforts this fall earned him all-conference and all-state honors.
Reagon Pelton-Newington (Soccer): Pelton scored the go-ahead goal in the Indians second round Class L match again Masuk. Newington would eventually lose the game 4-3 in overtime, but Pelton had a productive junior season for an Indians team that won 11 games, including a 3-1 victory over Guilford in the opening round of the tourney.
JJ Tracy- Cromwell (Soccer): Tracy tallied a first-half hat trick during the Panthers 5-1 victory over Thomaston in the first round of the Class S tournament. In the second round, the senior also assisted on a goal during a 2-1 win over Lyman Memorial. Teammate and fellow senior Nate Sousa added four goals in the two tourney wins.
Mitchell Quadrato- Wethersfield (Football): Quadrato has been a quarterback’s worst nightmare this season and last Friday he had a season-high four sacks, helping the Eagles blank Northwest Catholic 33-0. The senior also shined on the offensive side, scoring from 24 yards out on the ground as Wethersfield improved to 6-3.
Kenny Fountain- Middletown (Football): Fountain intercepted a pass, knocked down three others, and helped the Middletown defense make a thrilling last-second stand during a 21-18 road win at Platt. The junior also made an impact offensively, nabbing three passes for 69 yards and a score as the Blue Dragons improved to 8-0.
Four different Wethersfield players tallied goals as the Eagles defeated Newington 4-2 at Cottone Field last Tuesday night.
It marked the end of a superb regular season for Wethersfield, who finished 9-6-1 and qualified for the state tournament for the second consecutive year.
Less than three minutes into the contest, Lorien Touponse scored a goal to give the home team an early advantage. Freshman Molly Bowers and Zoe Kleeblatt then added goals within a minute of each other, making it 3-0 before the midway point of the first half.
Newington’s Skylyn Samson scored back-to-back goals, one in each half, narrowing the gap to a single score with eight minutes to play and the road Indians had a couple of chances to tie things up but Wethersfield’s defense, headed by goalie Anna Kallajian, preserved the lead down the stretch.
Summer Mitchell added an insurance goal with 1:30 to play in regulation, securing the win.
Earlier this season, the two teams had battle to a 0-0 draw on Sept 21 and both programs are heading in the right direction, developing a rivalry that will be interesting to watch over the coming years.
Eagles Reaching New Heights
Colleen Budaj has seen her team improved every season since taking over the head coaching duties at WHS.
2018 has been the most successful season to date.
“It’s tremendously satisfying. It’s not just one or two kids; it’s truly the whole team coming together. We’re feeding into their strengths and they’re coming together as a team,” said Budaj, who is assisted by her husband, Steve, on the sidelines, “We weren’t sure what to expect, because we only had three kids with varsity experience coming into this year but we went into this with the right mentality. Those were irreplaceable kids that we lost, but we weren’t looking to replace those seniors. We looked at the kids that we had and Steve talked about changing up our configurations to build around the strengths of our team. The kids have really bought into it.”
The new offensive attack has worked wonders as the scoring production has increased, including 15 total goals in their final three wins of the regular season.
“It’s something that they do in soccer now, so I looked at it from a soccer background and what we had coming back” Steve Budaj said of the offensive approach, “We wanted to teach it through the scrimmages and teach it through the preseason and it actually worked really well with the kids that we have.”
Following five wins and a tourney appearance a season ago, the team lost nearly their entire varsity roster to graduation and only had two seniors coming back. The Budajs have filled the voids with a deep and hungry group of young stars, which includes their daughter Sydney Budaj, who is excelling as a sophomore.
Leadership on the field is coming from Kallajian, who is one of the two returning seniors, and junior captains Kleeblatt and Mitchell.
“It’s intimidating to lose a lot of players and I know other teams were looking at it as an advantage, but I just kind of laughed at that because no matter who we lost we were coming to play and to give it all that we have,” said Kallajian, “These girls have done a great job at doing that all season.”
“We didn’t have a goalie walking into this season. We must have tried seven or eight different kids in the first week and I give her a lot of credit to leave a field position as a senior and step up and do this for the team. She’s worked really hard,” Budaj said of her keeper.
The first-year goaltender is the vocal leader for a defense that has registered eight shutouts.
