2021 Valley Sports Year in Review
After the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the sports scene in 2020, things started to get back to normal as 2021 unfolded. While there were some twists and turns along the way, the winter, spring, and fall high school seasons were all completed this year and featured plenty of success stories at the local level. Let’s take a look back at the highlights of 2021 in Valley sports.
The 2020-’21 winter season was an abbreviated one that featured no state tournaments or state championship meets. Instead, conference competitions served as the culmination of the season. There were no wrestling or cheerleading seasons held, and indoor track teams competed on a limited basis, if at all. Several teams around the state missed portions of their seasons after going into quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19.
The Valley Regional boys’ basketball team overcame every challenge that it faced and wound up having an outstanding season this winter. The Warriors finished the year with an overall record of 10-5 and made it to the championship game of the Shoreline Conference Tournament.
Valley posted a mark of 7-4 during regular-season play this year. The Warriors won their first three games of the season, but then lost sophomore Jeremy Arnum to an injury during a game against Morgan. Arnum would miss the remainder of the regular season.
Valley lost its next game without Arnum in the lineup, but then started to get things going again and posted a couple of victories, including a 64-60 win versus Portland that marked career victory No. 200 for Warriors’ Head Coach Kevin Woods. Following two losses, Valley ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak to take some momentum into Shorelines.
With Arnum back on the floor, Valley opened the Shoreline Conference Tournament by claiming a 65-56 victory versus Old Lyme in the quarterfinals. The Warriors went on to defeat Cromwell by a 38-34 score in the semifinal round. Valley then took a 62-54 defeat versus Morgan in the Shoreline final.
Arnum earned All-Shoreline First Team honors for Valley Regional. Junior James Marsden received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention on behalf of the Warriors. Marcus SantaMaria and Keenan Pindar were the team’s senior captains.
The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team finished with a record of 7-4 in a season that came to a sudden and unusual conclusion.
During Valley’s second-to-last scheduled regular-season game, the Warriors were up big against Hale-Ray when they received word that they had to stop the game and immediately go home. During the previous night’s victory over Coginchaug, the Warriors had been exposed a person who had tested positive for COVID-19 and, when this information was relayed during the fourth quarter of the game with Hale-Ray, the contest was immediately halted.
Valley’s players went into quarantine, and the remainder of the team’s season was canceled. As a result, the Warriors were unable to participate in the Shoreline Conference Tournament, for which they had earned the No. 5 seed. In the end, Valley was awarded a 48-30 victory for the Hale-Ray game.
Libby Cap, Alena Crosby, and Addi Marchese led the Warriors as the team’s senior captains. Sophomore Abby Bradbury earned All-Shoreline Conference honors for Valley. Crosby and sophomore Lily Grow received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention on behalf of Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt’s squad.
The Valley Regional gymnastics team finished in second place at the Shoreline Conference Championship during the 2020-’21 winter season. The Warriors scored 121.20 points to finish second out of three teams, only placing behind the H-K/Morgan/Hale-Ray co-op team, which scored 125.40 points
Junior Grace Jacaruso finished third in the all-around for the Warriors at the Shoreline Championship. Junior Lean Frantz took sixth place for the all-around. Sophomore Kendra Cika, junior Leah Frantz, junior Erin Ward, and sophomore Julie Hartt also represented Valley gymnastics by competing for Head Coach Monica Bauer’s team in the meet.
The Hand/Coginchaug/Valley/H-K girls’ ice hockey team finished with a record of 2-6. Valley Regional sophomore Callie Breitenbach competed for the squad.
Featuring players from Valley Regional, the East Haven co-op boys’ ice hockey squad posted a record of 0-5 this year. The Yellowjackets finished their season by competing in the SCC-SWC Division II Tournament, taking a 4-1 loss against Watertown-Pomperaug in a first-round game. Valley Regional juniors Dylan Ingram and Duncan Rider competed for the team.
The Haddam-Killingworth/Morgan/Valley Regional boys’ swimming squad completed its first season with Head Coach Steve Cusano. Valley Regional senior Egan Rothrock was a member of the team.
