Newington boys' volleyball earned the top sports moment of 2019 after winning a third consecutive state championship on June 6
#1: Newington Spikers Complete Three-Peat
Newington boys’ volleyball did exactly what they said they would do at the beginning of last spring. The Indians won a third straight state championship after defeating Cheshire in four sets at the Class M finals on June 6 in Shelton. Seniors Teddy Fravel and Louis Egbuna combined for 27 kills and Leonel Caceres dished out 42 assists as the team pulled off the rare championship trifecta. It marked the program’s sixth title in the past eight seasons. Dynasty doesn’t do it justice anymore.
#2: Cromwell Hoopsters Dance on Sun
Cromwell girls’ basketball had a memorable tournament run, which culminated with a 60-51 victory over Sheehan in the Class M championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 17. Sadie Budzik scored a team-high 18 points and tourney hero Najla Cecunjanin added 15 points and eight rebounds as the Panthers won their second state title in four years, adding yet another banner to a crowded gymnasium at Cromwell High School.
#3: Lukens, Gwynn, Stolstajner Reach Hardwood Milestones
Rocky Hill’s Nikki Lukens became the all-time leading scorer in program history, scoring her 1,187th point in a game against New Britain on January 8. Wethersfield’s Nicole Gwynn and Cromwell’s Vanessa Stolstajner also reached scoring milestone, surpassing the 1,000-point mark. Gwynn accomplished it during a win over Newington on February 11 and Stolstajner passed the mark in a tourney victory over East Catholic on March 7.
#4: Middletown’s King of the Ring
Middletown wrestler Elijah Cyr won both the Class Finals and State Open championship in the 113-pound division. Cyr pinned Bristol Central’s Jacob Aldi to win the Class L championship on February 16 and then cemented his place as the state’s best wrestler in his weight class, defeating Trumbull’s Travis Longo to capture the State Open title on February 24 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
#5: Gaunt and DePinto Shine as Sophomores
Wethersfield’s Hadden Gaunt and Alanna DePinto each took home a state championship during their sophomore seasons in the pool. Gaunt won on the Class M Diving championship on March 6 and DePinto won the 100 Freestyle on November 20. Now a junior, Gaunt is preparing to defend his title this winter, while DePinto has two more seasons to compete starting next fall.
#6: Caracoglia’s Tremendous Tourney
Soccer star Anthony Caracoglia scored ten goals in Cromwell’s four Class S tournament games, spanning from November 11-19. The senior’s terrific tourney included a game-winning overtime goal in the opening round against Northwest Catholic and a four-game performance in a second-round win over Housatonic. Not a bad way to end an illustrious high school career.
#7: Tenney Lights Up Scoreboard
Derek Tenney exploded for 51 points and 15 rebounds in Wethersfield’s 90-84 victory over Bloomfield on January 28. The 51 points set a new program record, surpassing Michael Mozzicato’s 42-point performance against Windsor just a year earlier. Believe it or not, Tenney was just warming up for more heroics during baseball season.
#8: Highsmith Walks Off in Sunset
Dominque Highsmith is currently preparing for her first softball season at Central Connecticut State University, but it was moments like what happened on April 8 that got her there. Highsmith went 4-4, including crushing a walk-off homer to erase a two-run deficit, as Middletown beat Glastonbury 10-9. It was just one of the many memorable moments Highsmith had during her four years in Middletown.
#9: Bradley Breaks Record
Matt Bradley became the all-time leading scorer in Newington boys’ lacrosse history with a nine-assist outing against E.O. Smith in April 11. By the time his senior season ended, Bradley had piled on plenty more and finished his high school career with 195 total points, setting an extremely high bar that will be hard to top.
#10: Pestrichello Sinks Spartans
Quarterback Nick Pestrichello was far and away the most dynamic player on the field on October 25, accounting for all six of Newington’s touchdowns in a 42-35 upset victory over previously unbeaten Maloney. Pestrichello threw for 255 yards and a pair of scores and added 147 yards and four more touchdowns on the ground as the Indians erased a 14-0 deficit to earn the signature win.
