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Canton’s Graziano, Simsbury’s Nicholson win State Open titles; Simsbury’s 4×800 relay continues record season

NEW BRITAIN, June 4 – Veterans Memorial Stadium is one place where athletes competing in field events at the CIAC State Open track and field championships are not shuffled off to a lonely field where few fans can watch. Here, they compete in the main stadium on the lush, green grass where everyone can view the action.

“It’s my favorite place to throw the discus,” Simsbury junior Maddi Nicholson said.

Simsbury’s Maggie Nicholson won her first State Open championship in the discus.

Nicholson won for the third straight meet as she captured her first State Open championship in the discus with a throw of 125 feet and 10 inches. A week earlier, she won her second straight Class LL championship. A few days before that meet, she won the CCC West championship with a season-best throw of 127-3.

Canton High junior Matt Graziano became the second athlete in school history to win a State Open title in track and field by winning in the discus, outdueling Derby’s Jacob Tomczak for the second straight week.

And Simsbury’s magnificent 4×800 boys relay team (Joel Kirk, Kyle Heubner, Jefferson Wilkes and Kevin Stanko) came from behind to win a State Open championship and set a meet record in the event for the fifth time this spring.

Granby’s Dan Clark (300 hurdles) and Paige Kibby (high jump) each finished fifth while Simsbury’s Eric Glynn (javelin) and Alex Rechen (pole vault) finished eighth.

Competing on the stadium infield can be intimidating for field athletes used to competing in anonymity. But it didn’t faze Nicholson, who remained focused on the task at hand.

“I’m intimidated by one girl,” she said, declining to identify her competitor. “I lost to her earlier this year. I let her get into my zone. Now, I close my ears. All you can control is yourself. I beat than demon inside of me.”

She didn’t let the rain bother her, either. A year ago, she finished fourth at the New England championship meet held in a torrential downpour in Burlington, Vt. At the Open, it was just drizzle with some occasional showers. “It reminds me to throw even harder,” Nicholson said. “Why not? It’s fun.”

Simsbury’s 4×800 meter relay team won the State Open championship. From left, Joel Kirk, Kyle Heubner, Jefferson Wilkes and Kevin Stanko.

There have been virtually no challenges for the Simsbury 4×800 relay team this spring. They weren’t challenged in the indoor season, either, when they won a State Open championship.

The Trojans won by less two seconds at the Class LL championship – its lowest winning margin of the season. At the Open, leadoff runner Joel Kirk was pushed into the rail surrounding the track and got caught behind several runners. He spent a majority of his 800 meter run bumping and jostling with his competitors for position.

“That was different,” he said. “I’m used to getting out in front.”

Kirk was a close fourth when he handed off to Kyle Heubner, who stayed with the leaders. Wilkes broke it open with a strong third leg, giving Stanko a huge cushion to finish off the victory.

“The first two legs they were boxed in which impeded their ability to run,” Simsbury boys coach Mike Cohen said. “But they didn’t panic. Jefferson did a tremendous job running down that runner from Fairfield Prep and opening a large lead.”

This was a team that was seldom challenged. They set meet records at the Greater Hartford Invitational, O’Grady Relays in Danbury, the Middletown Invitational and at Class LL championship. They were undefeated in the indoor season, winning the State Open title.

“They had a target on their back all season,” Cohen said. “They had the temperament for this race.”

Stanko was an All-New England cross country runner for the Trojans while Kirk and Wilkins were exceptional cross country runners. Heubner, who played soccer in the fall, runs the 400 meters.

“It’s a unique combination of talent,” Heubner said. “And we have the right combination.”

Matt Graziano

Graziano’s trip to becoming a State Open champion in the discus began 12 months earlier at the Open, when he finished 23rd in a field of 24 competitors. “I didn’t let it discourage me,” he said. “I went right back into training.”

He worked out at least five days a week during the summer. He was a frequent visitor to the throwing circle at Simsbury High, which is only about 10 minutes from his Canton home. “I kept working on technique,” Graziano said. “I am one of the smaller guys. I need to work on technique and get faster to beat those big guys.”

He competes in the shot and javelin for the Warriors but he is passionate about discus. “Discus is the one I throw the farthest,” he said with a grin. “But the thing I appreciate is the good feeling I have after a release it and it’s a good flight.”

Graziano and Tomczak dueled in the discus. Tomczak threw 148 feet and Graziano responded with a throw of 147. Tomczak’s extended his lead with a throw of 156 feet, three inches but Graziano took the lead with a throw of 158 feet. Graziano padded the lead with the eventual winning throw of 160 feet, five inches.

The first Canton athlete to win a State Open title in track was Mike LeDuc, who won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2010.

Avon’s Colin Ponzani finished 18th in the 800 meters with a time of 2:01.75 while Molly Hamel was 22nd in the 3,200 meters in 1:44.15. Avon’s 4×800 relay (Sara Stokesbury, Sarah Kate Mascoli, Maddie McHugh and Hamel) finished 17th in 9:56.89.

Other top 20 finishes for Canton included Keith Wilson (15th in 400), Dave Solomon (18, 300 hurdles) and Jeff Lochner (18, long jump). On a wet track, the Warrior 4×400 relay team (Wilson, James Spatcher, Dave Solomon, Tyler Fitzpatrick) was 11th with a time of 3:30.92 on a wet track.

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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