2015 ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Prisco and Savino are Athletes of the Year
By MIKE MADERA
(June 14, 2015) - The 2014-2015 campaign saw many top performers throughout the sports landscape at West Haven High. While many players had successful seasons, two student athletes, rose above the rest.
Senior Mike Savino and sophomore Gabi Prisco had years to remember in multiple sports, with both placing on the All-State teams in hockey and playing at a top level in their other sports.
For their efforts, Savino and Prisco have been named the 2014-2015 Vio’s Sports Plus / Westie Blue Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Mike Savino (l.) and Gabi Prisco (r.) Photo courtesy of WHHS.
Gabi Prisco. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Mike Savino. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
"Mike is a great competitor who always leaves it on the ice or field,” West Haven Athletic Director Jon Capone said. “Gabi is a great all-around athlete who leads by example.”
Prisco, who has already been named captain of both the lacrosse and soccer teams for her junior season, excelled in three sports throughout the season, placing on the All-Southern Connecticut Conference teams in soccer and lacrosse, and becoming the first player in girls hockey history to place on the All-State team.
“It means a lot to me as my teammates voted on it,” Prisco said of being named captain of two teams next season. “It shows they see the effort I put in with my teammates. I could not have done that without my teammates.”
The sophomore was an offensive dynamo in each sport she played, leading all three teams in offensive categories.
In a season which ended in heartbreak for the Westies on the soccer field, Prisco was second on the team to senior Alexis Severino with nine goals, and led the team in both assists with 12 and points with 30. Marked by every team on a consistent basis, Prisco still put up big numbers as she was named to the New Haven Register / GameTimeCT All-Area team.
Gabi Prisco penalty kick goal against Amity, November 4, 2014. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Prisco showed her toughness throughout the season, but increased that intensity in the postseason against Amity. With her team trailing by a goal in the second half of an opening round game, Prisco tried to will her team to the win, ripping a shot from the right side to the top corner for the equalizer.
When the game moved to penalty kicks, Prisco calmly set and drilled a shot to the left corner to keep West Haven’s season alive, before Amity finally prevailed.
“It was really disappointing the season ended like that,” Prisco said. “It was the last year playing with my cousin (senior Marisa Pacapelli) and I did not want it to end like that.”
Prisco’s numbers in soccer stood out as she scored in seven of West Haven’s 18 games and had points in 12 games.
“Gabi is one of the most talented players I have ever coached,” former West Haven soccer coach John Camara said.
When fall turned to winter, Prisco heated up on the ice as well. With a young team, Prisco’s skating and puck-handling led to a move to defense after playing on the offensive side her freshman year.
While the team had just three wins, Prisco was solid on defense and still was a big contributor on offense, leading the team with 19 goals, seven assists and 26 points.
“Gabi exemplifies the best qualities of a student athlete,” former West Haven girls hockey coach Carol Franco said.
The sophomore scored in 10 of her team’s 20 games, scoring multiple goals seven times, including four goals in a win over Lauralton Hall. Prisco was named to the All-Southern Connecticut Conference Second Team and to the All-State First Team.
“It is pretty exciting,” Prisco said of being the first girl in West Haven history to be named to the All-State team in hockey. “To be the first girl named All-State is an honor. I can look back when I am older and see my name on the banner. That means a lot.”
Prisco finished her sophomore campaign with another stellar season on the lacrosse field. After coming on the scene with 24 goals and 14 assists as a freshman, Prisco did even better in her second season.
Scoring in every game, including 10 contests with multiple goals, Prisco finished with a team-leading 37 goals, 10 assists and 47 points, earning All-Southern Connecticut Conference honors.
Prisco scored five goals twice in games against Lyman Hall and Jonathan Law, added four goals against Foran and scored three goals three different times.
“Gabi is one of the most talented athletes we have had come through our program,” West Haven lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli said. “She made first team All-SCC this year. Aside from that, she’s an all-around great girl. This year, as a sophomore, she really stepped up as a leader on our team and was selected by her teammates and coaches to be captain next year. I’m really excited to see what she does on the field in the next two years.”
Prisco, who would like to major in communications and journalism in college, has started exploring her college options and with two years remaining in high school, already has an eye on Delaware. The sophomore also has not ruled out a college in Boston or playing on the east coast.
Savino was spectacular in both sports he played, willing his team within nine seconds of a first round upset in hockey, and leading his team to a postseason berth in baseball. Both on the ice and on the diamond, opposing coaches did not like seeing the senior in pressure situations.
“I can only say this,” West Haven baseball coach Ron Luneau said. “Mike reminds me of all the old school West Haven players. He competes at everything he does. He wants to win and he puts in the work. He is a great kid.”
Savino, who was an All-State selection in both sports, knew the hockey season would depend on how well he performed. The senior responded quite nicely.
"It means a lot to me to be named All-State in both,” Savino said. “Not many people have done that. It means a lot. There is so much pride in West Haven. I am just glad I was able to do it.
“Unfortunately, we did not score a lot this year. We knew it was going to come down to the defense and me. We are a defensive team. It starts with defense.”
Coming up big time and time again, Savino finished the hockey season with 614 saves and a 92% save percentage. He was named to the All-SCC/SWC Division I First Team, All-State First Team and was named the Most Valuable Player in Division I.
“Mike is a special athlete,” West Haven coach Joe Morrell said. “He is a throwback. He is a true athlete. He is a true competitor. He would count the number of goals he gave up in practice and try to beat his best score every day.”
There were many games in which Savino single-handedly kept his team afloat until the offense got going, and numerous saves he made to turn the momentum of a game.
For Savino and the Westies, one game will stand out for a very long time. In the opening round of the Division I state tournament against Xavier at Wesleyan University, the senior came within nine seconds of a shutout and an upset victory over the heavily favored Falcons.
Savino turned aside 44 shots to keep the Westies on top 1-0, before Xavier tied the game in the final seconds and won early in overtime. Savino finished the year with three shutouts and he allowed one goal three times and two goals five times.
“Mike was the back bone of our team,” Morrell said. “He played well every game. He will be missed.”
Savino did not miss a beat on the baseball diamond, leading the Westies to a first round playoff appearance against SCC rival Shelton.
The regular season saw Savino hit .500 with a team-leading 36 hits in 72 at bats in 21 games. Savino had a .561 on base percentage and a .653 slugging percentage.
“I was able to see the ball so well,” Savino said. “The ball just jumped off the bat. I worked hard every day. I was fortunate. I did the best I could. To be All-State in both sports was my goal going in.”
Savino, who will attend UCONN Avery Point in Groton to study criminal justice and play baseball, finished the year with 27 singles, seven doubles and two triples. The senior drove in 15 runs, scored a team-leading 29 times and struck out just seven times in 82 plate appearances.
