One winter for the ages

Few would dispute this winter was the worst in recent memory for sheer persistent cold alone.

Fortunately, as counterweight, few could dispute this winter was the best in recent recall for sheer performance in local high school arenas.

Meriden’s all-time basketball scoring record was broken by Wilcox Tech senior Roosevelt Shider. Another Meriden product, junior Kiah Gillespie, was named Connecticut’s Gatorade girls basketball player of the year.

Two other players, Cheshire senior Missy Bailey and Maloney junior Tracy Rumley, went over 1,000 points for their career. Two teams, the Cheshire boys and Lyman Hall girls, won or shared division championships.

Three teams with a local connection won state crowns: Gillespie with Capital Prep, sophomore Mustapha Heron of Meriden with Sacred Heart, and head coach Amanda Forcucci, native of Southington, with Lauralton Hall.

And that’s just basketball.

On the ice, all four area teams made the postseason, with Sheehan going to triple-overtime in a 3-2 Division III quarterfinal loss to Tri-Town, one of the longest CIAC tournament games ever.

On the floor (and beam, bars and vault), the Southington gymnastics team went undefeated and repeated as Class L state champion.

Individually, the area produced multiple school records and state champions in swimming, wrestling and indoor track. From these sports emerged the best symbols of the season:

*Tyler Prescott

At a wiry 6-foot-3, 160 pounds, Platt’s senior swimmer hardly has the broad-shouldered pool physique.

But as a state contender for four years and the holder of five of a possible eight individual school records, he’s proof a quality product doesn’t have to come in classic packaging, a trademark of most of the area’s success stories this season.

*Chris Ruggiero

Though relatively new to the craft, the Lyman Hall senior won the Class L and State Open titles in shot put and went on to compete in the New Balance Indoor Track Nationals in New York (he placed 10th).

Coupled with the Lyman Hall girls basketball team, which went from 0-20 in 2012 to 19-5 and the Class L quarterfinals here in 2014, he was proof that fortunes can turn around quickly.

*Zach Maxwell

At defensive end and occasionally at running back, Maxwell was a huge piece of Southington’s 12-1 march to the Class LL football championship.

At 195 pounds, he repeated as a State Open wrestling champ, a first in Southington’s checkered history in that sport.

He’s strong, he’s fast and he’s heading to West Point to play football. One of the best ever: That was Maxwell, that was the 2013-14 winter scholastic season.

BASKETBALL

OK, sure, there were some duds in the bunch. The Southington boys won just one game, the Platt boys just two, which arguably makes their seasons unforgettable in an unfortunate way.

More memorable: The Cheshire boys making a perfect run to the SCC Housatonic Division title and playing some of the best teams in the state extremely well.

More memorable II: The Maloney boys making a stirring run to the CCC Tournament finals, knocking off eventual Class L state champ Windsor along the way.

The best team story was on the distaff side, where Lyman Hall completed the turn-around from its winless season of two years ago. With virtually the same cast that suffered through that 0-20 season (which wasn’t exactly as hapless as 0-20 sounds), the Trojans won a share of the SCC Housatonic crown, advanced to the state tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 1993 and finished 19-5.

Great stuff, as the late great Kenny Robinson would say. Equally impressive were the individual accomplishments on the hardwood.

Start at the top, with Wilcox Tech’s Roosevelt Shider. He’s pursuing a future in nursing, but for the past four years the 5-foot-8 guard with the explosive step and sweet touch put a hurtin’ on opponents.

On Jan. 13, at home against Vinal Tech, he broke Wilcox predecessor John Frasco’s Meriden schoolboy record of 1,628 career points, a mark that had stood since 1962.

On Feb. 19, on the road against Abbott Tech, he broke Damika Martinez’s overall Meriden record of 1,857, set during her days at Platt between 2007-2011.

Shider’s last bucket was a fitting exclamation point: a clear-out slam dunk in a state tournament game on March 11 against Plainfield.

Wilcox lost that game, though. Had the Indians managed to force one more contest, Shider most likely would have surpassed the magical milestone of 2,000 career points.

As it was, he signed off with an unforgettable 1,984, a number that, at least in these parts, no longer has strictly Orwellian connotations.

Since it is a record that is unlikely to be challenged for quite some time, we present, once again, Meriden’s all-time career scoring list:

1. Roosevelt Shider 1,984

2.Damika Martinez 1,857

3. John Frasco 1,628

4. Joe Annino 1,526

5. John Penwell 1,513

John Pasinki, who’s sixth on that list with 1,491, remains Meriden’s single-season record holder with the 619 points he scored as a Wilcox senior in 1968.

