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2011 Sports Retrospective: A Year for Champions

Through early blizzards and a few setbacks here and there, 2011 was a special year for West Hartford sports.

In my first 20 years writing sports in the greater Hartford region, West Hartford was always on the periphery.

I would see , and, occasionally while focusing on Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern and St. Paul in the early 1990s.

When I switched over to the New Britain Herald in 1995, the accent was on New Britain, Newington, Southington, Berlin, Plainville, Farmington, Rocky Hill, and Wethersfield.

I got to meet such West Hartford notables as Hall volleyball coach Ed Adajian, Conard girls soccer coach Nick Moffo and Northwest Catholic boys hoop coach John Mirabello, and I’m thrilled to say laid the foundation for some long-lasting friendships there. I recall Mirabello in particular making the statement that he wished I covered West Hartford. I’ll never forget that inspirational tidbit.

In late 2010, I welcomed the opportunity to become more intimate with West Hartford, and I’ve met so many wonderful people.

I’ve had the chance to delve back in sports history through conversations with Conard football patriarch Bob McKee and his Hall counterpart Frank Robinson (the elder). I’ve relished the chance to see Northwest Catholic from the inside and become more familiar with a passionately dedicated group of people who work so hard for their school.

But as we prepare to pass through the time portal to 2012, I would like to look back on my first full year in a town with much more fervent zeal for its amateur athletes than I ever imagined. I would like to dedicate this instant replay to one of West Hartford’s greatest advocates, the late Bo Kolinsky of The Hartford Courant, who left us eight years ago.

CONARD SOFTBALL: How Bo would have loved this Cinderella story.

The Chieftains came into the Class LL tournament seeded third. Top-seeded Westhill of Stamford ws the heavy favorite. Westhill had flamethrowing sensation Allison Macari on the mound. Conard countered with Jess Dufault, who relied on cunning to keep hitters offbalance.

Heady Conard catcher Dani Stevens helped quell a first-inning Westhill threat. Clutch hitting by Becky Hoisl, Jackie Carter, Mallory Martucci, Sarah Allen and Caelese Brown enabled the Chieftains to swing the momentum. Conard claimed its first softball title for coach Tom Verrengia and a staff that fostered unity and cohesion as a primary ingredient for success.

, 4-1, at West Haven High School's Frank Biondi Field.

“It’s been an unbelievable run,” Verrengia said after the game. “We didn’t think this would happen at the beginning of the year but these kids bonded together and made a pact before the state tournament started. Look where it finished up.”

HALL-SOUTHINGTON FOOTBALL: Saturday, Oct. 29 is a day that will forever torture me.

For the first time in 20 years, I covered a game and never wrote the story. It wasn’t a very good day for CL&P either.

When I arrived at Chalmers Stadium, everything was as it usually is. Coach Frank Robinson III and his assistants were in their usual high spirits, intrepid sports photographer Theresa Lerner was getting her lenses ready, radio broadcaster Pete Lamoureux had that perpetual smile beaming as he prepared for his labor of love and the green playing turf glistened.

The green disappeared quickly. Shortly after the game began, snow came down as thick and quick as I’ve ever seen. Soon, we could only estimate the yard-line where the ball rested.

Robinson’s all-weather all-stars carried the day, 22-6. Now the big question was, would we all get home safely? And was home where we wanted to be? Ten days later, after melting snow for toilet-flushing and valuing firewood and D-cell batteries more than cash, we finally got power back.

No power, no internet, no story, but the Warriors’ victory was essential in a second-straight run to the Class LL playoffs. To Ian Dugger, George Lund, Devin Ortiz, and their band of brothers, thanks for the memories and sorry about the story.

The crosstown Chieftains deserve plenty of credit, too. To Ricky Cotton, Dominic Spaulding, Chris Reckmeyer, Coach Rob Cersosimo and his able assistants, great run! Our teams shared the .

LACROSSE: The sport of lacrosse was almost completely foreign to me when I arrived on the West Hartford scene. You won’t find many in New Britain who know what a long-stick midfielder is.

Thanks to a couple of Bills – Conard coach and longtime lacrosse advocate Condon and public address announcer par excellence Watson – I passed Lax 101. My vision of a long-stick midfielder is now the Chieftains’ superlative three-sport athlete Cotton picking up steam, keeping that ball in his net with that familiar twist of the wrist.

Thanks, too, to my other wonderful Lax instructors – Conard girls coach Meg Cersosimo, Hall girls coach Steve Boyle and Hall boys coach Phil Orzech. No wonder so many kids are playing lacrosse in West Hartford.