“Mike, by far, was one of the best hitters in the area,” Luneau said. “He hit the ball hard and had some big hits for us. He is one of the better hitters to come through this program.”
Defensively, Savino was solid at his shortstop position, handling 94 chances, with 58 assists and 28 putouts. He was also a part of 14 double plays.
2017 ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Gabi Prisco is first WH player on 3 All-State teams in same school year
By MIKE MADERA
(June 15, 2017) - It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning and the spring high school season has all but ended, except for the select few teams preparing to play in the state finals. Most 18-year-old student-athletes are sleeping.
Most except Gabi Prisco. Despite her sensational high school career coming to an end with a state tournament loss in lacrosse two weeks earlier, there is still plenty of work to be done.
For Prisco, despite being a week shy of graduating from high school, her mindset is already on preparing for her collegiate career, which is set to begin in less than two months. With that in mind, even the first day of summer-like weather won’t deter Prisco from getting her running in at Ken Strong Stadium, a place she has called home the last four years.
Gabi Prisco. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
“If you had one word to describe Gabi, it would be dedication,” West Haven assistant hockey coach Jocey Morrell said. “Whether it's in sports or in school, Gabi is motivated and determined to be the best athlete and student that she can be. When other kids are hanging out on the weekend, you can find Gabi working out on the turf to get better because she's always striving to be the best. Gabi is the kind of athlete you want on your team as a coach. She is a born leader and the definition of bleeding blue. I will miss her positive attitude and her athletic ability next year, but I am more excited to see what the future holds for her.”
Student athletes with a resume of Gabi Prisco do not come around too often. To put things in perspective, Prisco may be the benchmark by which those are now measured in the coming years.
Prisco came on the scene at West Haven High as a highly touted freshman in September of 2013, and by all accounts, did not disappoint. With a smile to light up a room, Prisco quickly showed just because she has a nice personality and is a pleasure to be around off the field or ice, she was not one to distract while competing at the high school sporting level.
When Prisco entered the halls of West Haven High as a 15-year-old freshman, a spotlight was already cast upon her as she may well have been one of the most highly anticipated female athletes to arrive in several years.
Prisco was so highly regarded she started as a varsity player for all three sports since her freshman year, and earned Rookie of the Year honors for each sport as a freshman.
Not surprising at all, Prisco capped her career in style, becoming the first female athlete in recent memory at West Haven to take home All-State honors in three different sports in the same year, doing so in soccer, hockey and lacrosse her senior year.
West Haven girls hockey coach Erin Blake (l.) and Gabi Prisco (r.). Southern Connecticut Conference Girls Hockey Player of the Year. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
“Gabi has all the qualities that you look for in a student athlete: dedication, leadership and commitment,” West Haven athletic director Jon Capone said. “She works hard in the classroom and on the field. She leads by example. What she has accomplished at West Haven High School has been remarkable. She is the first athlete in West Haven High School history to be named to three different All-State teams in one year. She is truly the best all-around athlete that I have been associated with during my tenure as athletic director at West Haven High School.”
For all of her efforts on both the soccer and lacrosse fields, as well as on the ice, Prisco will get to walk across the athletic turf of Ken Strong Stadium one last time Thursday, June 15, 2017 when she receives her high school diploma from Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro and Principal Pamela Gardner. That walk will surely bring back vivid memories of her times where she almost always was the most dominant player on the field.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Prisco said of taking that last walk on the turf. “It is so much to take in. It is an incredible feeling to receive all those accolades. I will probably think of all my accomplishments after I graduate.”
West Haven girls lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli (l.) and Gabi Prisco. SCC Division II Player of the Year. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
From the start, Prisco showed signs she would be someone special for the West Haven athletic program. Thought highly by her teammates, Prisco leaves the school as a six-time captain, leading all three of her teams with the captain’s “C” her junior and senior seasons.
“It has always amazed me how someone with Gabi's talent has so little ego,” West Haven girls lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli said. “She has always been a selfless player and really puts her team first. She always looks to get the assist, not necessarily the goal. She's such a natural athlete and has a great sense of the field. She's able to anticipate what her opponents are going to do and has had multiple interceptions in just about every game. It's just really fun to watch her play.”
During that final walk at Ken Strong Stadium, plenty of memories will go through her head from a field she fondly called home, as well as the neighboring hockey rink the last four years.
Whether it was the first time scoring on her home field against Sacred Heart Academy in soccer as a freshman on a cool Saturday night in September, or calmly drilling in a shot off a penalty kick in a gut-wrenching loss to Amity in the Class LL first round as a sophomore, no moment has been too big for Prisco.
Her efforts have been second to none, and as she walks up to receive her diploma, that vision of her scoring the lone goal on the ice in the Southern Connecticut Conference championship loss as a junior to Amity/North Haven/Cheshire will ring through with the deafening roar of the crowd after the goal.
But, what may have defined her as an athlete, was the play she made, diving across the ice in the latter moments of that game, to prevent an open-net goal by Amity and keeping her team’s title hopes alive.
Her Westie Sharks got a chance to atone for that championship loss, and as a senior, Prisco and company took home the SCC crown with a victory over Amity/North Haven/Cheshire on the ice. Shortly after, Prisco was recognized as the SCC Division II Player of the Year.
As Prisco walks back to her seat, she will get a chance to scan the field one last time from the spots she did most of her damage playing lacrosse.
Gabi Prisco. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
It is only fitting she scored five times in her final time playing on the turf of Ken Strong, a loss to Trumbull in the state tournament which ended the West Haven lacrosse’ season and Prisco’s high school career. It was also only fitting Prisco scored the team’s last goal of the season, the last time she would put up a point in a West Haven uniform.
“It has not hit me yet that it will be the last time I will be doing something on that field for West Haven,” Prisco said.
Over the last four years, Prisco has received 12 varsity letters, was named to five All-State First teams, was named to nine Southern Connecticut Conference First teams, and was the SCC Player of the Year three times, twice in hockey and once in lacrosse. She was also named the Vio’s Sports Plus / Westie Blue Female Athlete of the year following the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons.
If that was not enough, with her Coaches All-State selection in lacrosse following this past spring season, Prisco became the first West Haven female student athlete in recent memory to be named a First Team All-State selection in three sports in one year, as she also received the honor in soccer and lacrosse her senior year.
“I just never wanted to lose,” Prisco said. “I always gave 110% and always encouraged my teammates to do the same. That is something I always had in me. No one in my family likes to lose.”
Prisco’s numbers in her four years at West Haven are staggering. She finished with 45 goals and 36 assists on the soccer pitch, added 47 goals and 37 assists for 84 points on the ice, and finished with 177 goals and 65 assists for 242 points on the lacrosse field.
