The battle lines were laid out early in the selection of the 2019 Southington Observer Athletes of the Year. My boss, John Goralski, a veteran of such selection processes, had his ideas. I, on the other hand, was a newcomer to this process, but I had my own thoughts. At times, it got ugly.
There were arguments about dominant one and two-sport athletes, and diatribes about how club sports factored into the equation. There was plenty of brain-aching debate going on in my own head about who should be chosen to represent the Class of 2019 as the best of the best. After all, it was my first time selecting those honorees, and I felt the pressure.
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 463 graduating seniors. The Class of 2019 had nearly 150 student-athletes with 43 multi-sport athletes and 13 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.
There was just one team state championship claimed, and that was by Southington softball. The Lady Knights were the No. 6 seed and not expected to be the last team standing in Class LL, but they were and they captured the 18th championship in program history. Two wrestlers won Class LL state championships and moved on to the state open.
This has been a very good year, so choosing The Observer’s Athletes of the Year has been no easy task. There were female athletes who stuck out in four sports, when you include powder puff football. They were Natalia Adamczyk (powder puff, cross country, indoor track, outdoor track) and Natalie Verderame (powder puff, soccer, indoor track, outdoor track).
We made arguments for every single three-sport athlete, and this class had a number of good ones. Kate Kemnitz, Kailey Schmarr, Amanda Perkowski, Ryan Slesinski, Trevor Porter, Kolby Rogers, Benjamin Hoffman and Joseph Verderame 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.
Casey Selinske started his senior season running in cross country, but focused on pole vault during his indoor and outdoor track and field campaigns. Some, like Elijah Rodriguez and Tyler Salzillo, began their three-sport senior years on the soccer pitch before focusing on indoor and outdoor track.
There were unique three-sport girl standouts like Abby Lamson and Lynsey Danko, who each did a club sport in addition to powder puff. Lamson was a standout in softball and club hockey, and she played powder puff. Danko was a standout in volleyball, club rugby, and she played powder puff. Alijah Vega played soccer, threw the javelin in outdoor track, and played powder puff. Gabrielle Fiora also played soccer, along with lacrosse and powder puff. Karolina Kurzatkowska took on powder puff in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and lacrosse in the spring. Diane Williams did powder puff in the fall, basketball in the winter and softball in the spring. Taylor Borla ran cross country in the fall and played lacrosse in the spring.
The boys had a number of versatile two-sport stars, too, like Adam Hunter, Bryce Worth, Colin Burdette, Evan Johanns, Jacob Cardozo, Jacob Flynn, JT Martin, Matthew Thompson, Michael Kwok, Nate Zmarlicki, Seth Bogoslofski, Will Downes and Eli Steindl. Cardozo was a Class LL state champion wrestler in his final season on the high school mats. There were also players dominant in one sport, like Caleb Chesanow and Ethan Thomson, and the list goes on and on.
There were so many girls that could be singled out as Athletes of the Year that it boggles the mind. Kemnitz led the way in the cross country, indoor track and outdoor track seasons, and always did so with grace. She signed on to run at NCAA Division I Syracuse University, which is quite the feat. Lamson stuck out because of her prowess on the softball diamond, along with her efforts on the ice in club hockey. Lamson signed on to play Division I softball at UMass-Amherst, which is no small feat. Oh yeah, and she was the leading scorer and team MVP for her club hockey team as well. Verderame stood out on the soccer field as a scorer, and her senior leadership on the pitch and on the track in the indoor and outdoor seasons had to be considered. She was a valuable part of indoor and outdoor relay teams.
Ultimately, it came down to Kemnitz, who was an all-conference and all-state performer in most seasons of her four-year career. Her name is all over the record boards of the indoor and outdoor track and field teams that are displayed in the school cafeteria. Kemnitz, a captain in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, mentored talented young runners in all three seasons, and she finished in the Top 25 academically in her senior class.
Then there were the boys. Once again, you could make an argument for a number of top athletes. Elijah Rodriguez was a captain in soccer, indoor track and outdoor track, and he was a standout leader in all three sports. Burdette was an engine and a leader for the soccer and basketball teams. His motor never stopped running, and he helped the basketball team win a game in the state tournament. Johanns was an absolute standout in football and lacrosse. He made 49 extra points and four field goals in football, and he scored 51 goals for the lacrosse team.
Ultimately, it came down to Rodriguez, whose story is an inspiring one of leadership and perseverance in the face of adversity. Rodriguez battled back from injury during his senior track seasons, yet managed to come back and win gold in the outdoor 110m hurdles at the CCC West Division championship meet. It was an incredible feat for someone who had competed once in the event prior to the championship meet. Rodriguez may have had an injury, but it never stopped him from encouraging and helping out teammates or his coaches.
Thank you to all of the athletes that left us with great memories, a state championship, and gave me an exciting first full year of covering Southington High School athletics. Division titles and a state championship proved—once again—that Southington High School has one of the best all-around sports programs in the state. The bar has been raised for the Class of 2020. Who will rise to the top and be the athletes of the year? You’ll just have to wait and see.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com