Boston High School: Norwich Free Academy

New England Roundup: Connecticut

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
3:28
PM ET
The Fairfield Prep ice hockey team has had some impressive starts in Matt Sather's 14 seasons as the program's head coach, but nothing that can match what the Jesuits have accomplished at the start of the current season.

ConnecticutFairfield Prep improved its record to 11-0-0 and remained the only unbeaten team in the state when it beat New Jersey power Don Bosco Prep, 4-2, Thursday at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport. Don Bosco entered the game as the No. 2-ranked team in New Jersey.

It was a 2-2 game after two periods, but Fairfield Prep senior forward Tim Edmonds scored the go-ahead goal at 4:28 of the third. The Jesuits doubled their lead on a Kenny Kochiss goal.

Fairfield Prep held Don Bosco to three shots on goal in the final period.

“This is a huge win for us,” Edmonds told MSG Varsity after the game. “Don Bosco's a great team. We were able to come out flying, and now we've got our confidence boosted. Coach [Sather] said this is a landmark day for us. I think we proved we can beat anyone we play if we play our game.”

Juniors Matt McKinney and Matt Wickman also scored for Fairfield Prep, which received 15 saves from Matt Beck.

Don Bosco (10-5-0) was playing without Robby Marsanico and Dylan Healy, two top-line forwards who were injured. Marsanico and Healy had 49 points in Don Bosco's first 14 games.

“I think they're a little better than that offensively,” Sather said. “But that's as fast a team as we've played all year. And I thought they were more physical than anyone we played this year. That was the most physical game we've played in, and I was pretty happy with the way our guys stood up to that.

BACON SELECTS LARKA
Twenty Connecticut high schools entered last week looking for a varsity football coach. That number was reduced by one Friday, when Bacon Academy hired Erik Larka.

Larka, a 35-year-old West Haven resident, was one of seven applicants brought back for a second interview. He spent four years as the freshman head coach and a varsity assistant at Law High School – his alma mater – but then left the coaching world until last season, when he was an assistant coach at Western Connecticut State.

Bacon had to find a head coach last summer, after Duane Maranda left to become the head coach at New London. The school selected Brian Enrique – an assistant under Maranda – but reopened the position after Enrique guided the Bobcats to a 2-8 record last season.

FOOTBALL MAY HAVE NEW HOME
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference is exploring the possibility of moving the state's championship football games from the University of Connecticut's Rentschler Field, which has hosted the title games for the last four years.

Poor attendance and below-expected revenue were the reasons cited for the possible move.

Rentschler Field can seat 40,000, but the largest crowd for the four championship games last year was the 4,576 that watched the Class LL championship game between Xavier and Norwich Free Academy on a Friday night. The following day a combined 5,189 showed up for the Class S, Class M and Class L championship games.

Central Connecticut State's Arute Field is reportedly being considered as a possibility for this year's title games. Arute Field has a seating capacity of 5,800 and has a turf playing surface. Rentschler Field has a natural grass surface.

CIAC PENALIZES HARDING
The CIAC fined Harding High School $500 and forced the school's boys basketball team to forfeit two games for using an academically ineligible player.

The player participated in five games, but Harding lost three of those five contests. The team forfeited victories over New Canaan and Fairfield Warde.

NOTEWORTHY
East Lyme senior Allison Stoddard collected the 1,000th point of her high school career during a 55-16 victory over Killingly on Jan. 19. … Capital Prep remained No. 1 in the Hartford Courant's girls' basketball rankings despite a 66-64 loss to Bishop Ford – one of the top teams in New York City – last week. Sophomore forward Kiah Gillespie scored 26 points for Capital Prep in the loss. … Junior Tyshon Rogers, a 6-foot-3 forward on the Crosby boys' basketball team, scored 64 points in victories over Wolcott and Seymour last week. Rogers entered the week as the state's leading scorer (30.5 ppg.).

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and has been covering high school sports throughout New England since 1992.

New England Roundup: Connecticut

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
5:44
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When the game was over, Notre Dame High School boys' basketball coach Gary Palladino had earned another victory – and it was a memorable one.

ConnecticutLast Friday's 66-60 triumph over Berlin was Palladino's 400th win as Notre Dame's head coach.

Berlin erased a 16-point halftime deficit and tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame made 12 of its 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. The victory improved Palladino's record at Notre Dame to 400-294.

“This isn’t really about me,” Palladino said. “You don’t get to 400 wins at one school without great support from our administration, tremendous assistant coaches, and talented players who work hard and sacrifice for the betterment of our team and program. I have been blessed here at Notre Dame and share this honor with all those that came through the program.”

Earlier this year Palladino announced that this would be his final season as the Green Knights head coach.

Palladino began his career at Notre Dame in 1982. He has guided the Green Knights to 21 winning seasons, and 24 of his teams have qualified for the CIAC state tournament

Palladino has 524 career wins during his high school coaching career, which includes stops at East Hartford High School (7-13) and St. Paul's High School (55-18). He was also 62-69 at the head coach at the University of Hartford.