The contributions Prisco made to her teams in her four years go beyond the numbers. Her intensity and determination to succeed trump all numbers she posted.
Gabi Prisco. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
“She is the type of player that will put the team on her back when we are down, and keep everyone focused on the job at hand,” West Haven girls soccer coach Pete Trenchard said. “On and off the field, she is dedicated to being the best she can be. She is one of the best athletes I have ever had the privilege to coach, and I am thankful I had that opportunity the last two years.”
Prisco, who will attend Endicott College in Massachusetts in the fall to study criminal justice and political science, will play both soccer and lacrosse.
In the four years since her arrival at the high school, the 18-year-old has not only left a mark on the athletic surfaces of her sport, but in the class room as well.
That self-driven hard work has allowed Prisco to receive such honors as the Connecticut Association of Schools/CIAC Scholar-Athlete (2016 and 2017), West Haven Rotary Club Student of the Month (February 2017), Southern Connecticut Conference All- Academic Team (Winter 2016-2017), Westies Care/Watson Community Service Award (March 2017), Wendy’s Heisman Award: School Recipient- Female Athlete (February 2017), Southern Connecticut Conference Scholar Athlete of the Season (Winter 2016-2017), West Haven Rotary Club Scholar Athlete (May 2016), and a nomination for the Greater New Haven Soccer Officials Association Award (November 2016).
Prisco is a member of the National Honor Society, an officer for DECA (Distributive Economic Clubs of America), a member of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), and she also took 11 Honors/AP courses.
If those, along with her athletic achievements, were not enough, Prisco dedicates her time as she has completed over 150 hours of community service, including volunteering at the Blue Devils Summer Soccer Program, the West Haven Parks and Recreation Learn to Skate Program, West Haven Youth Lacrosse clinics, West Haven Apple Festival, Pagels Elementary School Field Day, Pagels Food Truck Festival, West Haven Youth Soccer clinics, and the West Haven Homecoming Festival.
Those who know Gabi Prisco will tell you one thing and that is not to let her bubbly personality fool you. On the field, Prisco is as tenacious and as competitive as anyone.
“Gabi is a special kid, and an extraordinary young woman,” Trenchard said. “She is a competitor. Every game, every drill, every activity, she wants to win. It is that drive that makes her special. She pushes herself to the limit every day, and she makes those around her better.”
On the soccer pitch, Prisco, who has played in Italy and Sweden for her club team, never wavered or was overwhelmed. Coming on the scene to score seven times and lead the team with seven assists as a freshman. As a sophomore, she increased her totals to nine goals and 12 assists, before adding 12 goals and four assists her junior campaign, and 17 goals and 13 assists as a senior.
Prisco, who has played for the Connecticut Football Club (CFC) since U-10, was an All-SCC and All-Area selection after leading her team in assists and points following her sophomore campaign. She attained both honors again her next two years after she led her team in both goals and assists her junior and senior seasons, added an All-State selection in her final season, and finished with a nomination to play in the Senior Bowl.
What defines Prisco even more is her sense of team. In a combined 12 varsity sports seasons, she led her team in assists 11 times. The only time she did not have the advantage in assists was in her senior season on the ice, with her primary focus anchoring the defense.
“Gabi is as close to perfect as you can come,“ West Haven girls hockey coach Erin Blake said. “She is a true leader in every aspect of the word. Her hard work and determination is a coach’s dream. Every practice and game, she leads by setting a continual example to her teammates by giving 110% every time she enters the rink. I have felt honored to have had the chance to coach such an amazing player and young lady like Gabi.”
After scoring 10 times and adding a team-leading 16 assists as a freshman on the ice, Prisco racked up All-SCC and All-State honors the next three years, adding SCC Division II Player of the Year to her resume following her junior and senior seasons. Prisco was the first ever girls hockey player in the history of the program to be named an All-State selection.
Prisco led the team with 19 goals and seven assists as a sophomore, and moved to defense her junior year where she led the team in total points with 11 goals and seven assists. Ironically enough, Prisco’s best value came in her senior season on the ice, where she anchored her team’s stingy defense all the way to a SCC Division II title, scoring just seven times and adding seven assists.
“I just think I have been (successful) because of my love for each sport and because of the connection I have had with all of my teammates,” Prisco said. “It has been truly amazing. I will never forget these past four years. They have been four of the most amazing years of my life.”
On the lacrosse field, Prisco was an unstoppable force, increasing her goal and point totals all four years, and her assist totals her final three seasons. As a freshman, Prisco scored 20 times and added a team-leading 14 assists, before following her sophomore campaign with a team-leading 37 goals and 10 assists.
As a junior, Prisco led the team in assists and total points, finishing with 52 goals, 20 assists, and 72 points. Despite being marked all over the field, senior year saw Prisco finish with a team-leading 68 goals, 21 assists and 89 points.
“Gabi has made my job as a coach very easy,” Fanelli said. “She always comes to practice with new drills to try, or something she wants the team to work on. She has been such a great role model to her peers. She has shown the younger players that no matter how much talent you have, you still have to work hard. I think her selflessness as a player has really rubbed off on her teammates, and this year more so than ever, we had a team that was really supportive of each other. The girls were never competing with each other, no one was a ball hog, and there was never any bickering or blame placing at halftime. I think that really started with Gabi as the leader of the team.” While Prisco reflects back on all the memories created over the last four years, she may want to keep a day open in the future, one which may stem from a call from the school’s Hall of Fame.
Senior star Gabi Prisco makes college decision
By MIKE MADERA
(February 4, 2017) - Through a better part of three-plus years at West Haven High, senior Gabi Prisco has done it all in the classroom and on the athletic fields.
She has excelled in sports, being named to the All-State first teams in two sports and a second team selection in another.
Consider these facts. Prisco, who has received the West Haven High Female Athlete of the Year award from Westie Blue in 2015 and 2016, has started as a varsity player for all three sports since her freshman campaign, and has earned Rookie of the Year for each sport as a freshman. She has also been the team leader in assists every season she has played.
Prisco is part of the honor society and is a role model to others. When all is said and done, she may very well go down as the best female athlete in the history of West Haven High School.
At the end of the summer, Prisco will take her immense talents north as the highly touted student-athlete has committed to Division III Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.
West Haven senior Gabi Prisco (r.) with hockey coach Erin Blake. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
“I chose Endicott because of its location, as well as the academic and internship opportunities,” Prisco said. “I am going to be able to play soccer and lacrosse, and the environment was a perfect fit for me. It is almost three hours from where I live, so it is just far enough away, but still close enough to home. The decision was a very difficult one. I did not know for a while if I wanted to stay close or go far or even if I would play one or two sports. Endicott gave me the chance to play, be close to home, be near the beach, and be a dual sport athlete.”
