In 2012, there were plenty of thrilling contests and games in Canton to see and observe. In the final week of 2012, we counted down some of the best athletic moments of the year and links to our coverage of those events. We conclude our countdown today with a review of a New England championship performance.
1. A NEW ENGLAND CHAMPION: Junior Matt Graziano didn’t let the loss of his own discus stop him from becoming the third Canton athlete to win a New England championship in June.
After a competitor accidentally picked up and left with the bag that included his discus, Graziano borrowed a discus from Derby’s Jacob Tomczak, who Graziano had beaten the previous two weeks at the State Open and Class S championship meets. Graziano set a new school record with a throw of 176 feet to win the New England title.
A week earlier, Graziano won the State Open title a year after finishing 23rd in the field of 24 competitors a year earlier. “I didn’t let it discourage me,” he said of his 2011 performance at the Open. “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.”
Graziano became just the second Canton athlete to win a State Open title in track and field. The first was Mike LeDuc, who won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2010.
2. BELIEVE IT: Since the football program was reborn in 2007 after a 42-year absence, Canton had earned some satisfying victories. Yet, it was a thrilling win over Coventry/Windham Tech that proved that this year’s Canton football team wasn’t the same program that went 0-10 the previous season.
Canton erased a 14-point deficit, scoring a touchdown with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter and stopping a game-tying two-point conversion attempt with no time left on the clock to earn a 28-26 decision over the visiting Patriots. It gave Canton its fourth win in five games and its second straight win over a winning team – something they had not accomplished since the 1950s. Kyle Mullins ran for four touchdowns and a two-point conversion, tying school records for most TDs (4) and points scored (26) in a single game.
No. 37 (Mullins) kinda lights the fuse on this stick of dynamite,” Canton coach Paul Philippon said. “He seems to make big runs that help bring our sideline emotionally up.” Mullins recovered a Patriot fumble in the first half and made several stops on defense.
3. STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION: A year after going 0-10, Canton’s football program set a new school record with seven wins in a single season (7) after a 38-12 decision over Granby on Thanksgiving morning in Canton. Kyle Mullins ran for 2 TDs and 95 yards on 11 carries as the Warriors forced four Granby turnovers. Canton’s record of 7-3 was its best record – four games over .500 – since 1958 when they won the North Central Football League championship and a CIAC Award of Merit with a 5-1 record. When Canton previously played varsity football from 1934-64, a normal season was six to seven games.
“There wasn’t one issue with this team all year. Not one,” Canton coach Paul Philippon said. “Not one grade issue. Not one behavioral issue. They were here for practice early. They did everything we asked them to do or they tried to do it. There was no complaining about playing time.” And when the players made a mistake, they heard about them. “They know how we feel as a staff. They’re going to be held accountable. We’re honest with them and they’re held accountable (for their play).”
Among the victories was a 40-0 win over Housastonic/Wamogo, a 28-21 decision over Enfield, a 20-14 win over Sports Medicine Science Academy/University High in Canton’s first trip to Dillon Stadium in Hartford and a 8-0 win over Windsor Locks/Suffield with a touchdown with 4:59 left in the fourth quarter to snap a 13-game losing streak.
4. STELLAR EFFORT FOR TRACK: Sometimes your best isn’t good enough.
Despite setting three school records and scoring points in 13 of 18 events, Canton finished a distant second behind Northwest Catholic at the Class S boys track and field championship meet. The Indians won the state title for the second time in three years, 81.5 to 66. “We had a lot of season-best performances,” Canton coach Tim O’Donnell said. “We just needed more.”
There was plenty to smile about from the Warriors. Matt Graziano won a state title in the discus with a throw of 167 feet, 11 inches, the second longest throw in Class S history. Sophomore Keith Wilson set a new school record in the 400 meters with a third place finish and ran on two record-setting relay teams. The 4×100 relay team relay (Cameron Daley, Wilson, Colin Martin, Jeff Lochner) was third while the 4×400 relay team (Wilson, James Spatcher, Dave Solomon, Tyler Fitzpatrick) was second.