STAR GAZING
The inaugural Hall of Fame Classic, a high school football all-star game featuring players from Connecticut, will be played June 29, at Rentschler Field (4:30 p.m.).

The game replaces the Governor's Cup – an all-star game between Connecticut and Rhode Island – and the all-star game between Fairfield and New Haven counties. Connecticut won 11 of the 14 meetings with Rhode Island in the Governor's Cup.

The coaches and players for each team will be announced Saturday at the Walter Camp Breakfast of Champions in East Haven.

ONE-TWO PUNCH
An unbeaten record entering Saturday's contest against Fairfield Prep masked the fact that the Notre Dame boys' hockey team hadn't played well in the first period this season, and it was a slow start that cost the Green Knights in a 3-1 loss to the Jesuits.

Fairfield Prep scored three first-period goals and received 33 saves from Mike Beck in a matchup that featured the top two teams in the Hartford Courant's state rankings.

Matt Wikman, Connor Henry and Dean Lockery scored for Fairfield Prep. Darren Capobianco scored Notre Dame's goal at 12:38 of the second period.

“Today we didn't get off the bus,” Notre Dame coach Bill Gerosa told the New Haven Register. “Actually, it was the eighth game this season we didn't get off the bus in the first period. We've played well in our second and third periods, but we keep struggling in the first.”

Fairfield Prep improved its record to 7-0 and was elevated to No. 1 following the victory. Notre Dame, last year's Division I champion, fell to 7-1 and slipped to No. 2.

The teams will meet again on Feb. 16.

HOOP NOTES
Highlighting some top recent performances in boys and girls basketball:

" Weaver's Alyssa Stewart scored 24 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a 53-31 victory over Wethersfield.

" Simsbury's E.J. Crawford scored 18 points in a 60-51 victory over Newington, and then poured in 20 – including the game-winning shot with six seconds to play – in a 70-69 triumph over Hall.

" Cromwell's Alexa Riley tossed in a game-high 15 points in a 53-50 triumph over Bacon Academy that ended Bacon Academy's 43-game home winning streak.

"Southington's Stephanie O'Keefe scored all of her 15 points on 3-pointers during a 48-41 victory overtime victory against Northwest Catholic.

"Tolland's Taylor Fortin averaged 37.5 points in victories over RHAM and Rockville.

GIRL POWER
Norwich Free Academy's Elisa Formiglio became the first female to play in a Connecticut football state championship game when Xavier defeated NFA 48-14 to win the Class LL championship last month.

Formiglio, a senior who didn't play football until last season, made both of her point-after kicks in the loss. She made 61 of 71 PAT attempts during the season. She also made one of her three field goal attempts – a 24-yard kick – and completed the season as her team's No. 3 scorer.

CONNECTICUT'S FROZEN FOUR
The inaugural Pioneer Valley Girls Winter Classic – the state's first outdoor girls hockey tournament -- was held Jan. 1 at the Simsbury Farms open-air rink.

The event featured four teams: Simsbury, Hall-Conard, Springfield (Mass.) Cathedral and East Catholic-Glastonbury-South Windsor. Simsbury defeated Hall-Conard 3-2 in the title game, and Springfield Cathedral won the consolation game.

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader, and has been covering high school sports throughout New England since 1992.

New England Runners of the Year announced

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
5:27
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The Gatorade state girls' cross country Runners of the Year award were announced on Thursday.

Here are the winners from across the region:

CONNECTICUT: BRIANNA LENEHAN, SR., NORWICH FREE ACADEMY
The 5-foot-2 senior raced to the State Open championship this past season with a time of 19:09. Lenehan also won the Class LL state title in 18:51 and took first at the Eastern Connecticut Conference Championships. She earned a ninth–place finish at the New England Cross Country Championships.

Lenehan has maintained a 3.91 GPA in the classroom. Also a nationally-ranked Irish step dancer, she has volunteered locally on behalf of both youth running events and toy drives for underprivileged children.

“Brianna was phenomenal this year,” said Norwich Free Academy head coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola. “She was very focused on what she had to do to be successful and she put in so much hard work, not just in season, but all summer.”

Lenehan will attend Columbia University this fall, where she will compete in cross country and track and field.

MAINE: BETHANY BROWN, SR., WATERVILLE
The state’s reigning Gatorade Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, Brown raced to the Class B individual state championship this past season with a time of 17:56.32, leading the Purple Panthers to sixth place as a team. Also the Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year as named by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel, the 5-foot-4 senior captured seventh place at the New England Cross Country Championships in 19:18.60 and finished 11th at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional championships in 18:42.3, clocking the state’s fastest time at both events.

Also an aspiring poet, Brown has maintained a 4.27 weighted GPA in the classroom and ranks No. 1 in her graduating class. She has received her school’s Renaissance Award, given to students who excel in academics, service and character on behalf of the national Renaissance Program. A Student Ambassador for incoming transfer pupils, Brown has also donated her time promoting science studies in local fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

“Bethanie distinguishes herself from her competition through her exceptional focus,” said Waterville head coach Rob Stanton. “She sets very high goals and works relentlessly to achieve them.”