Following the cancellation of the 2020 season, spring sports came back to play in Connecticut this year. Teams played full seasons, and state tournaments were completed for the first time since the fall of 2019.
The Valley Regional baseball team put forth a solid effort on the ballfield in the 2021 spring season. The Warriors posted an overall record of 15-7 and claimed a share of the Shoreline Conference title this spring.
After going 13-6 in the regular season, Valley kicked off the Shoreline Conference Tournament by earning a 3-2 win versus Hale-Ray in the quarterfinal round. The Warriors went on to notch a 9-0 victory against Morgan in the semifinals. Valley was slated to face Coginchaug in the Shoreline final, but the game was postponed due to rain multiple times before ultimately getting canceled, resulting in the two teams sharing the conference crown. Valley went on to take a 5-2 loss to Northwest Catholic in the first round of the Class M State Tournament.
Valley’s senior captains for the season were Ryan Ellison, Kyle Metz, and Sam Helsel. Metz and junior Andrew Salbinski both garnered All-Shoreline Conference Second Team accolades. Valley Head Coach Brian Drinkard was named the Shoreline Conference Coach of the Year.
The Valley Regional boys’ lacrosse team saw a successful season in 2021. In their first year with Head Coach Jake Azzinaro and Assistant Coach Ricky Persico, the Warriors posted an overall record of 11-6 on their way to making the Shoreline Conference final and qualifying for the Class S State Tournament.
Valley went 10-4 during the regular season. The Warriors then opened play in the Shoreline Conference Tournament by earning an 8-7 victory versus Old Lyme in a semifinal contest. Valley went on to take an 11-9 loss against Haddam-Killingworth in the final.
Following Shorelines, the Warriors competed in the Class S State Tournament. The Warriors dropped a 12-11 decision against Sheehan in a first-round contest.
Valley’s captains senior Tommy Burch, senior goalkeeper Axel Johnson, and junior Duncan Rider. Johnson, Rider, senior Cormac Kline, senior Keenan Pindar, sophomore Leif Duval, and sophomore Ben Costanzo were All-Shoreline Conference First Team honorees for the Warriors. Pindar was also named the Shoreline Conference’s Short Stick Specialist. Junior Cooper Stecker and junior Reece Whitney made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team.
The Valley Regional boys’ tennis team had a solid spring season that saw the Warriors notch 14 victories and reach the quarterfinals of the Class S State Tournament.
Valley netted a record of 12-3 during the regular season. After competing in Shorelines, Head Coach Callie Riggio’s team claimed a 4-2 win versus Wamogo in the first round of the Class S State Tournament. Then in the quarterfinals, the Warriors defeated Montville by a 4-2 score. Valley went on to take a 5-2 loss to Westbrook in the semifinals to finish at 14-4 overall for the year.
Junior Nic Wyszkowski earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors for Valley after making it to the title match of the Shoreline Conference 1-2 Singles Tournament. Freshman Thomas Dahl and junior Hayden Lombardi were All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honorees. Ben Gawlak served as Valley’s senior captain for the season.
The Valley Regional girls’ tennis team finished with a record of 10-5 and qualified for the Class M State Tournament this spring. The Warriors earned a 5-2 win versus Suffield in the qualifying round of states before taking a 4-2 loss to Jonathan Law in a first-round contest.
Alex Halsey and Ada Ramos led the charge as the senior captains for Head Coach Sally Riggio’s squad. Ramos earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors after advancing to the championship match of the Shoreline Conference 1-2 Singles Tournament.
Sophomore Olivia Baldwin also made the All-Shoreline Conference First Team after making it to the final of the Shoreline Conference 3-4 Singles Tournament. Senior Alex Halsey and freshman Joanna Petrone were both selected to the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team.
The Valley Regional softball team posted an overall record of 7-13 for the spring season. The Warriors competed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament and took an 11-0 loss against Coginchaug in a quarterfinal game.