“This is a nice deep group of kids,” O’Donnell said. “They gave it their all and most of them performed better than their seeds.” Not only did Wilson break his own school record in the 400 but Tyler Fitzpatrick did with his fourth place finish in 50.87. Jon Cahill (3,200), Mark Solomon (110 hurdles) and Dave Solomon (300 hurdles) each finished fourth for the Warriors. Cahill and Dave Solomon each had season-best performances.
5. IT’S THE EFFORT THAT COUNTS: It’s not just winning that matters for the Canton High boys track and field team. It’s the effort put forth by the athletes and it’s the goals they are trying to achieve.
“It’s no joke,” senior Jon Cahill said. “We take it seriously. Just like school and other things in life.” Cahill didn’t win an individual title at the NCCC outdoor track and field championship meet but he finished a close second in the 1,600 meters and grabbed a pair of fourth place medals in the 800 and 3,200 meters as the Warriors won the NCCC meet for the third straight year and captured their second consecutive league crown.
Canton’s 400 meter relay team finished first, the 1,600 meter relay team won and set a new league record while Matt Graziano easily won in discus by 35 feet. Mark Solomon (110 hurdles), Keith Wilson (400) and Dave Solomon (300 hurdles) each finished second. Canton earned points in 13 of 18 events as they outlasted Coventry, 120-106. Suffield was third with 81 points.
Cahill credited head coach Tim O’Donnell for getting the team prepared. “He believes in us,” Cahill said. “He sets some goals for us (in April) that sound ludicrous. But his training gets you right where he wants you to be. And we have a strong group of underclassmen willing to work.”
STABILITY HELPS: In 2011, the Canton High softball team went 8-8 and qualified for the Class S tournament but they didn’t last long, getting eliminated in its opening contest. The Warriors never really solidified as a team as the players were rotated on and off the field at will.
This past spring, head coach Charlie Batan took over virtually the same team. Canton won 11 of its first 16 games, including eight in a row at one point. Batan revamped the starting linup, moving some players to new positions. But he has stuck with it throughout the season. “If you believe in them and give them a chance, they’ll find their nitch,” he said. “They had the talent. They just needed to believe in themselves.”
Canton went 14-5 and got on a nice run in the Class S tournament, smacking out 27 hits in three tournament victories that put Canton into the semifinals. Those tournament victories gave Canton 17 wins for just the second time in the last 20 years.
The Warriors feasted on errors. In a win over No. 25 Old Saybrook, Canton scored five unearned runs in the fifth and sixth innings in a 5-3 decision. It helped overcome six Canton errors. In a 9-4 win over Wheeler in the quarterfinals, Canton scored eight unearned runs. The season ended in an 8-0 loss to St. Bernard’s.
EXCITEMENT ON THE PITCH: The Canton boys soccer team had plenty of excitement this fall. The Warriors beat Avon for the first time in 10 years with Jimmy Spatcher scoring three goals at Bowdoin Field. In the Class S tournament, Canton beat Parish Hill in the first round, 4-1 with three goals from Spatcher. But the next day, the Warriors had to face No. 3 Housatonic on the road in Falls Village.
Canton took an early 1-0 lead but the toll of playing on back-to-back days began to take its toll. The Mountaineers tied the game and it went into overtime. At the end, Spatcher made the difference. With less than 15 seconds left, he beat two defenders to the ball near midfield and sped toward the goal with two defenders just a step behind. He ripped a shot at the goal that deflected off the goalie and right back at Spatcher’s feet. Continuing to move forward, Spatcher belted the ball into the net with two seconds left in OT for the 2-1 victory.
In the quarterfinals against Somers, Canton took a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes on a pair of goals from Ben Corbett. Somers, which beat Canton twice this season by four goals in each game, was stunned. The Spartans, who went on to play in the Class S final, eventually prevailed, 3-2. “This team really overachieved in my opinion,” Canton coach Bill Phelps said. “They got everything they could, every ounce out of every position out there this year. This wasn’t a group of 12-month a year players. They worked hard. They worked together.”
Spatcher finished the season with 31 goals, the second-highest single season performance in school history. Only All-American Karl Schilling scored more — 33 in 2003. And it took time for Spatcher to learn to play with his teammates and vice versa. “It wasn’t all about Jimmy,” Phelps said. “It was about the people who got the ball to Jimmy, the people that took the passes from Jimmy. It was about the defenders helping to keep the ball out of the net.” Alex Davey finished with 12 goals while Corbett added eight.