Brown has verbally committed to an athletic scholarship at the University of Connecticut beginning this fall.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: ELIZABETH CONWAY, SR., CENTRAL
The 5-foot-7 senior raced to the Division 1 individual championship this past season with a time of 18:45, leading the Little Green to fifth place as a team. Also the two-time Runner of the Year as named by both the New Hampshire Cross Country Coaches Association and Union Leader, Conway recorded a second straight runner-up finish at the Meet of Champions in 18:32.9, placed fourth at the New England Championships in 19:09.01 and finished 13th at the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional championships in 19:06.70.

Also an accomplished violinist and skier, Conway has maintained an A average in the classroom and ranks No. 1 in her graduating class. A member of the World Language, Tri-M Music and National Honor societies, she has performed ballet in a local production of The Nutcracker and served as managing editor of her school newspaper. Also an active member of her church community, she has volunteered on behalf of the Special Olympics.

“She’s phenomenal,” said Larry Martin, head of the New Hampshire Cross Country Coaches Association. “Distance running requires an extraordinary amount of focus, so the most amazing thing about her is that she did it while she’s No. 1 in her class, an All-State violinist, the lead in the Nutcracker at the Palace Theater and the editor of her school newspaper. Everything she does, she’s No. 1.”

Conway remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.

RHODE ISLAND: EMMA McMILLAN, SOPH., BARRINGTON
The 5-foot-8 freshman raced to the All-State Meet individual championship this past season with a time of 18:22.99, leading the Eagles to the state title as a team. A First Team All-State selection as named by the Providence Journal and Rhode Island Track Coaches Association, McMillan also led Barrington to the team championship at the Class A state meet, breaking the tape in 18:35.33. McMillan placed third at the New England Cross Country Championships in 19:07.13 and took seventh at the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional championships in 18:43.6. She finished 11-0 during the regular season.

Also an accomplished swimmer, McMillan has maintained a 4.00 GPA in the classroom. A member of her school’s choral ensemble, she has donated her time on behalf of her church and as a youth swimming instructor.

“Emma’s trajectory as a cross country runner has been unparalleled among her peers in Rhode Island,” said Barrington head coach Annmarie Marino. “This past season, she was our No. 1 runner, leading her team to an undefeated season. Emma runs for the shear fun of the sport. Her composure as a newcomer to the sport was an example for all to see. Whether covered in mud, sweat, or red in the face from an all-out effort, Emma always wore a smile and offered an encouraging word to her teammates and competitors.”

VERMONT: ELLE PURRIER, SR., RICHFORD
The 5-foot-2 senior raced to her third straight Division 3 individual state championship this past season with a time of 18:38. Vermont’s two-time returning Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Purrier also won the New England Cross Country Championships in 18:42 and the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional championship with a time of 18:09.4 in 2012. She finished 17th nationally at the NXN Final.

Purrier has maintained a 3.92 GPA in the classroom. She has volunteered locally on behalf of food drives for the hungry, youth sports programs and blood-donation drives.

“Elle’s ability to stay focused is exceptional,” said Richford head coach Andrew Hathaway. “She’s achieved a lot in running thus far, but running is a part of the whole that does not dominate her life.”

Purrier remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.

New England Roundup: Connecticut

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
4:55
PM ET
The 50-point rule in Connecticut High School football became a topic of conversation again after Norwich Free Academy defeated Stamford 51-0 last Saturday.

ConnecticutWhen it was adopted in 2006, the rule called for an automatic one-game suspension for any head coach whose team won by 50 points or more, although the suspension could be appealed. The rule has been modified and now states that any victory by at least 50 points is reviewed by a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) panel, which would determine if a suspension is warranted.

NFA suspended its coach, Jemal Davis, for Saturday's game against Bacon Academy before the CIAC made a ruling.

“We strongly support all CIAC efforts to support sportsmanship,” NFA athletic director Gary Makowicki told the Norwich Bulletin. “There's a rule in place, we broke the rule and we're self-imposing the penalty.”

According to newspaper reports, NFA starters remained in the game after the team had a 42-0 lead in the fourth quarter. It was 49-0 with 3:25 to play when NFA blocked a Stamford punt that resulted in a safety that capped the scoring. The victory improved NFA's record to 6-0.

Stamford coach Bryan Hockter called Davis “classless” in postgame interviews.

“Something like that is going to come back to bite you,” Hockter told the Bulletin. “You just can't embarrass a team and I thought he was trying to embarrass us.”

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
Statewide leaders in football:

Passing (completions-attempts-yards-TDs)
Logan Marchi (St. Paul Cathlolic) 124-255-1,867-23; (Brad Westmark (Brookfield) 113-196-1,509-9; (Ackee Barber (New London) 80-152-1,425-19(; Jake Kasuba (Foran) 98-142-1,388-10(; Bryan Castelot (Bunnell) 77-166-1,366-10; (Malik Cummings (Masuk) 53-68-1,293-12; Brandon Basil (North Branford) 69-105-1,282-20(; Jordan Vazzano (St. Joseph) 72-133-1,120-14(; Antwan Byrd (Capital Prep/Classical Magnet) 50-76-1,110-13(; Robert Quinn Fleeting (Windsor) 69-95-1,095-13.

