Tuesday, September 16, 2008


A week is in the books for HS sports so here are some observations from what I've seen and heard.

On the football front, New Britain isn't getting much respect from around the state based on its past performance but this year's team is deep in talent. How it maifests itself remains to be seen but coach Paul Morrell has size, speed, experience in key spots and an embarassing wealth of offensive talent.

The five-point margin of victory against Conard doesn't truly tell the story. When the chips were down, the 'Canes took command and held a 24-13 lead late in the game that looked like it would stand. A blocked punt led to Conard's late score, and the Chieftains could have put themselves in a position for a dramatic comeback win if the ensuing onside kick had bounced their way.

The 'Canes went to the air early, exploiting the depth and talent they possess in their wide receiving corps.

It's easy to look at the name "Tebucky Jones Jr." and surmise that any son of the former NBHS, Syracuse and New England Patriots star would have to be the second coming. But Jones the Junior should be respected in his own right. He's explosive, elusive and has that intangible quality that the great athletes have. He had the wherewithal to snag what proved to be the winning touchdown pass as he lay flat on his back in the end zone. He was also effective on the end sweep.

QB Rafal Garcarz, a junior now in his third year as a varsity starter (freshman starter at St. Paul), has other go-to guys on the outside. Tarik Hightower and Markeith Cirenna were effective against Conard. Speedsters Selwyn Cartie and Chris Linares, presently concentrating on their defensive assignments as cover corners, can be used in Morrell's spread when he chooses to leave an empty backfield.

I have seen two volleyball matches thus far and came away impressed with both Berlin and Southington.

Berlin whipped a talented, well-coached Avon team three straight on the road in a brand, new gymnasium. Outside hitter Katelyn Zarotney, Herald athlete of the week, may be the top female athlete in the area this season. As it is with Tebucky Jr., she has that Larry Bird quality of savoir-faire (that's roughly translated as 'know how' but it sounds so elegant in French). She can hit them hard, but she has a knack for hitting 'em where they ain't.

But Berlin also has a deep, experienced group with Sarah Byrnes, Lindsay Roeder, setter Erica Bukowski and Krystie Luczynski. Byrnes has the benefit of playing with the Berlin basketball team that made a dramatic run in the postseason last year. She knows how to win.

Defensive specialists Carina D’Amato and Francesca Pedemonti are relative newcomers to varsity play who are learning quickly from their veteran teammates.

Southington exhibited a well-balanced attack force in ending nine years of frustration against Bristol Eastern.

The Eastern defense could not focus on any one SHS hitter because spikes were coming from nearly every place on the floor. Lexie Broytman, a 6-1 junior, led the way but Katie Byrnes, Liz Nichols, Lauren Bauchiero and Elyse St. Amand all smashed away at the Lancers' defense.

The Lancers had won 15 straight matches against Southington, several which SHS coach Rich Heitz recalls like they happened yesterday, but the Blue Knights weren't riding any waves of emotion. With setter Rachel Volpe guiding the way, they methodically turned back an Eastern squad that had been to the Class L finals three consecutive years and walked away with two titles.

But the pendulum swings at most smaller public schools when it comes to prolonged success and Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira has to bring together an inexperienced group if the Lancers are to retain their lofty spot in CT volleyball circles this season.

See you at the game.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The match between Farmington and Glastonbury featured perhaps the most crisp high school soccer I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the big crowd that rolled into Tunxis Mead and parked it at Al Bell Field did not get to see it come to a conclusion.

With 12:35 remaining in a 1-1 battle, a power surge put out half the lights that so brilliantly illuminate one of the best soccer fields in the state. The lights gradually came back, but with the 8 p.m. start, the hour at 10 and the scoreboard out of commission, the contest was suspended until today at 5:30.

Nevertheless, the play exhibited the kind of electricity that no surge could extinguish.

Farmington scored first on a little free-kick trickery when Alex Ayer leaped over the ball and Spencer Noon hit it perfectly from 25 yards out to beat Adam LaPlaca, surely among the state's best goalkeepers, to the left corner.

Glastonbury countered with just 10 seconds remaining in the first half. When I tell you Glastonbury forward Giuseppe Panajia is fast, that four-letter word doesn't convey the picture. He gets his feet moving so quickly that it resembles the circular buzzsaw that the roadrunner displays on that famous old cartoon when Wile E. Coyote gets a little too close.