“Communication is the biggest key, we definitely stress communication. They don’t have eyes in the back of their head so I try to be as helpful to them as they are to me,” Kallajian said of the team’s defenders, “The biggest thing is having the girls in front of me, they really hold their ground. They’re just sturdy as a rock and it’s definitely made me more comfortable in the goal and more secure because I know they have my back.”
Kleeblatt, Mitchell, and Touponse have taken care of business on the offensive end of the field.
Touponse is the youngest of the three and her attacking nature has allowed her to play at a varsity level from day one.
“I think having experience on the field as a freshman has been really helpful. When I first started playing I would just freak out, but as you keep playing you learn to calm yourself down and you know when to pass. It’s not about who scores the goal, it’s about the team scoring,” stated the confident sophomore, “We have great captains and our team is really close-knit. Everyone helps each other out.”
Mitchell’s speed has been an asset to the up-tempo offensive mentality.
“We want to stay aggressive and we want to work together as a team. We just want to play our game and give it our all,” said Mitchell, “I think we definitely felt some pressure early in the season because of the adjustment to having a lot of the varsity team graduate, but everyone on this team is so brave and they work together really well.”
Kleeblatt is a natural leader, who also stars for Budaj on the school’s softball team.
“I’ve had Zoe in class too. You get to know a kid when you spend that much time with them. You know when to push her, you know when she needs a pat on the back, and you know when she needs to be pulled back a little,” stated Budaj, “Zoe has a strong stick and she’s a ferocious competitor. She wants to win and she’s going to give you everything she has on the field.”
“Being a junior captain it is somewhat difficult because captains are usually seniors. At first it was a little difficult but then they started to see me as more of a leader and as the season has gone on they’ve gotten used to it really well,” said Kleeblatt, who has seen the team’s upward movement since joining the program in 2016, “It’s pretty awesome. I wasn’t here those years when we didn’t win a game, but I’ve gotten to see how much better we’ve gotten these past few years.”
Along with helping the team win, Kleeblatt and the other captains have also been mentoring a strong freshman class, which includes Bowers, Emily Messina, Logan Lisella, Caroline Provost, and Kathryn Bello.
With the influx of new talent, the back-to-back tourney appearances are just the beginning in Wethersfield.
New Era in Newington
The day after the loss to Wethersfield, Newington closed out the 2018 season with a 4-2 victory at Farmington, earning their fourth win of the season.
For a team that didn’t win a game in 2017, the win total and point production is a step in the right direction.
“The talent is one thing, but it’s a culture change too. It’s getting used to being a winning program and I think we’re getting there,” said head coach Veronica Grubin, who didn’t have a senior on her roster last fall.
This year the second-year coach had eight seniors, including Maya Gajowiak who scored a pair of goals in the win over Farmington. Sophomore Kali Lessard also netted two goals in the season-finale victory.
Gajowiak and Lessard have helped paced the offense, along with Kelly Iskra, who morphed into a goal-scoring machine after switching positions at the midway point.
“Maya has always been a solid player. She’s a three year starter, all-conference last year and she controls the offense,” stated Grubin, who served as an assistant prior to taking over in 2017, “Kelly is our leading goal scorer. It’s amazing to see what she’s been able to do because we made that switch for her from defense to offense halfway through the season.”
Samson, who scored both goals at Wethersfield, has developed as an offensive threat during her junior campaign.
“She’s a naturally aggressive player and she’s a smart player. Her stick skills and her fundamentals have really caught up with that and she has a good game sense,” Grubin said, “All those things put together will allow her to be a big force next year.”
In goal, senior Sharon Sherpa started a majority of the season and junior Taylor Jackson got some time between the pipes in preparation for 2019.
“They’ve both been really solid. We face some really tough competition in this conference and they do well. They keep their heads in the games, because in some games with went down 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 and they come out fighting every game.”
The goalies had help from a variety of unsung defenders, including junior standout Sam Giudice.
“The amount of defensive saves she’s had this season is just ridiculous. She’s stopped a lot of goals from going in.” Grubin said of Giudice, “I’m super impressed with her.”
Next fall Grubin will have experience coming back on both sides. The returnees can lean of what they’ve learned from a great group of departing seniors, who were able to close their high school careers with a win and left a mark on the blossoming program.