BINKY: Oh do I miss my Binky.

No, not the pacifier. I’m talking one of the most passionate basketball players to ever grace the West Hartford hardwood, former Hall guard Sara Binkhorst.

Hall’s thoroughfare to the upper reaches of Class LL last winter was the West Hartford sports fans’ best antidote for cabin fever. Everyone tried to stop her. Very few could.

She was the battery that sparked her teammates, most notably Moira Honyotski and Shannon Griffith, giving coach Jeff Kaplowitz all the pieces necessary for success.

The memory I’ll go forward with is the 32 points and eight steals she had in the in the "LL" quarterfinal. The legend of Binkhorst exploded beyond the borders of West Hartford and accepted some Waterbury converts, most notably Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo.

“She obviously controlled the tempo of the game but the thing about her tonight was she made the other players a lot better,” Lombardo said. “She made us double-team her and when we helped, she was able to get passes to open shooters.”

Despite her lengthy list of tangible assets, it was her innate ability to lead and inspire that cemented her spot among All-State players and all-time Hall greats.

Binkhorst now plays for the Bowdoin College Polar Bears in Brunswick, Maine. At last look, she was averaging eight-plus minutes a game. Before she’s through, she’ll melt some hearts up there, too.

BASEBALL: All three high school baseball teams were thoroughly enjoyable to cover but the true test of where baseball rates in the community is what happens through the summer months.

The program runs like a top. The seniors, under the guidance of Rick Sanford and Steve Meucci, won Zone 7 with a 21-3 record and gained the fourth seed in the state tournament. The coached by Dennis Hannigan was 14-6 and finished second by a game.

The focal point for me came with the junior team in a state semifinal against Stamford on July 28 in Windsor Locks. Max Vogel-Freeman was two outs from tossing a two-hit shutout when his world came apart.

A 4-0 lead dissipated in the seventh inning under the weight of one too many mistakes and West Hartford’s dream ended abruptly.

“It’s tough, there’s not much you can say,” Hannigan said. “No matter how many times you say, ‘Hold your head up high and you had a great year,’ it’s going to take them a little awhile. It’s hard enough in single elimination – boom you’re done – but in two-thirds of an inning you’re done? That’s doubly tough.”

The other blossom in West Hartford’s baseball bouquet blooms at Wolcott Park where the West Hartford Youth Baseball League has its little corner of heaven.

Meeting of Hungerfords and getting an opportunity to document their story is another must for a journalist trying to capture the essence of West Hartford sports. Of particular note was the U12 championship game of the Ken Hungerford Invitational Tournament on August 8.

Sam Newton of the West Hartford Cannons and Marcel Diaz of the visiting Hartford club hooked up in a grueling pitchers’ duel. The 4-3. Newton fanned 10 and pitched out of a last-inning jam to salvage victory.

“He’s unflappable,” Cannons manager Kelly Costello said. “He’s not afraid to keep coming and that’s exactly what he did.”

Among the U11s, lefthander Chase Jeter lived up to the heroics associated with his surname with a three-hitter for the , also champions in their Hungerford Tournament division.

NORTHWEST NUGGETS: Both the Northwest Catholic boys basketball team and the girls soccer team had memorable seasons.

Mirabello’s cagers fell a game short of their goal, losing in the Class M championship game to New London, 63-55, at the Mohegan Sun Arena March 19. J.C. Carr had 19 points and Zack Lewis had 16 to lead the Indians (25-2). Kuran Iverson, the Indians’ versatile 6-foot-8 sophomore, continues to be courted by Division I colleges after a solid season.

But Todd Sadler’s booters blew through the Class M tournament, capping a 19-0-1 season by , at Middletown High on Nov. 25. Kudos to All-Stater Jessica Fontaine, shut-down goalkeeper Becca Sierejko and all the others who made the Indians one of the most rhythmic, unified teams to ever grace the girls soccer scene.

Tim Confessore December 30, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Missing item. Conard,Hall and Northwest all had players win Aug. 2 2011. For the first time in 50 years West Hartford had made it to the Jaycee 19 & under baseball final game. Turns out, both teams in the final game were from West Hartford! Quinn and Quinn and Cricket Press. http://www.jcblinfo.com/Pictures.asp?album=5797&team=0&n=&snid=jOMK[6N0Y&org=jcblinfo.com. View the final out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLOFI3U2ISM
Paul McConnell January 01, 2012 at 11:45 PM
I'm thankful for the Patch, Ken Lipshez, and the steadily improving coverage of high school and youth sports in West Hartford. Looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring.

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