Shider was on track to challenge Pasinski’s record this winter, then fell off about midway through the season.

Still, he finished with 576. Here’s where that ranks on the city’s all-time chart:

1. Pasinski (‘68) 619

2. Shider (‘14) 576

3. Jay Murphy (‘80) 572

4. Shider (‘13) 549

5. Martinez (‘10) 544

Shider will play one last high school game, though it is of the exhibition variety: Wednesday’s Senior All-Star games at Branford at 6:15 p.m. Also selected to the showcase was Cheshire point guard Collin Jordan, a four-year stalwart at that position for the Rams.

Cheshire’s Missy Bailey played in Monday’s girls All-Star games, her scholastic sign-off before heading to Division II basketball at Franklin Pierce.

INDOOR TRACK

We’ve mentioned Lyman Hall’s Chris Ruggiero, who won the Class L shot put championship at 50 feet, 11 1/2 inches and then popped 51-8 to win the State Open.

The guy he beat in the latter competition? Southington senior Matt Bennett.

This winter recap would be incomplete without putting the spotlight on Bennett. He won the Class LL shot put crown at 52 feet, 4 1/2 inches. That was the best throw in Connecticut high school track this winter.

BOYS SWIMMING

There have been state champions and school-record times over the years, but this winter may be matchless for its breadth of accomplishment for local swimmers.

The Class M meet was a veritable coming-out day for Sheehan and Lyman Hall. The Wallingford schools won three championships:

*Sheehan sophomore Connor Robison in the 500 freestyle;

*Sheehan senior Carl Thurston in the 50 freestyle;

*Lyman Hall senior Kyle Neri in the 100 freestyle.

School records were set all over the place, often broken only to be reset one meet later.

That was the case last week, when locals set 11 school records in the class meets and 11 more (many of them for the second time over) at the State Open.

Here are the records set by the Wallingford schools:

Lyman Hall

*Kyle Neri: 50 freestyle (21:55) and 100 free (46.86). Neri also holds the LH mark in the 200 free (1:41.50) set in 2012.

*Robbie Driscoll: 500 freestyle (4:51.49).

*200 freestyle relay: Neri, Driscoll, Tyler Swanson and Carlo Arellano (1:30.71).

*400 freestyle relay: Neri, Driscoll, Swanson and Alex May (3:19.49).

The latter broke a school record that had stood for 26 years.

Sheehan

*Carl Thurston: 50 freestyle (21.56).

*Rob Hacku: 100 freestyle (48.01).

*Connor Robison: 200 freestyle (1:43.85) and 500 freestyle (4:38.57)

*400 freestyle relay: Thurston, Hacku, Robison and Linus Koepfer (3:18.78).

Robison, only a sophomore and already a two-time class champ in the 500 freestyle, is certain to add to his accomplishments.

So is Cheshire sophomore Karl Bishop. With a 4:40.11 in the Class LL meet, Bishop broke Cheshire’s 500 freestyle record of 4:44.64 set by Justin Schwartz in 1996. Three days later, at the State Open, Bishop bettered his own mark with a 4:39.68.

And then there’s Tyler Prescott, the Platt senior Meriden coach Ed Heath calls the best all-around male swimmer to ever come out of Meriden. These are his school records:

*200 IM (1:53.10)

*100 backstroke (51.65)

*100 butterfly (55.02)

*200 freestyle (1:48.06)

*500 freestyle (4:44.42)

Prescott was also part of the 200 freestyle relay team that broken a 16-year-old Platt record with a 1:31.52 in the Class LL meet.

Prescott is now off to NAIA swimming at the Savannah School of Art & Design.

The one thing that eluded him at the high school level was a championship. To a large extent, Prescott was a victim of numbers.

Unlike the longer “meter” pools of USA Swimming events, where Prescott has won sectional championships, high school meets are swum in shorter “yard” pools, where the more frequent turns do not suit his long frame.

Also, as a co-op program, Meriden swims at the Class LL level, almost always the toughest of the four. If he swam in Class M, Platt’s traditional division, Prescott would have been 200 IM champ this year.

Well, that’s an “if” in a winter of precious few of them. It was a season of accomplishment, of getting it done, of leaving a mark for some time to come.



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