A Division III school, Endicott will allow Prisco to play both soccer and lacrosse, two sports Prisco loves and has excelled at most of her life. That opportunity to play both sports, coupled with the chance to get a degree in Sports Management pushed Prisco to go north, instead of other colleges who were hot in pursuit.
“Being a dual sport athlete was a very important part of choosing a college,” Prisco said. “For a while, I did not know if I wanted to only play soccer or only play lacrosse. I realized that it was not possible to give up one of those two sports. They both mean so much to me. For a while, I was looking at a lot of different colleges, but, in the end, I narrowed it down to two colleges, St. Lawrence University and Endicott College. I loved St. Lawrence as well, but then I came to realize that I would be too far away from my family. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles have always come to watch me play and, at St. Lawrence, that just would not be able to happen. Going to Endicott is making it possible to always be able to look up in the stands and see my family.”
Endicott soccer coach Jodi Kenyon is getting a highly skilled player who is not afraid to distribute the ball. While putting 48 shots in the back of the goal in her four-year career at West Haven, Prisco led the team in assists all four years, finishing with 41 in her career.
Gabi Prisco (20). Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
“Gabi is a special kind of athlete,” West Haven soccer coach Pete Trenchard said of Prisco. “She is coachable. She is well-rounded, gives you everything she has day in and day out, and is always there for her teammates. She never shies away from the pressure of the moment. She wants the ball. She wants the responsibility of getting it done. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to coach her.”
As a senior on the soccer pitch, Prisco, who was named captain her final two years for Trenchard, had 17 goals and 13 assist as a senior, was named to the All-Southern Connecticut Conference team, was a first team All-State selection and was a nominee for the senior bowl.
As a junior, Prisco chipped in 12 goals and four assists, and was named to the All-SCC and All-Area teams. Prisco had nine goals and 12 assists, and was named to the All-SCC and All-Area teams, while opening her high school career with seven goals and seven assists as a freshman.
“Playing soccer at West Haven High School has been four of the most memorable years of my life,” Prisco said. “Playing with girls I have grown up with is truly something I won’t forget, especially my co-captain, Lauren Lewis. I have been playing soccer with Lauren since I was four years old and she is one of the most talented girls I have ever had the opportunity to play with. After my sophomore year, my team received a new coach, Pete Trenchard. That first year when Coach Trench came, we only won three games. My senior season really turned around. We won eleven games and made it the SCC semifinals. I have known coach Trenchard since I was a little kid, running aimlessly around his summer soccer clinics. He has had a huge impact on my life and my soccer career.”
Gabi Prisco (20). Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Prisco’s numbers on the lacrosse field are staggering as she has 109 goals and 44 assists with one more season remaining. If the senior is named to the All-State first team on the lacrosse field, she would become the first female player in the history of West Haven sports to be named All-State in three different sports.
“Gabi is arguably the best all-around female athlete in the history of West Haven High School,” West Haven athletic director Jon Capone said.
Endicott lacrosse coach Morgan Maciewicz is getting a player, who as a junior, led the team in assists and points with 52 goals and 20 assists, while being named to the All-SCC and All-Area first teams, and All-State second team. Prisco had 37 goals and 10 assists as a sophomore, led the team in points and was an All-SCC and All-Area selection. Prisco started her West Haven career with 20 goals and 14 assists as a freshman, leading the team in assists.
“It has been a pleasure to coach Gabi over the last four years,” West Haven lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli said. “She's one of the best athletes to ever come through our program, if not the best, but more importantly, she's a truly wonderful young woman. For all her ability, she's very humble and continuously pushes herself to get better. She's always willing to do anything to help her coaches and teammates. She's a bright student with a bubbly personality. She's just the kind of person that you like to be around. We're really going to miss her next year
While she won’t play hockey for the college, Prisco’s numbers on the ice are just as special. As a freshman, she made her mark with 10 goals and 16 assists, before extending those numbers to 19 goals and seven assists as a sophomore, a season in which Prisco was named to the All-SCC and All-State first teams.
As a junior, Prisco shifted to defense, scoring 11 goals and adding seven assists, while being named to the All-SCC and All-State teams. Prisco was named the SCC Player of the Year in hockey following her junior campaign.
“My coaches have believed in me as a leader, and being a captain of both of these teams junior and senior year, I hope I have lived up to their expectations and been a positive role model and an inspiration to those that have the opportunity to play as a Westie.”
In the classroom, Prisco was named the West Haven Rotary Club Scholar Athlete 2016, was a nominee for Greater New Haven Soccer Officials Association, and was awarded the Wendy’s Heisman Award for West Haven High for a female athlete.
Prisco is a member of the National Honor Society, she is an Officer for DECA (Distributive Economic Clubs of America), a member of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), and has taken honors/AP courses.
If those honors were not enough, Prisco has also completed over 150 hours of Community Service.
Going to the Hall
Legendary coach Ed McCarthy to enter NHSACA Hall of Fame
By MIKE MADERA
(June 20, 2016) - He is the state's all-time winningest coach. His teams have won seven states titles with him at the helm. He is in four different Halls of Fame.
With all these honors, one could ask what is left for Ed McCarthy to be recognized with. That answer came recently when McCarthy was selected to be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame next Wednesday, June 28, in Louisville, Kentucky.
"It is a culmination of a lot of things," McCarthy said. "It is ironic I retire and I also get this honor. It feels good. It ranks up there. The Hall Fame is the Hall of Fame. I have nothing but good memories with the people I taught with and coached with and against. This is the last inning. This is the last time I will give a speech. I am looking forward to my wife (Marilyn) and I going out there and having a good time."
This year's class includes thirty coaches from sixteen states across the nation. McCarthy, who also won a pair of state baseball titles while at St. Joseph-Trumbull, was selected for this national honor by the state's high school coaches' association. The selection was based on longevity, service to high school athletics, honors, and other specific state criteria.
The National High School Athletic Coaches Association is the oldest coaches association in the nation formed by coaches, for coaches, and has honored coaches from across the nation with induction into the NHSACA National Hall of Fame since 1996.
"I have an incredible amount of positive memories and great things I was able to share with these young men," McCarthy said of his coaching days. "I love the game of football, but I love football people more. Some of the best friendships in my life have come out of guys I have coached with or coached against."
McCarthy, who retired from the football field prior to last season, joins legendary coach John "Whitey" Piurek as the only two West Haven coaches to be inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. McCarthy was also inducted into the West Haven Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002, and was also an inductee in the inaugural St. Joseph - Trumbull Hall of Fame. He is in the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Grid Iron Club Hall of Fame.
"It is not a large fraternity," McCarthy said of his induction only including Piurek as the lone Westies. "Again, to be recognized by your peers means something without a doubt."