Rushing (attempts-yards-TDs)
Joe Pacheco (New Fairfield) 140-1,468-17; (Joseph Piatnik (Bethel) 172-1,153-14(; Jalon White (North Haven 121-1,142-17; (Colin Moore (Avon) 124-1,089-15(; Derrick Villard (Cromwell) 73-979-12; (Justin Potts (Platt) 111-954-13(; Cameron Tucker (Notre Dame-West Haven) 116-948-9(; Chris Young (Rocky Hill) 51-911-12; (DeAngelo Berry (Xavier) 100-890-20; (Jack Shaban (Barlow) 89-834-12.

Receiving (receptions-yards-TDs)
Justin Schaffer (Weston) 39-639-3; (Chris Caron (North Branford) 25-624-10(; Daija Fitzpatrick (St. Paul Catholic) 40-624-7(; Thomas Milone (Masuk) 21-592-8; (Devante Teel (Bunnell) 28-574-5(; Reid Morin (St. Paul Catholic) 28-549-9; (Nicholas Weissauer (Foran) 43-531-3(; Chris Vankamerik (Oxford) 28-510-6(; L.T. Nembard (Hall) 30-469-4; (Andrew Matos (Ansonia) 16-463-6.

Tackles (total)
Peter Serencsics (Bethel) 87; (Justin Cheverier (Valley Regional/Old Lyme) 83; (Cody Zaro (Trinity Catholic) 83; (Zachary Dombrowski (East Hampton/Vinal RVT) 80; (David Deleo (Trinity Catholic) 79; (Roekwan Holmes (Prince RVT) 77; (Shaq Rowe (Bullard-Havens) 72; (Brad Helmkamp (Simsbury) 71; (Cole Harris (New Canaan) 70(; Thomas Ullman (Granby Memorial) 70.

GOOD SPORTS
The CIAC has nominated 18 athletic programs for the Michael's Achievement Cup, which recognizes outstanding achievement in sportsmanship, participation, athletic scholarship, athletic personnel, equity, chemical-free initiatives and athletic achievement for the 2011-12 school year.

The following programs have were nominated:

Class LL: Fairfield Ludlow, Glastonbury.(Class L: Avon, Darien.(Class MM: Brookfield, Foran, Joel Barlow, Ledyard.(Class M: Haddam-Killingworth, Weston, Woodland.(Class SS: East Hampton, Northwest Catholic, Valley Regional.(Class S: Gilbert, Notre Dame-Fairfield, Wamogo, Westbrook.

One school from each class will be selected as a finalist for the award,which will be announced Nov. 15.

MILESTONE MAN
Farmington boys' soccer coach Steve Waters collected his 450th career victory when Farmington defeated Newington 3-1 last week.

Colin Cheeseman, Josh Moreno and Guido Shutz scored for Farmington in the victory.

Waters has a 450-72-40 record in 30 years as a head coach.

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and has been covering high school sports throughout New England since 1992.

New England Roundup: Connecticut

April, 29, 2012
4/29/12
8:50
PM ET
There are perfect games, and then there are games like the one Stonington's Andrea Chiaradio pitched against Norwich Free Academy on April 21.

ConnecticutChiaradio faced 21 batters in Stonington's 3-0 triumph, and struck out all 21.

"We threw a lot of drop curves and rise balls," Chiaradio told TheDay.com. "I was trying not to think about [a perfect game]. I was just focused on getting the outs."

Chiaradio, a junior, is pitching at the varsity level for the first time this season. She was the starting center fielder for the Bears last season.

The victory improved Chiaradio's record to 3-1 this season. Julie Royer caught the perfect game.

“She seemed like she just had confidence,” Stonington coach Ann-Marie Houle told TheDay.com. “I don't know what the heck was going on in her mind. I'm superstitious, so people were sitting on the same buckets for seven innings.

“She played center field all last year and she never complained. When the coach gives you that moment and you take it … good for her.”

Former Masuk standout Rachele Fico also struck out 21 batters in a game. Fico, a junior on the LSU softball team, set the national record for perfect games during her high school career with 26.

ESPNHS HONORS MONTELLI
ESPNHS selected St. Joseph's Vito Montelli as its National Coach of the Year for the 2011-12 season.

Montelli, 79, has been St. Joseph's head coach for 50 seasons, and is the only coach in the program's history. He led the Cadets to a 25-1 record and the Class LL state championship last season.

Montelli has guided St. Joseph's to 11 state titles and six runner-up finishes. He has an 878-328 career record. No New England high school basketball coach has won more games.

“It's really a humbling honor and I'm thrilled to be selected because [there are] so many deserving coaches out there,” Montelli said. “This is special for our school, our players and our coaching staff.”

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: Connecticut

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
12:07
PM ET
Providence College-bound guard Kris Dunn joined elite company last Friday, when he became the 18th high school player in Connecticut history to score at least 2,000 career points.

ConnecticutDunn's 2,000th point came on a jump shot in the third quarter of New London's 89-54 triumph over Woodstock Academy.

