Commentary: Selecting the Observer Athletes of the Year

Observer sports writer Brian Jennings can be reached at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.

When it comes to the selection process for deciding the athletes of the year, I’m usually prepared for a fight as I argue my choice with my editor in the newsroom. We can never agree on anything, but this year’s selection process was different. I ducked into open doors whenever I saw him coming. I ignored his calls and texts, and took matters into my own hands.

I had a plan. I snuck into the high school earlier this week with a flashlight and gloves, and I picked the lock for the athletic director’s office. I rummaged around in the dark until I found the edge of the rug, pulled it back, and revealed Greg Ferry’s secret trap door.

It was like being in the bat cave, with a wall of monitors full of Southington High School sports highlights. I stayed as long as I dared and swiped an armload of game film on my way out. I’ve been watching and re-watching it ever since.

It was a difficult selection, but that’s what happens when you try to pick one female and one male to represent a class of 492 graduating seniors. The Class of 2017 had approximately 160 student-athletes with 39 multi-sport athletes and 14 that competed throughout all three seasons. Choosing just one female and one male in a group of so many talented athletes was an almost impossible challenge.

Obviously, success on the field is a crucial factor, but we also consider athleticism, sportsmanship, teamwork, and integrity. Versatility has come to be a very heavily weighted category, but with so many multi-sport athletes it doesn’t thin the field too much. Grades can tip the scales. Extra-curricular activities are measured, and intangibles always matter.

Once again, Southington teams fell short in their quest for a state title, but ice hockey and softball came the closest. The Warrior-Knights played for a state title for the first time since 1993, and the Lady Knight softball run fell just one run short, 4-3, in the program’s 22nd Class LL championship game.

Others kept it exciting. Football made a fourth-straight appearance in the Class LL semifinals. The girls and boys volleyball teams, and the girls basketball team, each made trips to the quarterfinals.

Wrestling finished fourth at the Class LL championship and the state open, and gymnastics placed fourth at the Class L championship. Boys swimming and diving kept me on the edge of my seat when they rallied to win their conference meet.

This has been a truly special year, so choosing The Observer’s Athletes of the Year has been no easy task.

We made arguments for every single three-sport athlete, and this class had a number of good ones.

Marisa Matthews, Catherine Myers, Cameron Coulombe, Jordan McMeans, Mark Murdy, Adam Theriault, and James Weil never seemed to stop as a group of distance runners that started in the fall, continued through the winter, and kept going in the spring.

Other three-season female athletes included Maggie Meehan in cross country, basketball, and outdoor track and field and Rylee Van Epps in soccer and indoor and outdoor track and field.

There were versatile two sport athletes like Hallie Altwies, Kerry Buchanan, Michaela Carrera, and Amanda Delorme. We put a lot of them into the three-sport category since many dominated in the fall as members of the powder puff team. The boys had a number of versatile two-sport stars, too, like Zachary Blake, Tyler Cyr, Michael DeFeo, Matthew Gundersen, Erik Kryzanski, Anthony Mondo, David Pastor, Brendan Taylor, and Vance Upham.

There were female athletes dominant in one sport. Sydney Brault became a goal-scoring machine to help the girls lacrosse team more than double their wins from last season, Kayla Birmingham qualified for the state open in gymnastics after competing on injured ankles all season, and Maighread Scafariello was just as important behind the plate with a glove as she was at the plate with a bat for the softball team.

There were also males that dominated single sports, too. Austin Abacherli won his weight class at the Class LL wrestling championship; John Mikosz led the baseball team in strikeouts and at shortstop; and Anthony Plantamuro was a triple threat on the football field as a defensive back, wide receiver, and quarterback. The list goes on and on.

There were so many girls that could be singled out that it boggles the mind. Amanda Delorme was a great outfielder and a top hitter in softball (and a top goalie for field hockey). Maggie Meehan did it all as a 1,000 point scorer in basketball and a top runner for cross country and track.

Ultimately, it came down to Morgan Raymond because of her athletic ability and character. Not many 5-foot-7 girls can match her vertical leap for a spike, or the way she battled through injuries to lead the scoring in lacrosse. More importantly, she carried herself well with a positive attitude whether she was winning or losing. She left lasting impressions on both programs.

The boys was even tougher. Michael DeFeo was a force in soccer and volleyball, and he was singled out as the 2017 Spirit Award winner. Tyson Harris dominated football and was a force in the jumping and sprinting events for track.

Ultimately, it came down to Richie Rivera because of his versatility and leadership. Not many athletes can return from the type of injury he sustained to have the kind of impact he had on both his teams. Also, there are few athletes that can learn wrestling moves one day and capture state open medals in the next. Perhaps it was because of his dominance on the football field where he could always be seen wrestling opponents to the ground.

He left lasting impressions on both programs.

So thanks to all the athletes that left us with great memories and proved—once again—that Southington High School is one of the best all-around sports programs that this state has ever seen.

The bar has been raised again for the Class of 2018. Who will rise to the top? Who will dominate the conversation next year, on and off the field? Who will earn that “S” that Southington athletes wear on their chests?

We’ll have to wait and see…

Brian Jennings is a staff writer at the Southington Observer. Contact him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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