#11: Stockman Stockpiling
Rocky Hill’s Elizabeth Stockman added to her trophy case in 2019, winning the 1600M and finished as the runner-up in the 3200M at the Class M championship on May 29. The senior has a chance to earn more hardware this winter and spring during the Indoor and Outdoor track season. It’s been a heck of a run, in more ways than one.
#12: Danas Lights up Farmington
Senior quarterback Chris Danas took to the October sky, throwing for 515 yards and five touchdowns as Middletown beat Farmington 37-21 on October 26. Danas finished the night with a perfect passer rating, completing 28 of 38 passes and averaging a robust 18.39 yards per completion. It was a night he’ll never forget, and a night Farmington’s secondary would rather forget.
#13: Cromwell Sprinters Win it All
Cromwell’s 1600 Sprint Medley team of Andraya Yearwood, Jordan Pare, Caitlin DellaRatta, and Cara Jordan won the state title at the Class S Indoor Track finals on February 7. The same relay team placed fourth at the State Open on February 16. There was literally nothing that slowed this foursome down.
#14: Primetime Moments for Frazier and Zocco
Newington basketball’s backcourt tandem of Ashanti Frazier and Karissa Zocco rose to the occasion during the first two round of the Class LL tourney. In the opening round, Frazier converted a three-point play to send the game into overtime and then came up with the game-clinching steal and free throw as the Indians defeated Shelton 54-50 on February 26. In round two, Zocco returned from a four-game injury absence to knocked down six three pointers, scoring a game-high 18 points in a 55-44 victory over Glastonbury on March 1. Look out world, because the dynamic duo is back at it this season.
#15: Baldwin Blanks Berlin
Tyler Baldwin pitched a complete game, one-hitter, striking out five as Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland defeated Berlin 2-0 on July 24, advancing to the Sectional Finals in the 19U American Legion Baseball tournament. Baldwin, who pitches for Cromwell in the spring, was an ace on a RCP pitching staff that allowed a state-low 1.9 runs per game during the regular season.
#16: Eagles Flawless on Links
Wethersfield girls’ golf finished the regular season undefeated (16-0) and won their second straight Central Connecticut Conference title. Senior Emily McKenna led the team all season, including shooting a tournament low 77 during the CCC finals on May 29. The Eagles are seeking a third straight conference crown this spring.
#17: Cyr Caps Career with Exclamation Point
Cromwell’s Zac Cyr saved his best performance for his last, scoring a career-high nine goals in a 14-2 win over Vinal Tech in the season finale on May 20. Cyr’s fabulous finish added to his team-high 79 points in 2019 and put a big red bow on an outstanding high school career at CHS.
#18: Indians and Eagles Hockey Make Tourney Runs
Both local co-op hockey teams made deep runs in the state tournament, each advancing to the semifinals. Newington won 15 of 20 regular season games and came within minutes of playing for a state title, thanks to all-state performances from Justin Stergos and Ethan Ranger. Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville also won 15 regular season games and two tourney games, including a second round upset (4-1) over top-seed Watertown-Pomperaug on March 8. The Eagles were led by all-state recipients Jake Peckrul, Riordan Mertens, and Trevor Piecewicz.
#19: Tenney Strikes Again
Derek Tenney thrived in big moments and he did it again on May 15. The senior slugger jacked a walk-off home run and earned the win from the mound, after pitching scoreless seventh and eighth innings during Wethersfield’s 9-8 extra innings win over Glastonbury.