Senior Lexi Ross made the All-Shoreline Conference First Team and was also named the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year. Junior Abba Amara earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors. Sophomore pitcher Anna Benson received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention for Head Coach Allyson Pitney’s club.
The Valley girls’ lacrosse team finished with a record of 4-9. Junior Emi Bisson earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors for the Warriors. Fellow junior Salmi Miller made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team.
The Valley Regional golf team finished with a mark of 2-9 this year. Senior Zach Figuenick and junior Zoe Cika were the senior captains for Head Coach David Sparrow’s squad. Valley finished its season by participating in the Division IV State Championship, where freshman Tyler Ruel, sophomore Kevin King, Figuenick, and senior Matthew Skowronek competed for the Warriors.
The Valley Regional boys’ outdoor track squad came in 11th place at this year’s Shoreline Conference Championship. Junior Connor Lunz finished second in the shot put for the Warriors at the conference meet. Lunz went on to finish in fourth place for shot put at the Class S State Championship, qualifying for the State Open in the event.
The Valley Regional girls’ outdoor track team finished in sixth place at the Shoreline Conference Championship. Senior Madelyn Costello claimed second place in the high jump for the Warriors at the meet.
The 66th season of the Deep River Horseshoe League culminated with the Angels claiming the league title with a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in the playoff final. The Angels, the No. 8 seed in the eight-team tournament, were led by Division A Player Tony Cutone from Essex, Division B Player Damin Roberts of Cromwell, and Division C Player Joe Machado from Clinton.
The Angels claimed a 3-1 win over the top-seeded Reds in the first round of the league’s playoff tourney. After that, the Angels swept the Braves in the semifinals and then defeated the Yankees 4-2 in the final, outscoring them by the tally of 234-227.
The Yankees had earned wins versus the Dodgers (3-0) and the Marlins (3-2) to make it to the title match. The players who competed for the Yankees were Division A player Brian Walsh of Deep River, Division B player Robert Cifaldi of Deep River, and Division C player Jason Augur from Clinton.
After no state competitions were held last fall, the 2021 fall season was played in full this year. Football teams also returned to the field to play a season for the first time in two years.
The Valley Regional field hockey squad put together an excellent season in the team’s final campaign with Head Coach Beth McCabe Powers. The Warriors finished with an overall record of 17-2-1 on their way to making the Shoreline Conference final and the Class S state quarterfinals.
Valley posted an unblemished record of 15-0-1 during the regular season. The Warriors went on to claim a 9-0 win over Westbrook-Old Lyme in the Shoreline semifinals before taking a 2-1 loss against North Branford in the championship game.
In states, Valley started off the Class S draw by earning a 4-2 victory over Wamogo in a first-round matchup. The Warriors then took a 2-1, double-overtime loss to Granby in the quarterfinals.
Valley’s senior captains were Abby Amara, Reagan Fergueson, Grace Haskins, Margaret Jacaruso, and Brooke Lavigne. Amara earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors and was also selected as the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year. Lavigne made the All-Shoreline Conference First Team, while Jacaruso was an All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honoree.
Senior Mia Alio earned a spot on the All-Shoreline Conference First Team, and fellow senior Emily Kateley made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team. Junior goalkeeper Fallyn Belisle was an All-Shoreline Conference First Team selection. Freshman Lilly Lavigne made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team.
After completing her 16th and final year as Valley’s head coach, McCabe Powers was selected as the Shoreline Conference Coach of the Year and the CIAC Class S Coach of the Year.
The Valley Regional boys’ soccer squad notched 13 victories in a season that saw the team advance to the quarterfinals of the Class S State Tournament.
Valley posted a record of 11-4-1 during the regular season. Then in the Shoreline Conference Tournament, the Warriors took a 5-1 loss against Morgan in a semifinal game.
Following Shorelines, Valley won its first two games in the Class S State Tournament to make it to the quarterfinal round. The Warriors claimed a 5-0 win over Terryville in first-round action and then recorded a 6-1 victory versus Hale-Ray in the second round, after which they took a 4-3 overtime loss Old Saybrook in the quarterfinals.