Panajia, who scored the tying goal on a through-ball from Trevor Constantine, mixed a heap of determination into his runs as the top-ranked Tomahawks tried to draw even over the chorus of "Over-rated" from FHS students. I admire the kids' school spirit but I wouldn't say Glastonbury is overrated.

Panajia, by the way, was the lad who ended Farmington's tournament run prematurely last year when he scored in the second overtime to give his side a 1-0 win at the Mead.

Nor would I say Farmington is. The Indians are ranked fifth, and they were very impressive, too. With Noon's talents very well-documented in The Herald, among others who caught my eye were Ayer, sophomore Kevin Michalak and active goalkeeper Josh Kulak. I thought Farmington coach Steve Waters had his boys in midseason form.

Getting back to the power problem, it was disturbing that the teams had to go through this suspension. The Glastonbury people voiced their irritation with the facility, which was probably stated out of big-game tension. I also heard a game administrator mention that the lights had not been tested prior to the game.

The lights came on during the girls game, which started at about 6 p.m. they had been on for about two hours when the scene dimmed. Perhaps if they were tested beforehand the problem could have been avoided. With well over 1,000 in attendance, it was a "brown-eye" that the town didn't need.

But kilowatts aside, it was a marvelous match to begin Farmington's transition into the more competitive world of the Central Connecticut Conference. And while Waters' Indians may not run off their usual 16-2 or 17-1 this year, they will certainly be more prepared for the rigorous Class LL tournament, the only level at which Waters hasn't won in his illustrious quarter-century guiding the team.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


With the Eastern League season over and the Rock Cats tucked in for the offseason, I've swung back to high school sports coverage.

The first hurdle is the largest -- previews.

When done correctly, previews make a lot of readers happy and serve as a great reference for me for the course of the season and even into the next season. Doing previews gives me a great chance to talk to coaches. Some of them are hard to reach because they're so busy so I usually end up spending a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring.

That's why they're no fun. As soon as you step out, the phone starts to ring. But our coaches are generally great folks who dedicate so much time toward the development of our student-athletes with very little financial gain.

In recent years, I've previewed boys and girls soccer along with a couple of football teams. In football, I've talked extensively with Southington coach Bill Mella and New Britain's Paul Morrell. Both guys are terrific people with nothing but the best interests in mind for their athletes. Both have a chance for tremendous seasons.

Southington has a chance to strike a blow for much-maligned CT HS football when the Blue Knights travel to Giants Stadium to take on Bergen Catholic. Mella tells me that Bergen draws students to the school from all over the country. Aficionados of national HS football know that Bergen ranks right up there with the best. The Knights have their hands full. It's a very ambitious challenge.

New Britain has a massive front line, an experienced quarterback and plenty of speed, including Tebucky Jones Jr. Morrell has also secured a grant under the Play It Smart program to help address his players' academic issues. Keeping his kids on the field by educating them about the importance of studying and earning good grades is vital to New Britain's success. Last year, grades came out before the big game against Southington and the Hurricanes were just a shell of what they could have been. Hurricane super-booster Craig Johnson is on the job, aiding the players with their studies.

On the soccer scene, excitement reigns.

There are so many fabulous female soccer stars in the area: Blair Ferry of Berlin; Jewel Robinson and Bonnie Boornazian of Farmington; Annie Freer, Alexis Braziel and Shauna Edwards of Southington; Heather Lyhne and young Alex DeCaro of Wethersfield. All of those teams are capable of making deep tournament runs.

On the boys side, kudos to Farmington coach Steve Waters, who will be honoring local soccer legends at his home games. More to come on that. The Indians move to the CCC and their schedule is very difficult. Imagine, starting with Glastonbury and Simsbury.

Look for major improvement at Plainville. Tim Brown is in his second year there and he has the program on solid ground. The Blue Devils have a chance to leave years of struggle behind them and should make the tournament this year.

Wethersfield coach Rob Jachym has some rebuilding to do but he's got some talented players in the middle of the field. His team is already iimproving in leaps and bounds as the preseason plays out.

Other sports will be interesting, too. Volleyball, field hockey, swimming, cross country. Get out there and see some games. These kids deserve your support.