McCarthy, who will turn 70, recently retired from the West Haven school system. He spent 46 plus years in the education sector.
While McCarthy will be known for his 332 wins, seven state titles (four at West Haven in 1986, 1987, 1989, 2002, and three at St. Joseph in 1980-1982), and numerous other aspects of his coaching career, the one aspect he may cherish forever is the relationships he has built within the game, on and off the field.
Many former players have looked to McCarthy as a father figure, still keeping in touch regularly. McCarthy has been invited to baptisms, christenings, weddings and more from former players.
"I see it more as a life thing," McCarthy said. "It's about how they are doing as adults. They have become good parents and good people. I see that they are making their mark in the community and doing positive things. That is what I reflect on.
"It means a great deal, I have been invited to a lot of weddings and baptisms. I reflect back on things like that. I have been involved coaching in football for 44 years, baseball and track for 40, and six years as a scout. I have been involved with two sports for 45 years in the spring and fall."
Make no mistake, McCarthy still revels in his championships on the gridiron, in particular the state title in 2002 when West Haven topped Greenwich, but he admits it is the titles which never came about in which he thinks of more.
"(Class) LL as we all know is very difficult," McCarthy said. "We came close a few times. I reflect more on those games, such as the Fairfield Prep game a few years back (2013). That loss was tough as we had the right pieces and thought we could make a run at it. That was a very god team, but so were they (Prep)."
McCarthy surpassed former Ledyard coach Bill Mignault to set the state record with 322 wins with a victory over Hamden in West Haven's seventh game of the 2013 season.
"I will reflect back when it is all over and really be proud of what was accomplished," McCarthy said after picking up the record-breaking win October 25, 2013. "I look back to all the coaches that were before us and what they did. It is really something I will be proud of.
"I have had great players and tremendous assistant coaches. And I have been able to have good health. Some others were in the prime of coaching and had to give it up. I have been fortunate."
McCarthy has had the opportunity to coach his kids Ed McCarthy Jr., and Tim, and was there at the end when his youngest son James entered the high school program.
Long-time assistant and present West Haven head coach Rich Boshea reflected on what McCarthy meant to him prior to McCarthy's retirement from the football field.
"One of the big things he taught me is to respect the game," Boshea said. "He understands the game is bigger than he is and the kids come first. He tries to filter down to the kids that the game comes first. He wants the kids to respect the game. He has never made the game about him. He doesn't allow the show boating. It is all about the game first."
With all his teachings and life lessons still thought about by others, McCarthy will now take his journey to Louisville for what may be one of the final prestigious honors of his legendary coaching career.
2013 ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Morgillo and Hansen are Athletes of the Year
By MIKE MADERA
(June 24, 2013) – The 2012-2013 season saw several top players and even more memorable moments in West Haven athletics. The seasons began with the football team losing in the quarterfinals against Staples and ended with the softball team falling in the same round to Bristol Central.
In between were many memorable moments. Those moments were highlighted by the play of several outstanding players, including Austin Hansen and Camdyn Morgillo.
Austin Hansen (l.) and Camdyn Morgillo (r.)
Hansen was the leader of a West Haven hockey team which came an overtime period away from advancing to the second round of the state tournament. Morgillo led her team from a 1-19 season a year ago to a postseason run which seemed destined to have a magical ending.
For their efforts, Morgillo and Hansen have been named the 2012-2013 Westie Blue Female and Male Athletes of the Year.
“He was not just a hockey player,” West Haven hockey coach Joe Morrell said. “He was a complete kid for us. He took his school work seriously. He was tenth in his class. School always came first.
“He did it all for us. He scored goals. He was on the power play. He killed penalties. He back checked. He did it all.”
Aside from his prowess on the ice, Hansen also excelled on the tennis courts, where he qualified for the state tournament on the doubles side.
“It definitely means a lot to me to be recognized for all I have done,” Hansen said. “I really worked hard building up to my senior year.”
With plenty of talent graduating from a team which lost in the state semifinals a year earlier, Hansen knew the bulk of the scoring would fall on his shoulders along with some others. Not one to shy away from the leadership role, Hansen responded by leading the team in goals, assists and points.
“Hockey season was unbelievable,” Hansen said. “There were a lot of great things. Tennis kept me active and I thought I did pretty good.”
When all was said and done, the senior sniper finished with 22 goals, 18 assists and 40 points. In a six-game stretch to end the season when West Haven was trying to qualify for the postseason, Hansen stepped his game to another level.
“I definitely felt the pressure, but I relished it too,” Hansen said. “Ever since the end of last season, I knew who we were losing. I knew it had to force us to work extra hard. It was definitely a lot of pressure but I knew I was going to be relied upon on special teams, offense and defense.”
Austin Hansen. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
In a 3-3 tie with South Windsor, Hansen had 2 goals and one assist. He followed with 2 goals and 3 assists in a 5-2 victory over Scarsdale, New York, then had a goal in a 3-3 tie with Hamden.
Hansen was just warming up. In a 7-5 victory over Fermi of Enfield which clinched the postseason berth, Hansen scored 6 times, including even strength, power play and short-handed goals. In those four games, Hansen had a part of 12 of West Haven’s 15 goals.
“You always want a kid to step up in those situations,” Morrell said. “But, what he did, scoring goals when we needed them, scoring to put us on top or scoring when we were down a goal, put us on his back. Our number one goal is to make the state tournament. He made sure he was playing in the state tournament his senior year.”
Hansen felt the stretch was one to remember.
“It was definitely my best stretch of the season,” Hansen said. “It was really fun. It was rewarding. That was what was expected of me, being a senior and a captain, in order to get to the playoffs.”
The senior was not done as he added 2 goals and an assist in a loss to Xavier before capping the regular season with 2 more goals and 2 assists in a win against North Haven.
Austin Hansen scores during the 2012-2013 season.
A shoulder injury hampered Hansen in the overtime loss to Xavier in the opening round of the state tournament, but his inspired play with the injury did not go unnoticed.
“It was definitely bittersweet losing,” Hansen said. “It is never fun to lose. They pounded us twice during the season and no one in the state thought we were going to come close to them. I can’t say enough about the team. We really stepped it up.
“The guys all stepped up. A lot of guys picked up their game. Jaeson Puleo probably had his best game of the season, which is good for him.”
Hansen finished his high school career two points shy of the 100-point mark, but undoubtedly left his mark at the Bennett Rink.
“He was not real vocal, but he led by example,” Morrell said. “He never missed one practice in four years and he took just one penalty in his last two years. Those statistics say a lot more about the kid.
“He finished with 98 points in his career. We had kids telling us to check the film to make sure we didn’t miss an assist. It meant a lot to the other kids. That is huge.”