“It’s a huge stepping stone towards next year. They’ve shown them the steps that it takes and the hard work and dedication that goes into it. They’ve also showed them how to score and be a winning team,” Grubin said of her seniors, “They’ve helped change the culture, that’s their lasting impression.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Jack DeGirolamo- Newington (Soccer): DeGirolamo stopped all nine shots he faced as Newington shutout Bulkeley 2-0 last Thursday. It was the seventh time this season that the senior goalie has blanked an opponent, helping the Indians finished with seven wins and earn a spot in the state tournament.
Jacob Shettleworth- Middletown (Soccer): Shettleworth scored a goal in a 2-1 win over Berlin last Monday. The senior, playing in his last home game, helped Middletown win on Senior Night, earning their fifth win of the season.
Bella Montalvo- Rocky Hill (Soccer): Montalvo score both goals in a 2-0 victory over New Britain last Monday night in the Terriers regular season finale. The junior forward totaled 14 goals this season, helping Rocky Hill finish with eight wins and earning a spot in the state tournament.
Bryce Karstetter- Cromwell (Football): Karstetter threw a career-high six touchdown passes, all in first half and four to Nick Wright, during a 48-18 blowout of Morgan on Senior Night last Thursday. The senior has 27 total touchdowns (25 passing, 2 rushing) this season, helping guide the Panthers to a 7-1 mark.
Owen Gagne- Wethersfield (Cross Country): Gagne backed up a great freshman outdoor track season with an excellent cross country season, earning medals at all four invitationals. The sophomore earned all-conference after winning two CCC triangular meets and became the first male cross country runner at Wethersfield since 2008 to qualify for the state open. According to head coach Jeff Sanborn, Gagne also ran what is believed to be the third fastest WHS time ever at Wickham Park.
(Wethersfield volleyball celebrated Senior Night last Monday, recognizing senior players Tatum Lewis-Holcombe, Kacia Claffey, Emily McKenna, and Marina Pernio. Photo- Jo-Ann Campbell)
Rocky Hill and Wethersfield volleyball gave the fans inside WHS an early Halloween treat last Monday night, dueling in a back-and-forth match that ended with the visiting Terriers winning a five-set classic (19-25, 25-17, 23-25, 25-17, 15-7).
It was victory #8 for Rocky Hill, qualifying the Terriers for the postseason.
“It’s really satisfying. These ladies have been through a lot this season, learning how to work together,” said Rocky Hill coach Jackie Valliere, whose team finished one win shy of a tournament appearance last fall, “We’re a very young team and it’s great to be able to form and mesh well together and have these wins. A lot of them haven’t made it before so it’s their first experience. It’s really, really exciting.”
The tourney qualifier wasn’t easy and required a rally, with the road team stealing the final two sets after dropping the first and third.
Senior captain Julia O’Connor once again led the charge, sparking an 8-2 run in the fourth after the Terriers fell behind 14-11 in the win-or-go-home frame.
“She just basically said that it’s our game to win and that we need to play and be the team that we are,” O’Connor said of her coach’s message during the pivotal set, “It’s great because two years ago, my sophomore year, this is the game that we made it into states too. It’s very satisfying.”
O’Connor polished off the fourth set with a kill and served out the last four points, including a pair of aces. She finished with 19 kills, nine digs, three aces, and two blocks in the marathon match.
After overcoming the adversity in set four, the Terriers capitalized on the momentum and jumped out to an 11-1 lead in the fifth before holding off a late rally from the home team.
“We’ve been talking about playing with an aggressive mentality and knowing that you’re going to make the right pass, the right kill, the right set, the right everything. Being able to make the plays when they happen, that’s what we’ve been talking about all season,” Valliere said of her resilient squad, who played only their third five-set match of the season, “To be able to play aggressively for a longer period of time and to have the yoyo scoring and be able to pull through. It’s a mental game and it’s good to have that practice.”
Amanda Schuman steadied the team in the win, dishing out a game-high 33 assists and four aces. The setter shares the senior captain duties with O’Connor and the two have created a dynamic one-two punch.
“We’re a lot closer as a team than we were last season, especially me and Amanda. We’ve had two years together so there’s just a greater connection and we play better together,” stated O’Connor, “I think we’re a very close team and we work very well together when we have our head in the game.”
High-energy sparkplugs Daria Kokic and Lydia Tzickas also came up big in the victory. The two juniors combined for eight kills and eight digs, many coming at crucial times in the match.
Kokic is a team captain and Tzickas is getting more confortable on the court with each passing match.