Last month Dunn broke the New London career scoring record during a 71-56 victory over Norwich Free Academy. Tyson Wheeler held the previous record. Wheeler, who scored 1,807 points for New London, played professionally with the Denver Nuggets and in Europe.

“Kris broke the record of one of the all-time greats,” New London coach Craig Parker told The Day. “Any record you break that was held by Tyson Wheeler is quite an accomplishment.”

Dunn, who was recently named a McDonald's All-American, entered the Norwich Free Academy game 31 points shy of Wheeler's school record. He broke the record on a layup early in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 35 points.

FAST TRACK
Precious Holmes was at her best during Saturday's State Open track and field meet.

Holmes set two individual records and ran the anchor leg on the 4x400 relay team that set a meet record to help Hillhouse take first place with 74 points. Windsor was second with 40 points.

Holmes set meet and state records in the 300 (38.56 seconds) and the 600 (1:31.23). She held the previous record in both events.

Holmes also teamed with Johnesse Peterson, Jayvona McDaniel and Sydney Curtis on the 4x400 relay team, which prevailed in 3:57.92.

Staples took first place in the boys meet with 47 points. Hillhouse was second with 34.

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: Connecticut

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
8:56
AM ET
Last Friday night was like most others for Greg Volpe. Settling into bed, the East Haven football coach lay there for some time, his eyes locked on the ceiling and his mind racing from the game that evening.

“But I was thinking about a win,” he said, “instead of the reasons why we lost.”

ConnecticutWeighed down by months of missed tackles, headaches and losses, Volpe sounded like a man not relieved, but satisfied this week. That all the work was paying off. That the plan was starting to bare fruit. That, for his seniors, they could return to school Monday awaiting praise for the first time as high school football players.

With a 42-14 victory over Platt Tech last weekend, the Easties ended the state’s longest active losing streak and fourth-longest all-time, which on the books will number 36 games but featured far more setbacks than a scoreboard can show.

Not since Thanksgiving Day 2006, when it beat rival Branford, had East Haven (1-5) enjoyed a victory. In the time since, it’s endured three winless seasons, plummeting numbers and nearly two coaching changes. Volpe — also the coach of the semi-pro New England Knights and an American Football Hall of Fame member — entered the fray mid-skid, assuming command before last season when a new regime was expected to breathe life into the slumping program.

Instead, East Haven hit what Volpe called the lowest point before his tenure even began. A week before the season-opener against Jonathan Law — and after three promising preseason games — four to five players were disciplined for having alcohol, Volpe said. Unclear of what their punishment would be, Volpe wasn’t told of their suspensions until roughly two hours before kick-off.

“So I had to walk into the locker room and tell the team that,” Volpe said. “There was a lot of shock, a lot of tears. Of course, they were three or four of the better players, and we just stumbled out of the gate and never recovered.”

Until Friday, when, on Law’s campus coincidently, East Haven put together its first turnover-free game of the season and followed its defense, led by Niko Fiorillo, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

All said, the result was expected — by most at least. East Haven enjoyed mismatches in talent and size against Platt Tech (0-6), a member of the Constitution State Conference, whose best teams are regularly blown out in non-league and postseason games.

Only three teams had lost more consecutive games than East Haven, headed by Bassick, which lost 62 straight from 2001-07. Bullard-Havens (1996-2001) and East Catholic (1992-97) each lost 53 straight.

For most of the last decade, East Haven was largely a .500 team or worse, failing to win a game in 2004 and last seriously vying for a playoff berth in 2000. But its lopsided losses were among some of the worst in the state in recent seasons, and the significant drop in numbers (17 to begin this season) was startling.

“The hardest times was seeing (teammates) get down on themselves and stop trying,” Joe Costanzo said. “I don’t mind losing, but it’s the fact when they don’t try as hard as they can. That’s what killed me, that’s what killed a lot of the team.

“It was a bond that the team didn’t have.”

Naturally, interest within the school dropped as quickly as the misplayed hand-offs. The lack of appeal could also be rooted to the offseason, when Volpe waited out a bizarre episode in which he was told by the Board of Education that he wasn’t returning when in fact no official decision had been made.

“That was a nightmare,” said Volpe, who was publicly supported by his team throughout.

“They had no reason at all behind (firing him),” Costanzo said. “And we fought for him, just like Coach Volpe would fight for us.”

Volpe returned, and even after opening the season with too few varsity players to field separate offensive and defensive units, East Haven forged on. The players went into what Volpe called “24-hour recruit mode,” raking the hallways for available athletes. It entered Friday’s game with 45 varsity players on its sideline and 24 in its freshman program.

Those first-year players may be the best example of East Haven’s progress. Turning the freshman team into an “instructional program,” Volpe runs it through skill and fundamental work throughout the week, leaving only the day before a game for working on plays.

The change has worked. The freshmen are 3-2 this season.

“The program has had roadblocks not just on the field but off of it, too,” Volpe said. “And when it’s like that, it got to the point where the kids just expected bad things to happen. That’s where this year has been different.”