Hansen then turned his attention to tennis where he played competitively at the high school level for the first time. Paired with Abdul Zachariah, the duo qualified for the state tournament, winning their first match before losing to New Britain.
Hansen, who will attend Providence College, was named the All-Southern Connecticut Conference team and All-State team in hockey, was named the CIAC and SCC Scholar Athlete of the Year at West Haven High and was also named the “Newcomer of the Year” in tennis.
Academically, Hansen finished tenth in his class, received a Top 20 Award, the Bayer Honors Award and Academic Achievement Awards.
Morgillo, who will attend Springfield College, may go down as one of the best players in West Haven softball history. If not for a leg injury which sidelined her for the majority of her junior season, her numbers would be significantly better than the solid ones already posted.
Aside from being a quality pitcher, Morgillo was a stand-up person, never placing blame and always taking responsibility.
“She is a great kid,” West Haven coach Frank Biondi said of Morgillo. “She is a lot of fun to be around. The kids looked to her. She is a good leader. She never placed blame on anybody. When she succeeded, she always said her teammates helped her.
“The kid did anything for us. She was a great captain and just a great kid. She is a great player who had other skills. She can play lights out in center field and she is a great hitter.”
Morgillo came on the scene quickly with a 6-1 record her freshman year and a 12-6 mark her sophomore year before not picking up a win her junior season due to a leg injury. Morgillo was 11-9 as a senior.
Five pitchers have pitched over 300 innings for the Westies with Vicci Duane leading the way with 516. Out of the five, which also included Lisa Defaranos, Liz Vaccino and A.J. Paolillo,
Morgillo was third with 363 innings, first with 118 runs allowed, second to Vaccino with 281 hits allowed, second to Vaccino in walks allowed, second to Duane with 351 strikeouts and second to Duane with a 1.39 earned run average.
“In all the categories that really count, she was in the top three,” Biondi said. “She is one of the top five pitchers I have ever had. She did not have the numbers with the year she missed. It is unbelievable what she did in the amount of time she pitched.”
This season, Morgillo had 149 2/3 innings pitched, allowing 49 runs, 32 earned, on 105 hits. Morgillo struck out 160 batters and finished with a 1.50 earned run average.
“It was an amazing year,” Morgillo said. “I thought we proved a lot of people wrong. We were 1-19 last year and people were questioning what we were going to do. We worked so hard.
“I think the closeness we had as a team was very important. Team chemistry is big. We had fun together. I think that has a big impact, especially when someone makes a mistake. Instead of yelling at each other, we were able to talk about it. We wanted to play as a team. That made it so much fun.”
At the plate, Morgillo was equally impressive her senior year, finishing with a .394 batting average and a .449 on base percentage. The senior had 28 hits, including 3 doubles, a triple and a homerun, 8 runs batted in and struck out only 7 times.
“I think as I got older, I got more comfortable hitting,” Morgillo said. “As a freshman, I had never seen pitching like that. As a sophomore, junior and senior, I got more confidence.”
Morgillo, who is the Vice President of the senior class and a Peer Advocate, was selected to the All-Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division team, New Haven Register All-Area team, Coaches All-State team and was selected to play in the Senior All-Star game and Scholar Athlete Classic game.
“It is a special accomplishment,” Morgillo said of being named to the All-State team. “I worked so hard for it. Instead of going out on the weekends, I was pitching. It all paid off.
“I was practicing with my pitching coach, Barb Reinalda. She taught me to never throw the ball over the middle of the plate. I would practice with my dad and he would push that.”
Among the awards given to Morgillo this season were the Golden Bat Award, team Most Valuable Player and the “Liz Vaccino Award for an Outstanding Pitching Career” which has only been given to four other pitchers, including the person it is named after, Liz Vaccino.
Morgillo was given the “Coaches’ Award” by her team following her junior year for being a strong captain and leader despite being forced from the pitcher’s circle with a leg injury.
Morgillo was also named to the All-SCC Quinnipiac Division team, New Haven Register All-Area team, All-State honorable mention and most valuable player of her team after her sophomore season.
2012 ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Simply the Best
Farquharson and Leyerzapf named Athletes of the Year
By MIKE MADERA
McKenzie Farquharson and Kyle Leyerzapf know what it takes to be successful. Each of them proved that this year.
Farquharson was a three-sport star, leading the girls’ soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams to the postseason and their best seasons in recent years. While Leyerzapf only played hockey, he made the most of his season, leading West Haven back to the state semifinals at Ingalls Rink.
For their efforts, Farquharson and Leyerzapf have been named the first ever Westie Blue Athletes of the Year.
Kyle Leyerzapf (l.) and McKenzie Farquharson (r.). Photo courtesy of WHHS.
“McKenzie is a great kid,” West Haven athletic director Jon Capone said. “She is one of the best all around athletes to come out of West Haven High in a long time. She was a three-sport captain.
“Kyle was the leader of the hockey team. He was the glue that put that team together. He had great leadership.”
Farquharson opened the year with a successful fall season. Her play in the back led a strong defensive West Haven team which reached the state tournament before losing in the first round.
While the Westies finished the regular season with a 12-3-1 record, Farquharson suffered an ankle injury which forced her to miss the postseason, causing changes in the lineup and two losses.
“She was an important part of the squad,” West Haven girls’ soccer coach John Camara said.
“Throughout her tenure here, she was an integral part of the team. We were able to move her around. She stabilized the defense.”
The West Haven senior followed with a solid year on the hard wood as she was a key piece in leading the Westies’ basketball team back to the postseason with a 16-4 regular season record. Farquharson was named to the Southern Connecticut Conference All-Quinnipiac First Team, scored 335 points, averaging 14.57 per game, had 39 assists, 19 steals and 159 rebounds (6.91 per game).
“Obviously, she will go down as one of the top players in West Haven High School girls’ basketball history,” West Haven girls’ basketball coach Jim Eagan said. “McKenzie is very, very mentally tough and she is very competitive. She is a very hard worker. She has all the attributes you need to get this award.
“In her four years, I don’t think she missed any practices, two or three if any. She understood the importance of practicing. She understood what she needed to do to get better. She was a good team leader.”
Farquharson was a force inside as she controlled the boards and got the baskets inside. A team player, Farquharson reached a personal milestone when she scored her 1,000th career point against Newington in February.
“Freshman year, Coach (Biondi) pulled me into his office and said I had the potential to be the next one thousand point scorer,” Farquharson said. “This year, I was not aiming for one thousand. I thought it was out of reach. I took it one game at a time.
“The points just came. Getting to one thousand is an awesome feeling. In the middle of the season, I thought there was no way I could do it.”
Said Eagan of the milestone, “What she did was incredible. She scored that many points with only two postseason games. That is incredible. She is just a gifted basketball player. She will go down as one of the best that ever played here.”
McKenzie Farquharson. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Farquharson’s best performance came on the turf, where she led the girls’ lacrosse team to the state tournament. Along with Ava Gambardella, Allyson Hemstock and Sam Young, the four combined for a bulk of the West Havengoals.
“McKenzie has been a huge part of our team since her freshman year,” West Haven girls’ lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli said. “She is a tremendous athlete. She has strength and speed and makes decisions on the field. She is a four-year varsity starter and has been our top goal scorer the past three years. Not only did she have the goals this year, but also the most assists, which is a testament to what a great offensive player she is.
“She is a leader on and off the field and sets a good example for her teammates. I speak for the entire team when I say she will be greatly missed next year.”
Farquharson’s numbers were staggering, scoring 61 goals and adding 18 assists in just 17 games. The senior averaged 3.58 goals per game, with her best efforts coming in a pair of victories when she scored six times and added an assist against North Haven and also scored five times and added two assists in a win against Bunnell.
“My freshman year, me and my sister were playing and I could not even catch,” Farquharson said. “To go from there to scoring four goals as a freshman to 64 as a senior is unreal. I really grew to love lacrosse.”
Farquharson simply defined her senior year athletically as fun.
“It is so much fun winning,” Farquharson said. “Winning takes all the pressure off. I had a lot of fun this year.
“I did not get to play in the state tournament in soccer (injury). To be able to play in three state tournaments in the same year was unbelievable. In soccer, I was there as a sophomore and in lacrosse as a freshman. Getting there in basketball and winning and seeing how close you are was a great feeling.”
Farquharson picked up several awards throughout the year, and finished with a First Team selection to the All-SCC team for lacrosse.
Leyerzapf was a main cog on a team which surprised many. Behind the leadership of Leyerzapf, the Westies were never out of any games, finishing with a 15-8 record.
“As a player, he ran everything,” West Haven hockey coach Joe Morrell said. “He ran the power play and the man down. He was always on the ice. One thing about Kyle is he loved to play hockey. He loved to practice. He was always smiling. To go out there and put the points up like he did as a defenseman was incredible.”
Leyerzapf capped his senior season with numerous awards. The senior was a Coaches First Team All-State selection as well as the Connecticut Post First Team All-State selection and a Second Team All-State selection by the New Haven Register.
Leyerzapf was a New Haven Register All-Area selection and he received the team’s Hobey Baker Award, defining his character.
“I just wanted to win,” Leyerzapf said. “I worked as hard as I could and just hoped it was a good reflection on the team.
“I just thought of it as a great time. I just felt I should work hard in a sport I love. I loved every second of it. I just wanted to have fun and contribute.”
Under the leadership of Leyerzapf and the closeness of the team, West Havenadvanced to the semifinals after upsetting Ridgefield in the quarterfinals at Harbor Yard.
Kyle Leyerzapf. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
“I think we just really bought in and played hockey they way we were supposed to play with the type of team we had,” Leyerzapf said. “We had a good senior core and all the young guys stepped up and played their roles. We were a team. Basically, no one had any problems with each other.
“I think we did a real good job. We were always making sure everyone was comfortable and no one was left out. We sent a message before the game and in between periods. I just told them to have fun. You only get one shot at playing high school hockey, so why not have fun.”
Leyerzapf led the way on the ice with tough play on defense and the knack for scoring or assisting on big goals.
Leyerzapf’s heroics started early in the season against Darien. After a rally in the third period and with the two teams in overtime, Leyerzapf showed a sign of things to come when his blast from the high slot found the back of the net for the thrilling win.
“I thought that game set the tone and gave us confidence,” Leyerzapf said. “That was a real good team all year long. We wanted to get off to a good start, get some wins and get to the playoffs.
“We were down going into the third and we came back and did not give up. We thought we could win and that gave us a huge boost. We showed we could make a run and that gave us confidence.”
As a defenseman, Leyerzapf became a key player as opposing teams had to worry about him on both offense and defense. Not afraid to move up in the play, Leyerzapf created offensive opportunities throughout every game.
Leyerzapf was the ultimate team player as his work on offense also opened the ice for scorers such as Mike Troiano, Austin Hansen and Adam Mink. Leyerzapf became the fourth offensive player on the ice at all times.
“I just had confidence all year,” Leyerzapf said. “With the team we had, I knew we needed more offense. I just joined the rush and contributed to the offense. I felt I could join the offense and still contribute on defense.
“Our defense, with Dan (Granfield). Josh (Robichaud) and (Alex) Scranton, helped out so much. They were solid back there and they were always there. I give a lot of credit to them.”
Leyerzapf proved the bigger the game, the better he was. In three postseason contests, Leyerzapf scored twice and added two assists.
Leyerzapf started the state tournament with a goal and an assist against East Haven in the opening round, following with an assist in a stunning upset ofRidgefield in the quarterfinals and scored West Haven’s first goal in the semifinal loss to Notre Dame. When all was said and done, Leyerzapf recorded a point in all 23 games for the Westies this year.
“As a defenseman, to score 41 points for us is unheard of,” Morrell said. “If we get five defenseman to score 41 points, that is a good season for us. He did it all by himself. He was like a fourth forward out there.”
Morrell was also proud of the way Leyerzapf led his team during the loss to Notre Dame in the semifinals. That representation of West Haven was something Morrell won’t soon forget.
“He made me proud in the semifinals,” Morrell said. “We called a timeout late and he spoke up in the time out saying ‘We have had an unbelievable year. Don’t do anything stupid. Let’s not be remembered for that. Let’s be remembered for what we did.’ That spoke volumes about the kid.”
Leyerzapf thought nothing of what he said, expecting this to be the way the team conducted business on the ice.
“I thought a couple of schools were watching and I did not want to make myself or the team I play for look like a couple of goons out there,” Leyerzapf said. “I did not want to go out like that. I did not want our team to be looked at as bad guys. The way we made our run and as far as we got, I thought the way we should go out was by not doing anything stupid. I did not want the team to look bad. I did not want the people to forget us and what we did.”
For the West Haven faithful, no one will forget what either Farquharson or Leyerzapf did this season. They were truly the athletes of the year.
2016 ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Prisco and Oumorou are Athletes of the Year
By MIKE MADERA
(June 17, 2016) - The 2015-2016 sports landscape at West Haven saw many highlights. Among the steady material for solid play were juniors Salah Oumorou and Gabi Prisco.
Leading their respective teams on the field in dynamic fashion, neither seemed to ever disappoint. Whether is was All-League, All-Area or All-State selections, both were forces to be reckoned with.
For their efforts throughout the season, Prisco and Oumorou have been named the Vio's Sports Plus/Westie Blue Female and Male Athletes of the Year.
