ROCKY HILL - by Josh Howard
Another successful high school sports year has come and gone. The Newington boys volleyball team produced the only local championship, but nearly all of the teams competed at a high level from start of fall until the end of spring. Here’s a look at the standout performers that made the second annual Rare Reminder Area Athletes of the Year.
Boys Cross Country: Jared Darius (Cromwell). Darius averaged under six minutes per mile and was part of the pride of Panthers that finished sixth at the Class SS finals. The avid runner also showcased his athleticism and endurance during the indoor and outdoor track seasons. The graduating senior was also president of the National Honor Society, proving he can run cross country and run a small country.
Girls Cross Country: Nicole ‘Nikki’ Bitinaitis (Cromwell). Bitinaitis blew away the field as a sophomore, finishing sixth overall at the Class SS finals. The accomplishment qualified her for the state open where she improved her performance against the best in the state, running three seconds faster per mile. The underclasswoman was also a key reserve on the Panthers basketball team that advanced all the way to the state championship game.
Field Hockey: Karlene Welles (Newington). Welles became a goal-scoring machine for an Indians team that finished with a winning record. The productive forward, who was selected All-CCC (Central Connecticut Conference), was instrumental in helping the team win a qualifying round game to make the Class L tournament. The sophomore works just as hard in the classroom as she does on the field, making the honor roll in her first two years at Newington.
Football: Matt Sanzaro (Wethersfield).You may want to invest in a lighter rock if you don’t know his name. Sanzaro filled the Wethersfield skies with footballs to the tune of 2281 yards and 32 touchdowns this fall. The multipurpose signal caller also ran for nearly 300 more yards and six additional scores, leading the Eagles to an undefeated regular season and a playoff berth. He’ll be trading in his Eagle talons for Owl talons after committing to play at Southern Connecticut State University.
Boys Soccer: Ryan Murphy (Cromwell). Murphy received the same honor following last year’s incredible tournament, which culminated with a state championship. The senior goalie nearly duplicated that feat this season, protecting the net for the Panthers during their 12-win regular season (eight scoreless games) and two tournament wins. He allowed only three total goals in three tourney games, which included a shutout of conference-nemesis Valley Regional in the quarterfinal round.
Girls Soccer: Alex Carreira (Rocky Hill). Carreira was a do-it-all midfielder for a Rocky Hill team that won ten regular season games and advanced to the quarterfinals with two tournament victories. She was named All-CCC and All-State by the Connecticut Girls Soccer Coaches Association. Not only was the senior on-a-roll out on the pitch, but she was also honor roll in the classroom.
Girls Diving: Caroline Logozzo (Wethersfield). Logozzo has improved her performances every year and finished third as the Class M finals, which allowed her to compete against the state’s best divers at the open finals. Her achievements were rewarded with an All-CCC selection. The junior is also part of the consistently successful Wethersfield gymnastics team, proving she’s just as acrobatic out of the water.
Girls Swimming: Caroline Even (Wethersfield). Even has become a regular on this list, having received the honor as a junior last year. Her high school career culminated with a state title in 100-yard butterfly and a third-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle. She was also part of two relay teams that finished third and fourth, helping the Eagles finish as the runners-up at the Class M finals. There’s no chance that the senior will be on next year’s list, because she’s was a high honors student for all four years.
Girls Volleyball: Araya Lessard (Cromwell). Lessard is Cromwell’s queen of the court, excelling at both volleyball and basketball. The junior led the Panthers in kills with 204 (three per set) and blocks 89. She also finished second on the team with 34 aces, earning her first-team All-Shoreline. If there’s a net, Lessard is your bet.
Boys Basketball: Jared Simmons (Newington). Simmons became the instant court general for Newington as a freshman last season and took it to the next level this season. The sensational sophomore averaged 19.7 points per game and finished with a school record 130 assist (six per game), helping lead the Indians to a 17-3 regular season record and a victory in the first round of the Class LL tournament. The Connecticut High School Coaches Association awarded the prolific point guard with a first-team All-State selection.
Girls Basketball: Nicole Rojas (Cromwell). Rojas was the ultimate team player and did a little of everything for the Panthers. She finished her senior season averaging 8.9 points, 4.6 assist, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 steal per game--while helping lead the team to 21 wins and a spot in the Class M championship game. She was named All-Shoreline first-team and will be taking her court vision to Stonehill College in Massachusetts.
Gymnastics: Hailey Olesen (Wethersfield). Olesen flourished in all phases of gymnastics this season. She scored team-highs in all four events for a Wethersfield squad that finished fourth overall at the Class S finals. Her 9.0 score on the uneven bars was fourth best at the event. The junior improved her score (9.25) at the open gymnastics, where she ranked as the 14th best overall gymnast in the state. All of her efforts were awarded with an All-CCC selection.
Ice Hockey: Marco DiPaola/Luca DiPaola (Newington/Berlin/Manchester).We don’t believe in co-athletes of the year at the Rare Reminder, but we’ll make an exception in this case. The DiPaola brothers accounted for nearly half of the team’s scoring production last season, helping the Iced-Indians win 15 games, including a tournament game. Marco, a senior, led the team in goals and was second in assists. Luca, a junior, led the team in assists and was second in goals. Both made All-CCC and proved that two DiPaolas are always better than one.
Boys Indoor Track: Elijah Young (Wethersfield). There’s fast and then there’s Elijah Young. Young finished second in the 300-meter, third in the 55-meter, and he was a leg on the 4x200 relay team that placed second at the Class L finals. He followed up those feats by placing top-five in all three events at the open finals, which featured the fastest athletes in the state. The junior doesn’t have to be indoors to display his rare speed; he’s also as fast as a golden eagle on the outdoor track and the football field.