Tucker Burr led Valley as a senior captain, while senior Jake Burdick served as a vice captain for the squad. Burr earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors for Warriors. Burdick made the All-Shoreline Conference First Team and was also named the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year.
Senior Andrew Salbinski made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team for Head Coach Mick Fearon’s squad. Junior Samuel Hutchinson and junior Michael Kollmer earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors. Junior Jake McKenna received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention.
The Valley Regional girls’ volleyball team welcomed two program alums the fold as coaches this year. With Sofia Cullina serving as head coach and her sister Katie Cullina an assistant coach, the Warriors turned in a solid season that saw them record 12 victories and secure a pair of playoff berths.
Valley won eight of its last nine regular-season matches to finish with a mark of 12-8. The Warriors then competed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament and took a 3-2 defeat to Coginchaug in the first round. Valley went on to take a 3-0 loss versus Barlow in the first round of the Class M State Tournament to finish at 12-10 overall.
The Warriors’ senior captains were Madison Neviaser, Salmi Miller, Emi Bisson, and Chase Conrad. Neviaser earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team accolades, while Miller was an All-Shoreline Honorable Mention honoree. Junior Audrey Board earned a spot on the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team.
The Valley Regional girls’ soccer team posted an overall record of 5-9-3. The Warriors qualified for the Class M State Tournament and took a 3-1 defeat against Mercy in a quarterfinal game.
Taryn Frazier, Caroline Hutchinson, and Sophia Surber were the senior captains for Head Coach Lauren MacDonald’s club. Surber and junior goalkeeper Elizabeth Allen made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team. Hutchinson, senior Bitzy Klomp, and junior Olivia Baldwin received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention.
After seeing the 2020 campaign get canceled, the Valley Regional- Old Lyme (VR-OL) football team returned to the field with a new head coach for the 2021 fall season. Hill Gbunblee took over as the program’s head coach after Tim King announced his retirement earlier in the year. The Warriors finished the year with a record of 4-6, capping off its season with a 22-17 comeback victory versus Haddam- Killingworth in the battle for the Principal’s Cup.
James Beckman and James Marsden served as senior captains for VR-OL. DiAngelo Jean-Pierre was a junior captain for the squad. Marsden made the All-Pequot Conference Sassacus Division Team as a defensive back. Jean-Pierre earned All-Pequot Conference Sassacus Division honors as a flex player. Senior Ian McKenzie made the team as an offensive lineman, senior Tommy Rapp made it at linebacker, and fellow senior Connor Lunz garnered All-Pequot Conference Sassacus Division accolades as a defensive lineman.
The Valley Regional girls’ cross country team sent a few athletes to run at the Shoreline Conference Championship, after which the Warriors competed at the Class SS State Championship and finished in fifth place in the meet.
Senior Ava Cunningham paced her way to a fourth-place finish for the Warriors at Shorelines. Fellow senior Grace Jacaruso came in eighth place for Valley. Senior Stephanie Sheehan finished in 17th place at Shorelines.
Cunningham went on to finish in fifth place for the Warriors at the Class SS State Championship. Jacaruso came in ninth place in the meet. Both athletes went on to compete at the State Open.
The Valley Regional boys’ cross country team finished in eighth place at the Shoreline Conference Championship and then took ninth place at the Class SS State Championship. Senior Ryan Reed turned in Valley’s top performance at Shorelines by taking 27th place. Reed went on to finish in 35th place at states.
The Old Lyme-Valley Regional- Old Saybrook (OL-VR-OS) co-op girls’ swimming and diving team joined forces for another season this fall. The team participated in several regular-season meets and then capped off its campaign by competing at the Class M State Championship.
OL-VR-OS finished in ninth place at the Class M Championship. The Valley Regional athletes who competed for the team in the state meet were senior Loretta Cecchini, senior Zoe Cika, senior Katie Roberts, and junior Elly Rothrock. Cecchini turned in the team’s top performance by taking second place in the 100 freestyle.