It may continue to be. East Haven’s remaining schedule includes Sheehan (1-5), Law (0-5) and Branford (1-5). Hand-Madison (5-1), which has been ranked this season, visits on Nov. 5.

The Tigers will likely see an East Haven team that has never been more confident.

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New England Roundup: Connecticut

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
12:30
PM ET
To those outside the Ansonia football program, the six new faces crouching on its offensive line meant lowered expectations.

For the man running behind them, it meant old times.

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s turned out the same way for the Chargers.

ConnecticutIn a season that could have marked a downturn for one of the state’s perennial state title contenders, Ansonia is rolling toward another league title and playoff berth, thanks in part to its young offensive line and bulked up senior running back Montrell Dobbs.

Some probably didn’t expect them to. The six juniors who make up the Chargers’ line — Matt Hall, Arek Kaszuba, Hakeem Martin, Dylan Vano, Tyler Williams and tight end Jake LaRovera — are all first-time starters. In fact, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Dobbs is the only returning senior starter the Chargers have.

No matter. At 4-0, Ansonia has already trounced defending Naugatuck Valley League champion, Holy Cross, 31-0, and is coming off a 46-6 victory over Wilby in which a banged-up Dobbs didn’t even play.

He still has 787 yards and eight touchdowns this season, carrying the ball a career-high 43 times for 387 yards and five touchdowns three weeks ago against Crosby.

“I’ve played with most of these guys [on the line] since I played Pop Warner,” Dobbs said. “They worked so hard in the offseason, and it’s paying off.”

Yet, that’s the culture around Ansonia, the king of sustained success in Connecticut high school football. The Chargers own 16 state titles (the last coming in 2007), have played for a state championship a record 22 times and have missed the playoffs just once (2005) in the last 13 seasons.

Expectations don’t change. Only the faces do. And the one that didn’t may be the biggest reason why.

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: Connecticut

September, 29, 2010
9/29/10
4:24
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John Acquavita called it The Scholarship Run.

Connecticut“It was absolutely …” the Wilbur Cross football coach started before trailing off about James Ward’s 33-yard misdirection-, broken tackle-filled touchdown run against Shelton on Sept. 17. “The film won’t do it justice.”

Perhaps it’s already growing in lore. Ward may not be too far behind.

In the midst of Ward’s 245-all-purpose-yard performance in Cross’s 32-21 season-opening victory was one of the best plays Acquavita’s ever seen.

Taking a handoff from quarterback Dontay Long, Ward stiff-armed a defender behind the line of scrimmage. Over the course of the next few moments, the running back broke three tackles, Acquavita said (one newspaper account put it at five total) and made “six or seven different directional cuts,” with said newspaper totaling three cutbacks. He finished it with a 20-yard sprint to the end zone that left everyone, Acquavita included, wondering if Ward just did what he or she thought he did.

“I don’t even know how I did it, to be honest with you,” Ward said. “If you see it, it looks impossible.”

It’s been that kind of start to the season for Ward.

Through his first two games, he has done everything but wash the Governors’ (2-0) uniforms. He’s scored nine touchdowns: Four on the ground, three through the air and two on kick returns. Among his accomplishments is an 85-yard scoring run and a 71-yard touchdown return. In a 49-27 victory over Law last weekend, he had more receiving yards (150) than rushing (140). If it wasn’t enough against Shelton, he also made an interception. This week, he’ll lift a car over his head.

With apologies to Ansonia running back Montrell Dobbs (594 rushing yards, eight touchdowns), no player in Connecticut may be playing better than Ward, who at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds is out to prove he belongs with a Division I football team next fall.

“Last year, my mindset was different,” Ward said. “I would basically take what I could get and go down. But as far as this year, I have a lot to prove to myself and coaches, so I’m trying to be the best I can and help my team get to the state championship and play on Rentschler Field (the site of this year’s title games).”

Acquavita doesn’t want to say he’s a genius for seeing this coming — “because I’m not,” he said — but following last season, coach and player formed a plan to put Ward in this position.

Among the steps was keeping on track academically. Ward is taking Advanced Placement and honors classes for the second straight year and has already qualified under NCAA standards, Acquavita said.

The next included getting noticed. Ward attended more than a dozen camps and combines this past year, enough to draw interest, he said, from Villanova, Akron and Temple, among many others.

He also joined an offseason passing league with Team Connecticut, which played teams around the state and region, and featured other state stars such as Masuk quarterback Casey Cochran, Shelton wide receiver Mike Georgalas and Southington wide out Tyler Dube.

“The guy who was running it called me and said, ‘Do you have anyone?’” Acquavita said. “I said, ‘I have a kid who’s a running back. I know it’s a passing league but I’m trying to turn him into an inside receiver. He’s a talented kid.’ ‘We’ll take him.’

“I didn’t really know if the kid could catch the ball. Two or three games into it, the coach who was running it called and said, ‘Not only can he catch, he’s one of the best receivers on the team.’ I went, ‘Huh?’”

Ward also needed to add size. He now squats 455 pounds, benches 235 and, Acquavita believes, has the capability to pack on weight beyond the 10 pounds he’s added since January.