Girls Indoor Track: Wilmarie Rodriguez (Newington). Rodriguez is the jack-of-all-trades on the track and in the field. She placed in the top-20 in the 300-meter and also competes in relays, hurdles, jumps, and javelin. The senior closed her high school track career with an exclamation point, breaking the school record in the triple jump during outdoor track season.
Boys Diving: Max Walter (Wethersfield). Walter was the area’s best diver, finishing 14th at the Class L finals. He loves both the sea and the land, also running cross country for the Eagles. When the senior wasn’t diving or running, he’s studying hard to etch his name on the honor roll.
Boys Swimming: Christopher Piccione (Wethersfield). There was very little that Piccione didn’t accomplish in his high school career. He ended his illustrious four-year run by winning the state championship in the 100-butterfly and placing second in the 50-freestyle. The senior was also part of the 200-freestyle relay team that took home a fourth-place medal. All these accomplishments earned him All-CCC honors for a third-straight year.
Wrestling: Brendan Zotti (Newington). The name Zotti has become synonymous with Newington wrestling and Brendan did the family name proud this season. The senior won 32 of 33 regular season matches and finished fourth at the Class L finals and fifth at states. His wrestling background made him a sure tackler on the gridiron and his brawn combined with his brains made him one of two students selected as the 2015 Scholar Athletes at Newington High School.
Cheerleading: Cromwell Cheer. Cheerleading is the ultimate team sport, so we recognized the best unit from the year. The Panthers finished fifth at the Class S finals thanks to seniors Kristilyn Carta, Claudiana Germain, Charissa Jankowski, Mikayla Krukiel, Ariana Leavy, Melissa Manente, and Shiloh Solomon.
Dance: Wethersfield Dance Team. Like cheerleading, it takes a cohesive unit to compete at the highest level. The dancing Eagles finished second in Pom Division and third in large Jazz Division thanks to seniors Haley Bresnahan, Gina Cornelio, Abigail Huntington and Alexandra Paulakos.
Baseball: Cory Baldwin (Cromwell). Baldwin took his game to a new level as a senior. He led the Panthers in hits, runs and RBIs, helping Cromwell win 14 of 20 regular season games. The infielder was just as impressive in the field, earning him first-team All-Shoreline Conference.
Boys Golf: Jake Hedberg (Newington). Hedberg is best known for slinging touchdown passes on Friday nights, but he was equally impressive hitting a golf ball down the fairway. The senior was a medalist or tied atop the leaderboard in eight of the Indian’s matches this season. He closed his season by shooting a 77 at Division-I finals, which helped him earn an All-CCC selection.
Girls Golf: Tracy Lacson (Newington). Lacson is the only freshman selected to the list this season. She earned All-CCC honors after being the medalist in three of Newington’s matches this season. She’s one of a handful of underclasswomen that will make Newington golf a force to reckon with over the next couple of seasons.
Boys Lacrosse: Jared Anderson (Rocky Hill). Years from now when Rocky Hill is atop the lacrosse world, people will look back and see that Anderson laid the foundation. The senior attacker capped his high school career by scoring 98 goals, nearly five per game, while leading the Terriers to their first ever playoff victory.
Girls Lacrosse: Madison ‘Maddie’ Nastri (Rocky Hill). Nastri seems to play every sport at a high level. She’s a three-sport star at Rocky Hill and earned All-CCC selection for her play on the lacrosse field. The junior displayed the same tenacity that she has shown on the basketball count and the soccer field, helping lead the girl’s lacrosse team to their first post-season berth in school history. She’s been just as determined in the classroom, perennially earning high honors.
Softball: Olivia Burgos (Newington). Burgos was a flamethrower from the mound and one of the team’s best hitters from the plate. She won 90 percent of her starts, helping Newington reach the second round of the Class LL tournament. The Connecticut High School Coaches Association selected the senior as first-team All-State for the second consecutive year.
Boys Outdoor Track: Richard Williams (Wethersfield). Several Eagles could have been named to this spot, but Williams stole the show at the Class L finals by winning the state title in the javelin. The junior followed it up with a second-place showing at the state open. He doubles as a fierce hitter and versatile running back on the football field.
Girls Outdoor Track: Alexis Gwynn (Wethersfield). Gwynn joined the growing list of lighting quick Wethersfield athletes, finishing fourth in both the 100-meter dash and as a leg on the school’s 4x100 relay team. Her athleticism transfers to the hardwood, where the junior wears #24 and has become the Eagles version of Tamika Catchings.
Boys Tennis: Ron Abraham (Newington). Abraham finished the regular season undefeated (18-0) and advanced to the Class L quarterfinals with three more tourney victories. The great news for Newington is that one of the top rated players in the state will be back serving aces as a senior in 2016.
Girls Tennis: Kristiana ‘Ana’ Engelhardt (Rocky Hill). Engelhardt earned All-CCC recognition for the third time in four seasons. She advanced to the second round of the open finals, before falling to the seventh rated player in the state. Not only was she a regular on the all-conference list, but she was also a regular on the honor roll.
Boys Volleyball: Nick Hinchcliffe (Newington).Hinchcliffe is the prototypical volleyball player that delivered big results in his senior season. He helped Newington win a title for a second consecutive season, leading the team with 437 kills (five per set) and 56 aces. He ended the season with his most dominant performance, tallying 37 kills before being named the tournament’s most valuable player.