Boys Cross Country
Middletown- Sean Ahern, Alexander Kalber
Newington- Joseph Bohlke, Michael Bohlke, Serhiy Demyanov, Samuel Geisler
Wethersfield- Mike Dunn, Owen Gagne, Connor Pratt
Girls Cross Country
Middletown- Ariana Monarca, Nicole Nenninger
Rocky Hill- Jazzy Edmunds, Elizabeth Stockman, Maren Valente
Wethersfield- Jessica Garcia, Meghan Gregorski, Adriana Mantilla
Newington- Samantha Giudice
Wethersfield- Kate Anzidei, Molly Bowers, Emily Messina, Summer Mitchell, Lorien Touponse
Middletown- Josiah Albert, Jake Bowen, Chris Danas, Kyle Despres, Brady Foster, Kristian Glemaud, Tyron Scharborough, Alex Rios
Newington- John Amaning, Keenan Esau, Gunnar Johnson, Julian Mulero, Nick Pestrichello, Tymothy Sullivan, Stephen Szwez
Wethersfield- Ryan Berasi, Kyle Edman, Marcus Nieves, Johnny Orsini, Connor Pace, Matt Silver, Nick Thompson, Jake Whitaker
Rocky Hill- Omar Ahmed, Alex Boutin, Nico Capasso, Maxwell DiMatteo, Matthew Sevigny
Middletown- Zachary Hartzell, Jayden Koski, Dario Rigano
Newington- Reed Campbell, Youseff Khadrani, Trey Sadler
Rocky Hill- Massimo Cianci, Michaeljon Moleiro
Wethersfield- Owen Ahmetovic, Riley Carlson, Rei Koni, Max Karkos
Middletown- Kaylee Allegretti, Tyler Stocking
Newington- Alexie Armour, Emily Chojnicki, Alyse Karanian, Olivia Mullings, Reagan Pelton, Giuliana Stolfi, Karissa Zocco
Rocky Hill- Talia Carlone, Bella Montalvo, Nicole Zarrilli,
Wethersfield- Alexa Grenier, Sierra Judson, Annie Klementon, Maddi Righi, Gabi Villagra, Victoria Villagra
Girls Swimming & Diving
Middletown- Kelly Shekosky, Sophia Congelosi, Monica Flores, Kamila Ciebielski, Kelly Baran, Rose Cunningham
Newington- Amber Rocheleau
Rocky Hill- Nichole Detushev
Wethersfield- Abigail Keane, Haley Krawczyk, Elizabeth Rich, Julia Baroni, Riley Wilhelm, Julia Pitchell, Alanna DePinto, Olivia Thompson, Mia Destefani,
Middletown- Jada LaBissoniere
Newington- Erica Paradis, Madison Massaro-Cook, Sara Caceres, Amaia Jackson
Rocky Hill- Sarah Bezdelovs
Wethersfield- Alice Kelly, Megan Kelleher, Erica Christie, Samantha Bassell
Wethersfield's freshman football finished undefeated (9-0)
The Eagles, led by head coach Mike Alessandra, polished off the perfect season with a 28-14 victory over rival Newington, behind four touchdown passes from Wil Bankowski. Jay Burchell caught two of Bankowski's scoring tosses, while Ethan Lemos and Ben Caulfield caught the other two in the season finale victory over the Indians.
Rocky Hill seniors Elizabeth Stockman and Maggie Montalto signing college Letters of Intent on Nov 13th
Rocky Hill seniors Maggie Montalto and Elizabeth Stockman recently signed their National Letters of Intent to continue their academic and athletic careers at a collegiate level.
The two signed their commitments in front of family and friends at Rocky Hill High School on November 13th.
Montalto is headed to Assumption College, where she will become a member of the Greyhounds Division II golf team in Worchester, Massachusetts.
“It was a perfect fit for me,” said Montalto, who has already bonded with her future teammates, “I did my overnight and the girls are super close. I’m excited to have that team atmosphere throughout the college experience.”
A native of Rocky Hill, Montalto began playing golf at the age of three when her dad, Joseph, would bring her and twin sister, Anna, to a range in Cromwell.
“He would bring us just for fun, but then we started getting into competitive golf around 10 or 12 and we played with some really elite kids who inspired us. One is committed to Florida and one is committed to Duke. The competition helped a lot and it made us want to get better.”
The competition, along with her father’s tutelage, helped her prosper into one of the state’s best golfers.
“[My dad] pushed me to continue to practice even when I didn’t want to. He pushed me to stick with it and him making me stick with it ultimately led me to realize that I didn’t want to miss it and that I wanted to play in college.”
All the years spent on the links has paid dividends. As a junior, Montalto finished third in her section and ninth overall at the 2019 Connecticut state tournament, as well as, winning the Sportsmanship Award and finishing the runner-up for Player of the Year at the CTPGA.
Montalto in a unique position at Rocky Hill High School as the school doesn’t have a girls’ golf team, so her and Anna have joined forces with the boys. The sisters have both made All-Conference in each of the last two seasons.