Ward’s goals remain clear: He wants to lead Cross to a state title, which would be first in more than two decades, and reach 2,000 all-purpose yards. A few more Scholarship Runs should help. Acquavita called it the second best play he’s ever seen, trailing only a kick-off return in the 2000 state championship one of his players executed while he coached Hyde Leadership.

“It was just mind-boggling,” Acquavita said of Ward’s run. “And to hear other people on our sideline, administrators and things, talking about it Monday in school, it was good because I needed to have it said to me that it actually happened like that. It was just unbelievable.”

GROVE BACK IN SADDLE
While Montville stamped its place as a state title contender with a 21-19 season-opening win over New London, its coach, Tanner Grove, was alone, devoid of any type of coverage of the game outside of a few texts or phone calls with updates.

If the previous four weeks weren’t difficult enough, this was almost unbearable.

“I spent some time by myself,” Grove said, declining to say where or how he spent those two hours. “Maybe when I retire I’ll tell everyone where I was.”

Grove then flashed a smile, a rarity over the last month he spent exiled from coaches he considers his best friends and the players that are the closest things he has to kids of his own.

Charged Aug. 13 with driving under the influence, Grove spent the days following his arrest in limbo while Montville superintendent Pam Aubin decided his fate. Ultimately suspended through the Indians’ first game, or essentially the first four weeks of the season, Grove spent “the most difficult time of (his) life” reflecting, changing and appreciating what he has. He was back at practice Sept. 20 and was victorious in his return to the sidelines, a 48-14 rout of Killingly on Sept. 24 that vaulted the Indians to No. 9 in the New Haven Register state top 10 poll.

Getting to that point took what probably felt like years.

“For so many years, football has made all the decisions in my private life, in my personal life, so I took the time to really reflect on what is I do every day and the decisions I make off the field,” said Grove, who added that several of the charges stemming from his arrest have been dropped, though he was scheduled to attend an alcohol education course.

“That’s really what it was most days. Toward the end of the suspension, I got a little itchy to get back in the mix.”

Grove, who teaches freshman social studies at Montville, did everything to avoid football during his suspension. He’d see players in the hallways and exchange pleasantries. But, every day, he’d teach his classes and head home, leaving no temptation of lingering and perhaps violating his school-imposed suspension.

When the team returned from its game against New London that Saturday morning, Grove was there, awaiting them at Montville High. On his first day back to work, he finished practice by sprinting against one of his captains, Tyler Girard-Floyd, while the senior finished a drill.

Finally, Grove said, he felt “normal.”

“It’s like everything coming together,” said senior Skyler McNair, who was part of Montville teams that lost to New London four times in the previous three years. “We finally beat New London, we get our head coach back. I think our whole season got a jump start with a win and coach coming back at the same time.”

Now Montville (2-0), a Class SS finalist in 2009, can turn its focus back to pursuing the elusive state title. It plays at Fitch-Groton (2-0) on Friday, expected to be its biggest test before facing Ledyard on Nov. 5.

“My expectations haven’t changed since the day I was hired,” said Grove, who's in his fifth season. “What I want to do here is be a state championship or state playoff perennial power. When people talk about being in the state playoffs every year, I want Montville in that sentence.”

REST FOR THE BETTER?
It’s not as if Chad Johnson has never held members of the Norwich Free Academy boys' cross country team out of races for the purpose of resting them.

“This year,” he said, “I’m just taking it a little more to the extreme.”

In an uncommon but not altogether novel move, Johnson chose to hold his top five runners out of the first two weeks of competition. It left the Wildcats thin at the Windham Invitational and cost them a divisional win against rival East Lyme. But, Johnson hopes, it will keep the likes of Dan Cardin, Vos Hunter and NFA’s other pacesetters fresh for when they run for a state title.

The catch: In the process, it may cost the defending Eastern Connecticut Conference champs a chance to defend that title.

“Last year, we petered out at the end, but our primary goal was to win ECCs,” said Johnson, whose team later finished 14th in Class LL. “I knew I had a team that they were going to be lucky even if they made it to the State Open, and they didn’t make it. And now we got everybody back, and it’s not that we don’t wanna win ECCs but it’s not our primary goal.

“Our primary goal is to finish it the top six in the State Open and make that trip to New Englands. We haven’t been here since the time I started coaching, and we want to get back.”

Johnson has created a buzz in some circles with his decision. The Day of New London ran a column discussing his move, and East Lyme head coach Sam Harfenist told the Norwich Bulletin the move indicated a lack of respect for the Vikings in their dual meet.

“Conversations were had,” he said of his team.

While a risk in some sense, Johnson seems confident it will pay off. His full team ran for the first time Saturday at the Ocean State Invitational, where the Wildcats’ finished 10th as a team in the championship race and fourth among Connecticut schools. Among those was Xavier-Middletown, ranked No. 1 in the state and Amity, ranked No. 4.

“It’s no new big thing,” Johnson said. “Danbury is probably going to be the No. 1 team in the state when the coaches poll comes out (it was No. 2), and they lost on (Sept. 14), too, a one-point loss to Fairfield-Warde. Why? Because they didn’t run their top six.”

