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Despite pandemic, plenty of memorable athletic moments in 2021

To play during the pandemic in 2021 required a mask, especially inside. Last February, Avon’s Will Soucier (12) drives between three Lewis Mills defenders.

As we look back at 2021 and the top sports stories of the year, we wish we could move on from this topic but one can’t. The COVID-19 pandemic is still here and although we returned to playing and competing on the athletic fields and gymnasiums, we still had to deal with the contagious virus.

Once again, it’s our No. 1 story of the year.

Most athletes got to play in 2021 although there were modifications and safety protocols to observe. Last winter, high school basketball and hockey players got to play a shortened 10-game season with a regional schedule and no state tournaments. Athletes had to wear masks at practices and in games.

While that was disappointing to those athletes, it was a better deal than wrestlers, swimmers and indoor track and field athletes got. The high school wrestling season was virtually wiped out last winter. Wrestlers could lift weights and engage in non-contact drills, which limited workouts for a contact-based sport.

The CIAC, based on guidance from the state Department of Health, allowed contact drills for a week in late March but didn’t extend the wrestling season into the spring to provide a full season for spring sport athletes that had their entire season eliminated in 2020.

A few indoor track athletes were able to compete outside in a few meets, weather permitting, and swimming was reduced to virtual meets.

Many athletes work masks during competition outdoors last spring.  Avon’s Kelly Hayes (7) and Gabby Delsanto battle for a loose ball during a girls lacrosse game last April. Canton won, 10-9.

In the spring, the CIAC resumed their state tournaments.  Depending on the sport, players were required to wear masks on the field of play. Masks were required everywhere else, including the bench and the sideline. Coaches, officials and players on the bench were required to mask up.

In the fall, high school football returned after a one-year absence to due to the pandemic. Masks were required for any indoor setting. In all sports, the general rule was masks inside for players, coaches and spectators.

The CIAC and the Department of Health encouraged young athletes to get vaccinated and the quarantine protocols were shorter for vaccinated athletes and coaches.

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic slamming the world, we continue to learn and adapt to the virus. State tournaments will be returning this year for winter high school sports and masks continue to be deployed. Basketball and hockey players are required to wear a mask in practice and in games – as they did a year ago.

Wrestlers are required to wear masks at all times, unless they are in a match or a hard workout. Swimmers need to be masked outside of the water while indoor track athletes generally need to be wearing masks at all times although there are some exceptions for field athletes during their actual events.

As they have all year, athletes and coaches need to adhere to virus protocols involving quarantines and contact tracing. With the rise of the omicron variant in December, athletic events have been cancelled or postponed with more people testing positive for the virus.

No. 2: Canton Board of Education votes to stop using Native American imagery

In November, the Canton Board of Education voted to remove Native American imagery from the Warrior logo.

It’s hard to gauge the excitement and interest in events with attendance limited in some sports due to the pandemic and the other options that people have for entertainment that has been reducing attendance at high school athletic events for years.

But there was certainly plenty of discussion about the Canton Board of Education (BOE) and their discussion of the Warrior mascot in 2021. The BOE’s mascot review committee finally meet last spring and held a series of virtual meetings through the summer discussing the Warrior mascot.

A 17-person committee, which was comprised of members of the Board of Education, school administrators, teachers, students and members of the community met seven times to investigate and learn about the Warrior mascot beginning in May. The committee recommended removing any Native American imagery from the logo but was undecided on keeping or retiring the Warrior mascot name.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to retire any Native American imagery from the Canton High mascot beginning immediately and to complete removal of any Native American imagery from the school and athletic uniforms by June 2023. The Board of Education also voted to retain the Warrior nickname and rebrand it by a vote of 5-4.

November 9: Canton BOE votes to retire Native American imagery; rebrand Warrior mascot

No. 3: Two valley swimmers compete in U.S. Olympic Trials

Canton’s Will Gallant, left, and Avon native Madison Kennedy, right, competed at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in June in Omaha, Nebraska.

Two local swimmers competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska in June trying to earn a spot in the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. Canton’s Will Gallant has qualified for the Olympic Trials in three events – 400 meter freestyle, 800 meter freestyle and 1,500 meter freestyle while Avon native Madison Kennedy qualified for her fourth Olympic Trials in the 50 meter freestyle.

Gallant, who joined the North Carolina State program in September, finished fifth in the 800 meters, and sixth in his best event, the 1,500 meters. Kennedy, the oldest swimmer in her race at the age of 33, finished 20th.

June 10: Two local swimmers will be seeking berths  on U.S. Olympic team

No. 4: Canton boys soccer grabs share of league title, advances to Class S final

Spencer Mix, left, celebrates after scoring the first goal of Saturday’s Class S quarterfinal win over Holy Cross. Mix led the team in scoring and earned All-American honors.

It was quite a season for the Canton High boys soccer team that advanced to the Class S state championship game for the first time since 2003 before bowing to Old Saybrook, 4-1 in double overtime at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.