TEAMMATES HELP RENEGAGES WIN TITLE: Five Canton High graduates helped the Tobacco Valley Renegades win their first Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League championship in August. Brian Magna, an All-State cross country and indoor track athlete in Canton, is now invested in baseball. Magna used his speed to help the Renegades prevail in a best-of-3 final against the Simsbury Sabercats. He scored from second base on a ground ball in the eighth inning to lift Tobacco Valley to a 2-1 victory in the series opener. Magna was one of five Canton players on the team along with former Warriors Travis Lane, Aras Banevicius, Tyler Plourd and Andrew Crowley.
ALL-AMERICAN RUNNER: Michael LeDuc, who graduated from Canton in 2010, continues to earn All-American honors racing for Connecticut College in New London. In November, LeDuc earned All-American honors at the NCAA Division III cross country championship meet, finishing 13th, the first Camel in school history to earn such an honor. “Mike’s tremendous race today was a culmination of hard work he started way back in the summer and maintained throughout the fall season,” Connecticut College head coach Jim Butler said.
In May, LeDuc, who is majoring in botany, earned All-American honors in outdoor track and field for the second year in a row by finishing fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Division III championship meet. He finished sixth at the NCAA meet in 2011.
NEW SPORTS: Canton isn’t the sleepy little school that it used to be. In the past decade, the Warriors have added several new sports, giving their students additional opportunities to grow and test themselves athletically. The latest additions to the Canton sports family are boys lacrosse and girls volleyball.
In the spring, Canton had a tough time in boys lacrosse dropping their first 15 games of the season, including a 10-goal loss to Lewis Mills. But on the next afternoon, Canton earned its first varsity win with a thrilling 10-9 decision.
There was plenty of enthusiasm for the new girls volleyball team under the leadership of Helen Treacy. The Warriors went 14-1 as a junior varsity program in 2011. But varsity wins were scarce in a 0-16 campaign this fall. “It’s a growing year,” she said. “We’re inexperienced but they’re learning a lot. It’s a stepping stone to the next level. They’re doing great. They have a great attitude.”
INDOOR TRACK THIRD: In indoor track, the Ellington boys were too balanced as they captured their first NCCC title since 2008 with 96 points, ending a two-year championship run by Canton. Suffield was second with 77 points while the Warriors were third with 74 points.
Canton’s 4×400 meter relay team beat Ellington by two seconds to win a NCCC title and set a new championship meet record in the process. Junior Matt Graziano won the shot put while four of his teammates finished second — Keith Wilson (600 meters), Dave Solomon (55 hurdles, 300 meters) and Jeff Lochner (long jump). Canton also finished first in the sprint medley relay by about a second over Ellington but was disqualified when one of the runners allegedly interfered with another runner after taking a baton handoff.
Other notable accomplishments in 2012 included:
Girls golf: Senior Nikki Liucci was the medalist in 11 matches as the Warriors went 13-10. Liucci earned All-State honors for the second year in a row by finishing tied for third in the CIAC state tournament. She signed a letter of intent to play collegiate golf at St. Francis, New York, a Division I school.
Hall of Fame: Former Canton High coach and athletic director Nancy Grace was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) Hall of Fame. Grace coached field hockey and softball at Canton and had tremendous success with the field hockey program, winning 295 games, 11 league titles and eight Class S championships from 1985 to 2004. In softball, she coached at Canton from 1990-99, leading the Warriors to seven NCCC championships and a Class S state title in 1991.Grace began her teaching career at Canton in 1985 teaching science and she has served as coach, athletic director (2005-10) and taught physical education. Today, she is once again a full-time science teacher.
Track and field: Tim Gavin finished 10th in the CIAC decathlon. He was third in the javelin and second in the 1,500 meters. Cameron Daley, one of four freshmen in the decathlon, finished 17th with top 10 finishes in five events.
Wrestling: Senior Bryan Fitzpatrick scored five unanswered points in the third period to beat Avon’s Peter Suter, 9-4, win a NCCC championship at 132 pounds. It was Fitzpatrick’s second straight league title. Senior Matt White (138) finished sixth at the Class S tournament but went on to win two matches at the State Open.
Boys tennis: The Warriors finished 9-5 in the regular season and seventh in the Class S tournament.