HIGH-FIVES:
1. Football Game to Watch: Xavier-Middletown at Cheshire, Friday, 7 p.m.

Need to know: Xavier, the consensus No. 1 team in the state, boasts a defense that’s been scary good. In its 37-0 whipping of Foran last weekend, it held the Lions to 13 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, the punishing hits it left on Notre Dame-West Haven the week prior may still be ringing out in southern Connecticut.

“We take a lot of pride in being a very physical football team,” coach Sean Marinan said Wednesday. “We’ve got pretty good speed on the defensive side of the football … but it’s more about being in the right place. If you do that, you can contain the other team.”

Cheshire, No. 5 in all three major state polls, is the defending Class LL champion and is led by athletic quarterback Max Slade, who’s also a dangerous punt returner.

2. Football Game to Watch No. 2: Windsor at Southington, Friday, 7 p.m.
Need to know: Windsor is hoping to cement itself as the team to beat in the CCC, evidenced by its No. 9 ranking in The Day state coaches poll. Southington, under new coach D.J. Hernandez, is 2-0 as well and would love to boast the same claim.

Both teams love to throw the ball, Windsor behind Alton Smith and Southington behind Connor Butkiewicz.

3. Football Game to Watch No. 3: Staples-Wesport at Ridgefield, Friday, 7 p.m.
Need to know: Meanwhile in the FCIAC, Staples gets it first test of the season against Ridgefield, another team that hasn’t been tested in a dominant 2-0 start. Staples has won this regular-season meeting in four of the last five years, twice giving Ridgefield its only loss of the year (2009, ’05).

4. Old news for New Canaan
Need to know: A year after posting 18 shutouts and outscoring its postseason opponents, 19-1, en route to a state title, the New Canaan girls soccer team has outscored CIAC teams, 14-0, in compiling a 4-0 record entering Wednesday’s game against Fairfield-Warde. The Rams are ranked No. 1 in the Hartford Courant state coaches poll.

5. The high road
Need to know: The E.O. Smith boys soccer team played just one of its first five games at home this season, but it hardly seems bothered. The Panthers are 5-0 and went from being unranked to No. 3 in the state coaches poll this past week. The reward: They play their next four at home in Storrs.

Weekend roundup: Connecticut

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
6:44
PM ET
Don’t feel bad for Notre Dame-West Haven. Branford certainly doesn’t.

Notre Dame bounced back in a big way following last week’s loss to Xavier-Middletown, slamming the Hornets, 52-20, Friday. The Green Knights led, 52-7, in the fourth quarter thanks to touchdowns by Tirell Young-Williams, one through the air and another on a punt return.

Notre Dame -- the No. 3 team in the ESPNBoston.com New England top 10 poll and preseason No. 1 team in the New Haven Register’s state top 10 poll -- plummeted to No. 7 in both rankings following its 22-15, season-opening loss to Xavier. It responded against Branford, which is now 0-2 after having hopes of being one of the SCC’s top teams this season.

In other games:

-- Max Slade threw for a touchdown, rushed for a touchdown and returned a punt for a score to lead Cheshire past Hillhouse, 29-6, on Friday. The Rams will be part of the game to watch Friday when they host Xavier (No. 3 in the ESPNBoston.com New England poll), which scored all its points in the first half in cruising by Foran, 37-0, Friday.

-- No. 6 Masuk-Monroe avenged its loss to Pomperaug in last year’s SWC championship game by thumping the Panthers, 42-0. Junior quarterback Casey Cochran, who has a scholarship offer from Boston College, threw for 292 yards and five touchdowns, and connected with seven different receivers.

-- Quarterback Alton Smith and receiver Aaron Berardino hooked up for three touchdowns in Windsor’s 33-0 rout of New Britain, continuing the Warriors’ emergence as one of the state’s top teams. Windsor largely flew under the radar entering this year despite sneaking into the last spot of The (New London) Day’s first state coaches’ poll. Smith and Berardino, both juniors, are gaining their share of attention now.

-- Southington made former UConn star D.J. Hernandez 2-0 as a high school football coach after rallying past CCC power Glastonbury, 33-14, on Friday. Joe Pesce had three rushing touchdowns.

-- A week after completing just one pass, Norwich Free Academy quarterback Erik Washburn threw for two touchdowns and 205 yards on all of five completions in the Wildcats’ 34-20 victory over Ledyard, easily the upset of the week in Eastern Connecticut. Washburn also rushed for two scores for NFA, one of the state’s largest schools but also one that hasn’t been to the state playoffs since 2002.

-- As for the biggest upset around the state, Wilton surprised defending Class SS champ St. Joseph, 27-14. St. Joseph again played without running back Tyler Matakevich (out indefinitely, foot), but was done in mostly by an array of mistakes and turnovers, two of which led directly to Wilton scores.

-- Jonathan Esposito became Conard High’s all-time leading rusher with 133 yards in a 36-0 victory over Farmington on Saturday. The senior now has 3,024 yards, according to the Hartford Courant.

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