“She’s really working on her timing and her passing is getting better. Everything is getting better this season for her. It’s really fun watching her getting those kills and having a nice snap and swing because that’s what we’re working for all the time,” Valliere said of Tzickas, “She’s really going to be someone to watch out for next year.”
Rocky Hill’s joy was Wethersfield’s disappointment. It completed a series sweep for the Terriers over their neighboring rivals, also winning the season opener on Sept 7 in three sets.
Monday’s loss eliminated the Eagles from postseason contention and dampened an otherwise festive Senior Night.
Seniors Marina Pernoi, Emily McKenna, Kacia Claffey, and Tatum Lewis-Holcombe were honored prior to the game and then helped the Eagles win the first set wire-to-wire.
“They came out on fire in that first set, probably because it was Senior Night,” said Wethersfield coach Debbie O’Brien “We have our seniors in key roles and all four are full time starters. They’re upset that they didn’t qualify for the tournament but they are proud of what they’ve done here.”
Pernoi and McKenna were team captains. Claffey was a productive setter, who had 24 assists and seven aces against Rocky Hill, and Lewis-Holcomb played libero.
Their senior leadership was again on display during the third set when the Eagles fell behind 20-12 before scoring 15 of the next 18 points to capture the set.
“We got down but they were able to fight back,” stated O’Brien, “We always talk about staying in the moment, playing one point at a time. That’s a constant that we play one point at a time. We talk about it a lot in practice and it’s been an all season thing. Tonight they were just able to execute in set three.”
Junior Megan Kelleher ignited the rally with six straight service points, including four of her seven aces in the third set.
“She played a lot in the offseason so that helped as far as experience. She has a lot more court sense and awareness and is really able to react to the ball and the play,” O’Brien said of Kelleher, who led the team in kills this season, including a dozen verse Rocky Hill, “She’s a key part of our offense and between her, Alice [Kelly] and Erica [Christie] we have some key pieces coming back.”
The trio will give O’Brien a lot of firepower next fall.
Kelly has become a force on the front line, translating her basketball skills to the volleyball court.
“She does a good job up front hitting and she’s an athlete. She’s well-conditioned and trained, and a bit of a gym rat,” O’Brien said of Kelly, who led the team in aces this season, “She’s improved as far as reading the plays, reading the court, and her movement.”
Christie is a sophomore but her role quickly expanded as the season went along.
“She’s a great natural athlete and she’s a real coachable kid that sucks everything up, she is like a sponge and just pulls it all in,” said O’Brien, “She’s do anything she can to improve because she wants to improve and works so hard and sets a high standard for herself.”
The Eagles finished 2018 with a record of 6-14 after falling to Newington in three sets in the season finale last Thursday. Pernoi had 13 digs and three aces in her final game in an Eagles uniform.
Maddie Massaro-Cook had 6 kills and Azya Bass dished out 22 assists for the Indians, who wrapped up a 14-win regular season.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Bryan Lockwood- Cromwell (Football): Lockwood ran for a pair of touchdowns, helping the Panthers improve to 6-1 with a thrilling 21-14 overtime victory over Valley Regional/Old Lyme. The senior running back now has 11 total touchdowns this season, eight on the ground and three through the air.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Cross Country): Stockman defended her state title, winning the Class M championship for the second consecutive season. The junior bested her time from last fall by over a minute and finished 52 seconds ahead of the runner-up at Wickham Park in Manchester last Friday. Next up is the State Open this Friday, Nov 2, at Wickham Park starting at 2 pm.
Connor Pace - Wethersfield (Football): Pace was impactful in all three phases of the game during Wethersfield’s 21-20 road upset of Windsor last Friday night. The junior hauled in a 30-yard pass to set up the Eagles first score, returned a block punt for another score, and caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Eagles snapped a two game losing skid and improved to 4-3 on the season.
Sam Giesler- Newington (Cross Country): Geisler finished 6th overall, with a time of 16:33 (pace: 5:21), at the Class L championships last Friday at Wickham Park in Manchester. The sophomore’s efforts and top 20 finishes from Aiden Toth (13th) and Michael Bohlke (16th) helped the Indians finish third overall as a team at the class finals.
Osbourne Richards- Middletown (Football): Richards tallied a team-high eight tackles and a sack as Middletown’s defense dominated, blanking Newington 42-0 last Friday night. The senior has registered a sack in five of the team’s seven games during the Blue Dragons undefeated start.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin