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Fall campaign underway for Avon High

AVON, Sept. 19 – Last fall, Avon High’s field hockey and girls soccer teams earned shares of NCCC championships while the football team won its second straight Pequot Uncas Division championship. All seven sports participated in CIAC championship play with the girls soccer and boys soccer teams getting to the doorstep of the state finals before being eliminated in the semifinals.

Another season began earlier this week. Here is a look at early results for the Falcons.

BOYS SOCCER: Even with the loss to rival Tolland to the Central Connecticut Conference, the road to an NCCC championship will still be a challenge. The Falcons will have to adjust to the graduation of All-State midfielder Jon Hope. Avon returns some veteran players in Ben Applefield (17 goals, 10 assists), Aaron Leopold (12 goals, 7 assists) and Jack O’Brien (5 goals, 2 assists) along with goalie Sean Lanahan, who saw limited playing time a year ago. The Falcon offense struggled on opening day in a 0-0 tie with Suffield.

GIRLS SOCCER: It might take some time for a new group of Falcons to come together. Only four starters return from last year’s squad that won an NCCC championship and advanced to the Class L semifinals before falling to Joel Barlow in overtime. Seniors J.J. Gower (6 goals, 13 assists) and Kaylie Auger (3 goals, 1 assist) return along with midfielder Katie Zambrano (3 goals, 2 assists) and sophomore forward Erica Primovic (2 goals, 2 assists). Senior goalie Rachel Bentivegna returns along with senior defender Hannah Zabel.

Avon’s lessons began early in a shocking 5-0 defeat to Suffield on opening day. Not only was it Avon’s first defeat in the league since 2005, it  was the most lopsided loss for the Falcons since dropping a 6-1 decision to Suffield, also in 2005. But it was a non-league contest so it won’t hurt Avon’s chances to contend for a league championship. Avon plays two games each with Suffield, Granby, Enfield and Ellington and Enfield. It is the second game that will count toward the league standings.

FOOTBALL: Junior running back Ross McDonald rushed for 3 TDs and a career-high 226 yards to lead the Falcons to a season-opening victory over Coventry/Windham Tech, 44-29. The Falcons rallied from a 21-13 deficit with 31 unanswered points in the second half to earn its first opening day victory since 2004.

Tyler D’Onofrio scored the game’s first TD, with a school record 45-yard fumble return. The old mark for fumble recovery for a TD, which was 42 yards by Kevin Bourque against Foran-Milford in 1983.D’Onofrio also caught a 5-yard TD pass from McDonald.

BOYS CROSS COUNTRY: The Falcons took the top seven spots in an easy 15-50 win over Enfield to start the season. Junior Chris Carlson won the race in 17:47 followed by Ryan Coyle (18:55), Tim Buell (18:56), Bobby Davies (19:03), Mike Vallen (19:05), Geoff Kuhn (19:26) and Matt Mascoli (19:27).

At the Haddad Windham Invitational, Avon was seventh in the Varsity II race, led by Carlson, who finished sixth in 16:26. Ryan Coyle (21, 17:48) and Bob Davies (24, 17:49) were Avon’s other runners in the top 25.

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY: The Falcons were an impressive second in the Varsity II race at the Haddad Windham Invitational in Manchester. Claire Smith was second in the race with a time of 18:51, about 30 seconds behind Naugatuck’s Rose Moriello. RHAM won the race with 60 points while earned 72.

Emily Kelly finished 10th in 20:53 over the 3.1 mile course followed by Titi Vanriel (12th, 20:58) and Kalli Veldman (15th, 21:21). Tara Molson rounded out the top five in 33rd place in 23:13. It was the first serious race of the year for Avon, which easily beat Enfield in its first meet. Enfield had just one runner in the race, which was won by Smith in 20:04.

VOLLEYBALL: The biggest challenge for the Falcons this year in the quest for a league championship will be four-time Class S champion Coventry. The only team in the league to beat Avon over the past three years has been the Patriots. Avon began the season with a pair of victories.

Melissa Crichton had six kills and three aces in Avon’s 3-0 sweep of Lewis Mills, 25-17, 25-13 and 25-5 while setter Grace Kucharsky had 33 assists in a 3-1 victory over host Woodstock Academy, 25-18, 17-15, 25-18 and 25-18. Natalie Martinez had eight aces in the victory over Mills, which struggled to receive Avon’s serves.

FIELD HOCKEY: The Falcons have an experienced core of players returning as they attempt to defend its NCCC championship and make a run in the Class M tournament. Avon returns a pair of All-State midfielders Kelsey Herbert and Jess Portal (9 goals) along with All-NCCC forward Meg Pulling (10 goals). Senior defender Alex Riccardi, Danielle Neagle (3 goals) and Morgan Collins (3 goals) return along with sophomore Emily Arciero (8 goals).

Avon shared the league championship with Granby a year ago and the Bears also return a veteran squad. Canton and Enfield also expect to field strong teams. The Falcons began the season on a strong note last week with goalie Julie Plourd making two saves and earning the shutout in a 2-0 win over Suffield. Pulling and Arciero each had goals.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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