“It’s been fun. No one judges you for being a girl, it’s like being one of the guys. It’s cool because it’s a different dynamic. When I play in the summer I play with girls, it’s a lot more chill.”
Head coach Josh Dinerman, who coaches Rocky Hill’s co-ed team, said he chuckles every time Montalto steps to the tee because her smooth swing and how she strikes the ball always amazes the boys.
“Maggie is an exceptional student athlete, leader and person. She is a constant grinder on and off the course,” added Dinerman, “Maggie takes her leadership to the next level by helping teammates with course strategy, swing technique and their schoolwork at any possible chance.”
Montalto has co-captained the team since she was a sophomore and is looking forward to her final season on the high school links before her new adventure starts.
“I’m 18 so I won’t be able to play junior golf anymore, it’s all ending at once,” reflected Montalto. “It’s been a really good experience, so I’m trying to take it in more.”
Stockman has committed to attend the University of Richmond, where she will become a member of the Spiders Division I running program in Richmond, Virginia.
“I think it’s a good balance between academics and athletics. I learned a lot from what the girls had to say on my official visits. The girls spoke very highly of the coaches,” said Stockman, who made the tough decision to leave the northeast, “I was looking at a lot of schools and I was very undecided. I was undecided on a major, I didn’t know if I wanted a city school or not city, big or small.”
Ultimately she chose to head south, hundred of miles from her childhood town of Rocky Hill.
“I only looked at two schools in the south and most where in the northeast. I’m excited to go a little further away, but it wasn’t something that I was expecting,” stated Stockman, who looks forward to the collegiate competition, “I’m so excited for it to be more competitive and to also have a team that I can train with everyday. The girls go out on their runs together, which seems like it could be fun because I’m usually running by myself.”
During her time at RHHS, Stockman has set a new standard for distance running. She competes year around, excelling on the cross country trails, as well as, distance events during Indoor and Outdoor track seasons.
Her long list of accomplishments includes state championships in the 2017 and 2018 cross country class finals, and state titles in the 1600 and 3200 meters during both the Indoor and Outdoor Track championships.
It’s an impressive list considering Stockman only dabbled with distance running in middle school before falling in love with it during high school
“I did cross country in 7th grade because my parents said I should do a sport,” recalled Stockman, speaking of father, John, and mother, Nancy, who was also a distance runner, “I didn’t really enjoy it and I ended up breaking my foot and tearing a tendon. Then in high school my friend (Emily) said I should come out for the team and I was kind of hesitant about it. I ended up doing it and I really enjoyed it. There’s just something about it.”
“I didn’t realize that I could be competitive and be good at it until the end of freshman year. I missed qualifying for Opens by one spot, so I was sad about that, but I used that as motivation. I trained pretty hard over that summer to make it to States.”
Stockman returned with a sensational sophomore season, before battling through injuries during her junior season and still posting great times. She credited her coaches with helping her though the ups and downs and called head coach Brian Graca and the rest of her coaches “awesome”.
“[The coaches] have helped me become more disciplined. All the work they have put in has made me a better runner. They give me a plan but obviously I’m the one that has to go out and run it. Even on the days that I don’t want to run, just doing it helps me be able to do things in life that I don’t want to do.”
When she’s not running, Stockman is the President of the school’s Spanish Club and the Secretary of National Honors Society.
Currently she’s in the beginning stages of her final Indoor track season before finishing up her high school career with Outdoor in the spring.
“As a runner I just want to get my times down. I think we have a really positive team culture right now where all the girls are super excited about getting after it,” said Stockman, who described her time at RHHS as positive, “I’ll definitely miss the team, especially this year. At states we all wore ribbons in our hair. I’ll miss stuff like that and all the team dinners, team dinners especially. For the most part it’s been a pretty awesome experience.”
Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon hugs senior Kyle Edman following playoff loss to New Canaan. Photo credit- Andrea Zurzola
Last Wednesday’s Class L quarterfinals football game at New Canaan wasn’t indicative of Wethersfield’s 2019 season.
