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Hard work is common thread with elite athletes from Canton, Simsbury – The Collinsville Press
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Hard work is common thread with elite athletes from Canton, Simsbury

Track logo DSC_1740Simsbury High boys track and field coach Michael Cohen arrived at the school a few hours before Monday’s State Open championship meet was able to begin. He looked over to the track and saw a lone figure in the discus circle. 

It was three-time state champion Maddie Nicholson making some nice easy throws in preparation for her upcoming competition. 

The good ones aren’t afraid of a little extra work. In fact, they thrive upon it. Nicholson won her second straight State Open discus championship with a school record throw of 137 feet, 1 inch. 

Canton’s Matt Graziano is no stranger to the Simsbury High discus circle, either. Since Canton doesn’t have a track facility and the Graziano family lives about 10 minutes away from the school, Graziano has spent plenty of time working out there. 

Graziano won his second straight State Open title in the discus with a throw of 181 feet and 7 inches. For over 100 years, Canton athletes have been competing and he is just the fifth Canton athlete to win an Open championship and the first to capture two State Open titles.

Simsbury’s Chandler Ives leaped 15 feet in a competitive pole vault competition and finished second while Greg Bombara took second in the javelin with his throw of 184 feet and three inches. 

Simsbury’s Caroline Smith was fifth in the 800 meters while Sarah Mattison took 30 seconds off her personal best time of the season (10:55.12) to finish fourth in the 3,200 meters. Sophomore Stephanie Mueller was sixth in the 100 hurdles in 15.72 seconds. 

And the Simsbury 4×800 relay (Smith, Abigail Erasmus, Mattison, Amber Wilkes) shaved nine seconds off their previous best time and ran a 9:30.49 to finish fifth. 

Canton’s Julian Franklin took fifth in the triple jump, breaking the school record he set less than a week ago with a leap of 44 feet. In fact, four of Franklin’s six leaps in the event were better than his leap of 42-3 at the Class S meet last week. 

Franklin becomes just the third Canton athlete to qualify for the New England meet in outdoor track and field. Graziano has done it twice and Mike LeDuc qualified in the 3,200 meters in 2010. 

The New England championship meet is Saturday in New Britain at Willow Brook Park beginning at 10 a.m. The top five finishers in each individual event qualified for the New England event.

Nicholson is a well-rounded athlete that doesn’t sit on her laurels. She won the Class L discus title as a sophomore and won a pair of Class LL crowns the past two seasons. Nicholson will be attending Williams College next fall where she will play field hockey and participate in track. She was an All-State field hockey player at Simsbury this year. 

Last fall, she broke a finger on her right hand playing field hockey in the state tournament. During the indoor track season, Cohen taught Nicholson to throw the shot put with her left hand. She had to relearn how to spin but she still qualified to compete in the Class LL tournament. 

“You can tell she is a kid driven by excellence,” Cohen said. “She works so hard and is a terrific talent.” She won the discus crown At the State Open by over 12 feet. 

Graziano has been winning for the past two years in Canton. This year, he has been striving to snap the state record in the discus – the longest current achievement left in the record book that was set by Hartford Public’s Melmoth Taylor (191 feet, 7 inches) in 1969. 

At times, he has been limited by the facilities. Three times at the Greater Hartford Invitational in Simsbury, Graziano heaved the discus over the fence that surrounded the area where the event was held. Two weeks later at the NCCC championship meet, one of his throws hit the ground and bounced into the woods. 

His championship throw at the Class S meet helped Canton win its second Class S championship in the past three years. 

“Graziano has a tremendous work ethic,” Cohen said. “Three or four times a week, he would show up at our discus circle to throw.” This was after practice had ended at Canton and Simsbury. 

A year ago, Ives was a top contender at the Class LL meet. And he didn’t clear a single bar. This year, as a senior, Ives has been outstanding. He set a new school record of 15-1 earlier this year and also captured the Class LL title. 

At the Open, three jumpers cleared 15 feet. Westhill’s Billy Thibault also cleared 15 feet but had fewer misses to win the title. 

“To be a good pole vaulter, you need to be one of the best athletes on the team,” Cohen said. “You need the speed of a sprinter, strength of a weight man and the body control of a gymnast. Put it all together and it still takes a lot of guts to sprint down that runaway at full bore.” 

Bombara, a Simsbury High junior, has been showing steady progress in the javelin over the last month. He won at the Greater Hartford Invitational with a throw of 164 feet. He won again at the CCC West tournament with a throw of 167 feet. Bombara won the Class LL title with a throw of 175-11 feet. 

“It the past week, it has all clicked,” Cohen said. You can tell when the javelin is flying through the air without much turbulence.”


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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