“This is the most talented team, most diverse team in terms of talent,” said Phelps, who has spent 33 years behind the bench in Canton. “No team has worked together as well as these kids have. They are really nice kids and they really like each other. They’re moving well. They’re listening in practice. These kids know how to play soccer.”

Canton went 12-1 in the NCCC to grab a share of their first league title since 2002. The Warriors finished tied with Suffield.

The Warriors made a great run through the tournament with a 2-0 win over No. 1 Holy Cross in the quarterfinals that included a 90-minute delay for a thunderstorm and a win on penalty kicks over Griswold in the semifinals.

Nov. 21: Old Saybrook takes charge in OT to beat Canton and win another Class S championship

No. 5: Avon football team finally hits the field, wins CCC Tier 4 title and earns playoff berth

This fall, Avon won a division title and earned a spot in the state tournament due to their ability to run the ball.

There was no football season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Falcons were literally hours away from opening the season against Tolland before the game was postponed. Several players on the team caught COVID and others had to quarantine due to contact tracing. It delayed the start of the season three weeks.

But once the Falcons (7-3) were able to hit the field, they just ran and ran. Head coach Jeff Redman frequently wore a hat on the sideline that simply stated, run the ball.

Utilizing the single wing, an offense that emphasizes running, Avon won their first league title since 2015 by taking the CCC Tier 4 crown. The Falcons beat Farmington in their first game with the River Hawks in 16 years and earned their first CIAC playoff berth since 2012, coming one point shy of beating Branford in the Class M quarterfinals.

“The offensive line has carried us,” Redman said. “It’s unseen but we’re able to get 10 guys blocking (together) unlike any other offense. We’re a bunch of average kids that came together and worked out really hard in the off-season and they really drive us. We couldn’t do what we do without that offensive line. They’re tremendous.”

Nov. 30: Branford survives bruising battle with Avon, 7-6, to advance in state tournament

No. 6: Avon boys cross country team wins first-ever state championship

The Avon High boys cross country team, won their first-ever state championship, claiming the Class MM crown. (Photo courtesy Melissa Carver)

With five runners in the top 12, the Avon High boys cross country team won their first state championship with a convincing victory at the Class MM championship meet, beating Hand by 32 points, 38-70.

Jack Martin finished second with a time of 16:30 over the hilly and muddy 3.1 mile course at Wickham Park in Manchester with teammate Carver Morgan in third place in 16:43. Thomas Armistead finished tenth – the leader of the second pack of Falcon runners with Jack O’Donnell one second back in 11th place and Nicholas Bailey five seconds back in 12th place.

A week later, the Falcons finished fifth at the State Open to earn a spot at the New England championships for the first time as a team. It was Avon’s best-ever finish at the Open.

Nov. 1: Avon boys cross country team races to first state championship

No. 7: Avon American Legion baseball team wins first-ever state championship

Danny Galliher (23) celebrates with teammate after scoring a run in the second inning of the win over Middletown in the state tournament semifinals.

Avon won four games in four days to beat Wallingford, 4-2 and capture their first American Legion state championship. Due to COVID-19, the high school season ended late which forced the Legion season to be condensed, resulting in a single-elimination state tournament that was held over the span of one week.

Teams still had to adhere to pitching rules that limited the number of innings and pitches that a pitcher could throw so Post 201 got strong pitching performances from their entire lineup to win the title. Post 201 pitcher Danny Bae allowed four hits and fanned seven in the title game but it was a team effort that helped Avon eliminate Middletown in the semifinals.

In the quarterfinals, Matt Leopold got the ball and pitched a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over Bristol.  Luke Coppen, 15, helped eliminate Zone 4 champion RCP in the second round.

August 8: Avon beats Wallingford to win first American Legion state championship

No. 8: Canton boys lacrosse team wins first conference title by taking CCC South title

The Canton High boys lacrosse team celebrates after beating Lewis Mills to win the CCC South championship Monday.

In nine previous seasons, the Canton High boys lacrosse team had never won more than eight games in a single season and nor come close to contending for a league championship in the North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC). The Warriors went 14-2 and ran the table in the Central Connecticut Conference Southern Division (9-0) to win their first championship.

The six teams from the NCCC were added to the CCC in March – just a few weeks before the season was to begin — to help ensure that the NCCC teams would have a full schedule of games to play this spring. It was a one-time arrangement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a great accomplishment for this group of boys,” Canton coach Chris Weller said. “They’ve competed. They’ve endured. They’ve come together and they’ve believed in each other and done something great.”

May 24: Canton boys lacrosse team claims first-ever championship

No. 9: Newington co-op ice hockey team wins tournament semifinal in five OT contest

Newington co-op players celebrate after the Blue and Gold beat Wethersfield in the fifth OT to advance in the CCC South tournament. (Photo courtesy Newington co-op hockey team)

With no state tournament due to the pandemic, the CCC South conference tournament was the ultimate prize for the Newington High co-op ice hockey team, which includes four Canton players. In what may be the longest high school hockey game in state history, Newington battled Wethersfield for hours before prevailing, 3-2 in five overtimes in the CCC South semifinal.