Despite being on the wrong end of a 42-7 outcome, the Eagles and first-year head coach Matt McKinnon walked off the field with their heads held high after making the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“This senior class, I’ve seen them since they were freshmen coming up and I knew they were something special,” stated McKinnon, who was previously the defensive coordinator under longtime head coach John Campanello, “They gave it everything they had. They set the tone for the program. They believed in everything that I preach and what the coaching staff preaches.”
The 35-point loss to New Canaan was also misleading.
What could go wrong, went wrong for an Eagles team that turned it over twice in the red zone, allowed a defensive score, and surrendered a touchdown on 4th and 10.
“New Canaan is well-coached, and they’ve got studs down here. We knew we’d have to play a flawless game,” said McKinnon, whose team had a chance to strike first blood but was stopped on fourth and goal from the one-yard line on their first possession, “They had to stop us and we had to get a yard. They won those small battles tonight, but our kids gave 150% effort. It didn’t go our way at times, and in a game like this it’s got to go your way.”
Quarterback Drew Pyne threw three touchdowns (two to Luke Morton) and ran for another. Zach LaPolice caught the other touchdown and Walker Swindell returned an interception 31 yards for the Rams defensive score. Running back Hayden Shin polished off the night with a short touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
During a four-minute span in the second quarter, the game quickly shifted from a scoreless tie to a 28-0 advantage for the home team.
Facing a four-score deficit, the Eagles refused to go quietly into the crisp, clear New Canaan night sky.
Quarterback Matt Silver directed a long touchdown drive, connecting with Connor Pace for a 26-yarder, and then hitting Rory Stickley down the left sideline on a back-shoulder fade from 22 yards out, cutting the margin to 28-7 at the half.
Wethersfield received the second half kickoff and had momentum on their side before Drew Guida intercepted a Silver pass near midfield to swing it back towards the Rams.
McKinnon complimented his senior signal caller for persevering through a tough night, “He’s throwing the ball tonight with two broken fingers on his right hand. I’ll take that kid as my quarterback any day of the week. I love Matt Silver.”
Silver, Pace, Jacob Rivera, and Jake Whitaker captained a senior class that were in eighth grade during the Eagles last playoff appearance.
Following the loss McKinnon thanked his team and told the players coming back to “keep the train rolling” for this year’s graduating seniors. He then shared an emotional embrace with several players, including Rivera and Whitaker.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of seniors, especially my first year as a head coach. I love them to death. We’re family and this senior class set the tone for the program.”
The 2019 season featured many memorable moments, including four shutouts. A season-opening 49-0 drubbing of Hartford Public, 14-0 at Farmington, 47-0 at Bristol Eastern, and a 35-0 statement against Newington in the regular season finale.
“It started in January in the weight room. We talked every day about what we wanted, and that was December football,” recalled McKinnon, “[The players] led the charge since then and I told them that nobody was going to put them on the map. It was about how bad they wanted it.”
The 24/7 football-focused McKinnon joked that he might start preparing for next season on the bus ride home, “Actually, I’m going to enjoy this season. I’ve got my beautiful fiancée at home that supports me and I’m going to spend time with her. I told the kids, don’t let this game take away from your season. We’re going to regroup and get right back after it.”
Coming back next year will be another solid senior class led by Stickley, Zak Zurzola, Evan Sipala, Marcus Nieves, Dylan Knapp, Sam Marchio, and Nick Thompson.
Following a 7-3 regular season, Newington football made the playoff for the first time since 2008.
Unfortunately, in the first round of the Class L playoff they had to play a Daniel Hand team that entered having won 34 straight games, resulting in a 52-0 loss at the Surf Club in Madison last Wednesday night.
It wrapped up a successful season for third-year head coach Jason Pace and his Indians, who had seven qualities wins, including a thrilling come-from-behind 42-35 victory over powerhouse Maloney on Oct 25.
Defensive studs and leading tackler Julian Mulero and Keenan Esau will be graduating, along with leading receivers Gunnar Johnson and Jordan Alexander. Interior force Michael Maslauskas, along with solid producers Zach Demarco and Javier Polanco will also be moving on.
Duel-threat quarterback Nick Pestrichello, who account for over 2000 yards and 19 touchdowns, will be back under center next season, along with deep threat target Austyn Howe.