Gabi Prisco. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Salah Oumorou (15). Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Both were forces on the soccer field, with Oumorou garnering plenty of honors, including an All-Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division selection and All-State honors.
Prisco set the tone for her squad and was named to the All-Area team and the Southern Connecticut Conference All-Quinnipiac Division team.
"Gabi is one of the most extraordinary young women I have ever had the privilege of working with," West Haven girls soccer coach Pete Trenchard said. "Not only is she a skilled athlete, but she is an intelligent and caring young woman. She is an excellent role model for young girls in the way she carries herself both on and off the field."
Prisco also left her mark in the hockey rink and on the lacrosse field, where she was named to the All-State team in hockey and second team All-State in lacrosse, along with being an All-Area and All-SCC lacrosse selection.
Oumorou led the Westies to both the Southern Connecticut Conference and state tournaments with a staggering 31 goals. He also added five assists for 67 points on the year.
"Salah is by far the most talented player I have ever coached," West Haven soccer coach Pete Hamasian said. "But, what makes him so special is how hard he works to constantly become a better player."
Prisco, who was an All-Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division First team selection, led or tied her team in every offensive category on the soccer field with 12 goals and 28 points. She tied Keegan Riccio for the top spot with four assists.
On the ice, Prisco led her team to the SCC Division II finals against Amity/North Haven/Cheshire, in a game the Westies fell 2-1 with Prisco scoring the lone West Haven goal.
"Gabi is the backbone of our team," hockey coach Erin Blake said. "She gives 110% every time she is on the ice. She is an amazing young lady who is a natural leader both on and off the ice."
Prisco tied for the team lead along with Lindsey Gerzabek with 18 points. She was second on the team with 11 goals from her defense position and also added seven assists, anchoring the squad.
The junior was named to her second consecutive All-State team and remains the only female hockey player in West Haven history to be named to the All-State first team.
Prisco was also named the SCC Division II player of the Year and was also named an All-Southern Connecticut Conference first team selection.
On the lacrosse field, Prisco was named the team's most valuable player.
The junior played at a high level all year despite a nagging hamstring injury, finishing second on the team in goals with 52, three behind team leader Amanda DiLeonardo. Prisco led the team with 18 assists and with 70 points.
2014 ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Fire and Ice
Gambardella and Philips are Athletes of the Year
By MIKE MADERA
(June 17, 2014) – The 2013-2014 season once again brought upon many electrifying moments. From the football team falling in the final seconds of the Class LL semifinals to the baseball team reaching the second round of the state tournament against Southington, there were plenty of memories and several outstanding student athletes.
While the list is long, two stood out above the rest. When all was said and done, Ava Gambardella and Ervin Philips had years to remember.
For their efforts, Gambardella and Philips have been named the Vio's Sports Plus / Westie Blue Athletes of the Year.
Ava Gambardella (l.) and Ervin Philips (r.). Photo courtesy of WHHS.
Both Gambardella and Philips will now take their talents to another level as Gambardella will play lacrosse at the University of Bridgeport and Philips will play football on the national stage at Syracuse University.
Gambardella played with fire in her eyes as she excelled in soccer, girls' basketball and lacrosse. Philips had ice in his veins as nothing seemed to faze him when he made the longest touchdown runs look easy.
The biggest factor about both Gambardella and Philips is they both had the capability of making the big play.
"Ava is a true competitor in whatever she is doing," West Haven basketball coach Jessica Moriarty said. "She is one of those kids you love to coach because she will do absolutely anything to win.
"Ava works extremely hard and is driven to succeed. She is a tremendous athlete and a great leader. She sets the bar high for other athletes on how hard you should work, whether it be on the court or field. I know Ava will be successful in whatever path she chooses in her future."
Gambardella turned in solid efforts on the soccer field and basketball court, but her performance on the lacrosse field was exceptional.
Needing one more win to qualify for the postseason, Gambardella came through as her overtime winner against Sacred Heart propelled the Westies into the postseason.
Ava Gambardella. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Gambardella finished her senior season with 62 points on 50 goals and 12 assists. The senior scored in all but one of West Haven's 16 games, had six goals in a game once, five goals three times, four goals twice and three goals four times.
"Ava is one of the best athletes I have ever had the pleasure of coaching," West Haven lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli said. "She has been an integral part of our team for the past four years. She has been our center for the past two years. She has gotten really good at taking the draw. She was our lead scorer this year. I'm excited to watch her play at UB (University of Bridgeport)."
Gambardella was a defensive presence on the soccer field and held together a basketball team which had just two wins on the year.
"Ava will be missed," West Haven girls' soccer coach John Camara said. "She was definitely an asset to this team. She really started to get going her junior year. Whether she played forward or defense, she did really well. She used more of her skills and intelligence and went away from the physicality."
The forward finished the basketball season as a team leader in points with 184, rebounds with 130 and steals with 20. She also had 13 assists.
Philips saw his dream of playing for a major college football program come true when he committed to Syracuse University.
The Orange get not only a talented back, but one who understands the game and can make plays in the passing game as well.
Ervin Philips. Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
Philips finished his senior year rushing for 1,819 yards and 35 touchdowns. Philips, who has been named the Westie Blue Fall Player of the Year three straight seasons, is known for his offense, but it was his defense which propelled the Westies into the state tournament as his game-saving tackle on a two-point conversion attempt by Xavier on the final play of the game saved a West Haven victory.
"He's a special player," West Haven head coach Ed McCarthy said about Philips numerous times throughout the season.
Philips seemed to always be on his game, but saved his best for the bigger stage.
Against arch-rival Notre Dame, the senior went out with a bang as he ran for 185 yards and a touchdown, had six tackles and an interception.
"They have great players who make great plays," Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci said following the game in regards to Philips and company.
The following week against Xavier was even better. With West Haven looking to beat the Falcons for the first time in Philips' four years, the senior ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
He was just as good on defense with six unassisted tackles, five assisted, and one big game-saving tackle on the goal line on the last play of the game to secure the win.
"I helped on the play, but you have to credit the whole right side," Philips said of the game-saver following the contest as he quickly made sure his teammates were also given credit. "I just knew we need a stop and we made the play."
Three weeks later against Hand-Madison, Philips again put on a show, rushing for 267 yards and five touchdowns, recovering an onside kick and a fumble.
"How good is he?" McCarthy asked about Philips following the game. "He recovered an onside kick and a fumble and does what he does running the ball. He is the best player in the state."
Philips would continue his dominance into the postseason before it all came to an end in the Class LL semifinals against Fairfield Prep. In a 29-28 loss, Philips ran for 134 yards and a touchdown and had five tackles and an interception on defense.
Both Gambardella and Philips provided plenty of exciting moments throughout the year. Now, they will get to continue that on a bigger stage.
THE HOME OF WEST HAVEN SPORTS