“That was the best game you could hope for to show the spirit of each team and who was willing to dig deeper,” Canton’s Braeden Humphrey said.

Newington (11-1-1) won the CCC South championship two days later with a 5-0 win over Tri-Town.

April 1: Remembering Newington co-op’s historic tournament win in five OT

No. 10: Avon’s Jack Martin wins three Class MM state titles in one day

Avon’s Jack Martin won three Class MM championships in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter races.

Junior Jack Martin became the second track and field athlete in school history to win three state championships in a single day at the Class MM championship meet. Martin won state titles in the 800 meters, 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters to help the Falcons finish third – their best finish in a CIAC championship meet since finishing first in Class S in 1994.

Avon’s Jeff Hyman also won three state titles in a single day in 1982 when he swept the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters.

June 3: Martin wins three state titles while 4×800 relay brings home a title for Avon

No. 11: Lights finally shine around Avon High field

Avon and Tolland warm up before Friday’s CCC Tier 4 in Avon this past October.

The lights went around the Avon High’s new synthetic turf field last spring and the games under the lights began shortly afterward. But the committee that helped raise money for the permanent lights didn’t want to let the opportunity to thank town residents for their support slip away.

They held a brief ceremony at halftime of the first home football game in October to thank residents for their support of the $380,000 initiative to install permanent lights around the field.

Oct. 17: Community support for permanent lights at high school praised

No. 12: Avon boys tennis team wins Class M title

The Avon High boys tennis team (19-0) won the sixth state championship in program history with a win over East Lyme.

Due to the pandemic, the boys tennis tournament was modified in 2021. Instead of a large tournament where individuals earn points for their teams with individual victories, the CIAC decided on a dual meet format was used to determine a state champion. Why? With only teams, you could minimize the number of people together in one spot and minimize potential infections.

Avon eliminated Joel Barlow in the quarterfinals, beat long-time nemesis Weston in the semifinals and beat East Lyme, 6-1, to win the Class M championship. The Falcons (19-0), who had finished second in five of the previous state tournaments, won their first title since 2013.

The Avon High girls tennis team also made the state final but they lost to Hand, 7-0.

June 4: Undefeated Avon boys win Class M state title; Hands ends Avon girls title hopes

No. 13: Canton girls field hockey team wins share of first league title since 2006

The Canton High girls field hockey team celebrates after beating Granby Wednesday, 1-0, to win a share of the NCCC championship. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Haynes)

Canton earned a share of their first league championship since 2006 with a 1-0 win over Granby on the road. The Warriors and the Bears both finish the season with 7-1 records in the North Central Connecticut Conference. “We played as a team,” Canton coach Margaret Bristol said. “We played with confidence and we played smart. We learned from the mistakes we made the first time we played them.”

Nov. 3: Canton beats Granby to win share of first NCCC championship since 2006

No. 14: Boys basketball team wins first seven games of 2021 season to set new winning streak record of 15

Canton’s Josh Burke (23) was the team’s leading scorer in 2021.

By winning the first seven games of the season, Canton’s boys basketball team set a new program record with their 15th  consecutive win by beating HMTCA (Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy).

“At this point, we are truly taking it one day and one game at a time,” Canton High head coach Craig Archambault said after the record-setting win. “We know something non-basketball related could end our season (through a contact tracing quarantine or a positive COVID-19 test) at any time. It is so hard to look ahead. ”

In March, the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines was in its early stages and vaccines were not available yet for high school-age students. Attendance at games was limited to two fans for each player and games were streamed for the general public and visiting fans, who were not allowed in buildings.

Canton won their final eight games of the 2020 season before the season came to end due to the pandemic.

March 10: Undefeated Canton dominates HMTCA on Senior Night

Here are the top 10 stories in the Collinsville Press in 2021 in terms of page views, according to Google Analytics.

  1. Nov. 3: Local 2021 municipal election results for Canton and Avon.
  2. Results from 2021 state Little League baseball tournament
  3. Feb. 28, 2020: Canton’s Chelsea Mitchell wins 55 meter championship in 2020
  4. Oct. 10, 2020: Release of the 2020 Connecticut High School Football Record Book
  5. June 30: U.S. women’s soccer team set to face Mexico at Rentschler Field in tuneup for World Cup
  6. July 16: Simsbury beats East Granby to win District 6 Little League baseball title
  7. June 16: Canton’s Will Gallant is top seed in 1,500 meters at U.S. Olympic Trials
  8. Results from the 2021 state Little League softball tournament
  9. July 28: Simsbury Little League team beats Wilton in Section II tournament
  10. June 19: Avon’s Madison Kennedy just misses chance to advance at Olympic Trials

Top stories

2020: Memorable moments

2018: Memorable moments

2017: Memorable moments

Top Collinsville Press stories from 2016

Top Collinsville Press stories from 2015

Top Collinsville Press stories from 2014

Top Canton stories from 2012Top Avon stories from 2012

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 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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