Leading rusher John Amaning Jr, who rushed for over 1000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, will also return to the backfield in 2020.
Gabe Warren will be back to anchor the line and reliable kicker/punter AJ Ferriera will be returning for his senior season.
The previous three football games between Wethersfield and Newington came down to the final possession.
That changed last Wednesday night when the Eagles shutout the Indians 35-0 at Cottone Field in the series most lopsided game since 1977.
A lot of hype surrounded the annual Thanksgiving-eve battle, as the teams entered with identical 7-2 records with major playoff implications on the line.
“I told the kids all week, treat it like any other game. Don’t get over-hyped, you’re going to see news reports and articles, but just play your game. Let them do all the talking, let’s play with our pads. We practiced like that all week and the kids executed,” said Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon.
Newington was victorious in each of the last two seasons against Wethersfield but it was clear from the start that the Eagles weren’t about to lose a third straight to their rivals.
On the Indians first offensive play, a miscue allowed playmaking defense lineman Nick Thompson to score on a fumble recovery from eight yards out.
And the rout was on.
“We executed well on that play. I couldn't have imaged it any better,” Thompson said of the early scoop and score, “All of our practices led up to this. We game-planned against them so well and we came out and it showed. It feels great, it feels incredible.”
“It relaxed all of us, including me,” McKinnon said of Thompson’s strip-six, “When we got on the scoreboard early, I knew the defense had this.”
Senior quarterback Matt Silver thanked Thompson following his touchdown, “I told him ‘I owe you one’. I have their backs on offense and they have our backs on defense, and they did that today. That’s a momentum changer for sure.”
On Wethersfield’s next offensive play, Silver delivered on his promise when he connected with Connor Pace on a bomb down the left sidelines. Pace hauled in the deep ball before breaking a pair of tackle and sprinting the rest of the way for a 65-yard touchdown.
Not to be outdone, Wethersfield’s special teams made their presence felt when Jacob Rivera and Dylan Knapp combined to block a punt late in the first quarter.
Kicker Evan Sipala connected on all five of his extra point attempts and Pace had another solid game punting, including pinning his first punt inside the ten-yard line, which ultimately led to Thompson’s touchdown.
“We take special teams serious. We preach all three phases of the game and our starters are in there. It’s not a play off and it showed tonight,” stated McKinnon, “It starts with our special teams coordinator, Chris Linares, he does a phenomenal job preparing. I promoted him to a coordinator this year and he’s really taken that challenge. I love the guy.”
The blocked punt led to a three-yard scoring keeper from Silver, and later in the half Silver again found Pace from 23-yards away, upping the lead to 28-0 at the break.
“He’s honestly such a great player,” Silver said of Pace, “It’s great that we know they have to game plan against him. We’ve had this connection all the time.”
The second half featured an opportunistic defense and ball control offense from the home team.
Newington threatened to score on their first two possession of the third quarter but turned it over on both occasions. Senior Kyle Edman picked off quarterback Nick Pestrichello in the back of the end zone and then Newington turned it over on downs inside the red zone on the following possession.
Johnny Orsini put the finishing touches on the game with a one-yard scoring plunge with 8:30 to play in regulation.
“That was our game plan going in, solid defense and run the ball,” McKinnon said, “I give all the credit to the kids and the coaching staff.”
Silver added that the win over their rivals was business as usual, “Preparation-wise we put all of our hard work and focus into this game. We didn’t think about it any different, we just knew what we had to do to win. They’re a good team, we just showed that we’re better.”
The win assured the Eagles a spot in the Class L playoffs for the first time since 2015 and, despite the loss, Newington also qualified for the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Cromwell/Portland head coach Randell Bennett with Justin Stergos, Marc Dufresne, Matt Pepe, and Harry Deane
It wasn’t an easy year for the Cromwell/Portland football team. They lost a dynamic senior class following a playoff appearance a season ago, leaving a roster full of youth, and then the injury bug hit.
The perfect storm led to eight consecutive losses, prior to a season-ending 20-14 victory over Rocky Hill to win their second straight Shunpike Showdown last Wednesday night at Pierson Park.
Despite an overall 2-8 record, head coach Randell Bennett focused on the long-term benefits of a season full of growing pains.
“We’ve made progress every week. I think a lot of the players didn’t know what high school football really meant, especially here. We kind of have a college approach, where you’re watching film and getting critiqued on every little aspect of your game. At first there was a shock with the guys coming in,” said Bennett.
2019 started with a 3-0 win over Haddam-Killingworth, thanks to a field goal from kicker/punter Matt Pepe, who also played safety and wide receiver.
The season-opening win came at a cost as starting quarterback Cam Latronica when down with an injury on the first series, forcing freshman Cole Brisson behind center.
“I said to him before the first game ‘be ready because you never know when we’ll have to go to you’ and then the second play of the game he had to go in there,” recalled Bennett, who made the decision to stick with Brisson, “He’s stood in there and has taken some hits, we’ve got a young line. He’s grown every week, he’s made some checks in games, it’s all stuff that we love to see out of our young quarterback.”
Brisson assumed the vacated spot held by three-year starter Bryce Karstetter, who guided the Panthers to 28 wins and two playoff appearances during his time at CHS.
“Every time we play a team, we watch last year’s film and he’s able to watch Bryce. It’s like big brother-little brother. He knows the shoes he’s trying to fill but he doesn’t shy away from that at all. He’s got some traits that are similar to Bryce, like scrambling and finding guys. He’s grown a lot this year and I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Brisson was far from the only freshman that saw action this season. Out of necessity, Bennett had to start several other freshmen, including (S/WR) Ben Fagan, (CB/WR) Henry Cela, (CB) David Weston, (OL) Luke Tatro, Mr. Everything Ryan Rozich, and others.
“I know they want to be good. I know they’re trying hard but they’re just too young,” said Bennett, “Every week we’ve tried to get a little better.”
Cromwell’s strength was at linebacker where sophomores Owen Brunk and Teddy Williams solidified the second level of the defense.
“They’re best friends. They know every call. Owen has been able to make plays on the ball. He had an interception and a forced fumble against H-K and has been solid all year. He’s already thinking about his offseason and coming back stronger next year. He’s the real deal.”
Helping Bennett mentor the younger players were senior captains Justin Stergos, Marc Dufresne, and Harry Deane. The trio bestowed the knowledge they obtained from three years of conference-winning football to the next generation.
“I knew it was coming. I knew we were going to be a younger team this year,” said Stergos, who played running back and linebacker, “This year I’ve tried to take the young guys under my wing and show them the proper steps that they can use in the future.”
Dufresne, who anchored the offensive line at center, was impressed with the learning curve of the younger guys, “The growth has honestly been more than I thought. It surprised me, we have a freshman left guard, we have a sophomore right guard, we have a very young offensive line and they’ve done a great job holding themselves up against these bigger defensive lines. They’ve done a really good job at picking it up and picking it up fast. They have a bright future ahead of them.”
Deane didn’t get a lot of playing time a season ago but dedicated himself with the offseason program and started at defensive end for a unit that has held up well for most of the season, “Having a freshman quarterback, we have to help the offensive as much as possible. We don’t want to put them in a hole.”
Bennett credited his seniors for staying positive.
“We’ve said to them all year you don’t have anything to hang your head about. You’ve won your league three years in a row. There are a lot of teams with seniors who aren’t graduating with three Pequot championships and two playoff appearances. It’s not ending the way that they want it to, but they’ve been part of the growth.”
Thanksgiving-eve’s victory over the Terriers allowed the seniors to exit with a win and showed what program is capable of doing in the coming years.
Brisson had his most productive game of the season, tossing three touchdowns---one each to Fagan, Rozich, and Williams---and the defense made key stops in the fourth quarter.
It’s a victory that Pepe knew would be important prior to the game, “This game means a lot. It sets the tone for next year to let teams know that we want to be all business and let them know that next year will be a completely different season.”
Pepe and Latronica will head a solid senior class coming back next fall, which includes Ethan Wilson, Hasani Yearwood, Brandon Lockwood, and Marc Treglia.
Bennett is also excited about the talent that is coming up from the youth programs.
“We’re shaping up to be in a nice position moving forward. It’s just about us being patient. We have to teach them everything we can this year, we can’t worry about the score, we just have to keep teaching.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin