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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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2013 sports in review

Updated 4:07 pm, Thursday, January 2, 2014

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  • Staples' Colin Bannon takes a shot during Saturday's lacrosse game against New Canaan in Westport, Conn., on April 20, 2013. Photo: Lindsay Perry / Stamford Advocate

    Staples' Colin Bannon takes a shot during Saturday's lacrosse game against New Canaan in Westport, Conn., on April 20, 2013.

    Photo: Lindsay Perry

 

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2013, which was a year filled with memorable moments from athletes across Westport, is now in the books. Records fell, championships were won and both teams and individuals achieved special things.

The Westport News reviewed the last calendar year and came up with the top five individual and team performances. The winners encompassed eight sports but all had the same thing in common: they were outstanding moments.

Team Performances

February 7: Boys basketball defeats Westhill 53-50, handing Vikings their first conference loss

The Wreckers got off to an encouraging start to the season, posting a 9-6 record and remaining in contention for a FCIAC playoff spot.

Despite having won six of their previous seven games, the Wreckers were heavy underdogs going into their contest with Westhill, winners of 11 straight. The Vikings were a perfect 13-0 in conference play led by a high-pressure defense.

In a back-and-forth game that included a 14-point third quarter lead for Staples, only for the Vikings to storm all the way back to tie it at 44 with four minutes remaining. Wreckers senior Peter Rankowitz (23 points) took over from there, scoring the next five points from the foul line to provide his team enough cushion to pull off the upset. Once a Westhill 3-point shot was off target in the dying seconds, the win was secure.

"When you play the No. 1 team in the league and beat them at home, it's a great accomplishment for our basketball team," Wreckers head coach Colin Devine said.

April 20: Boys lacrosse defeats New Canaan for the first time, 8-7 in double overtime

Staples had spent much of the previous several seasons looking to challenge the elite teams in the FCIAC. 2013 is when it all came together and it included a stunning win over the defending FCIAC champions.

Trailing 7-5 with less than four minutes left against New Canaan, Joey Zelkowitz, who scored three goals, pulled the Wreckers to within one. With time winding down, Colin Bannon netted the equalizer with 18 seconds left on the clock.

With 3:04 left in double overtime and the game heading towards a tie, Will Johnson fired a shot into the root of the cage on a man-up opportunity, sending Staples to a wild win. The win propelled the Wreckers to a 16-5 season and an appearance in the Class L final.

"It's a huge step because New Canaan has always been a top-tier team in the FCIAC," Johnson said. "We're just sort of getting there, so beating them is unbelievable for the program."

May 30: Baseball reaches Class LL quarterfinals with 5-4 win over Xavier

The Wreckers staged a late season rally, going 7-3 in their last 10 games to earn a spot in the FCIAC tournament. After it lost to Greenwich in the quarterfinals, Staples turned its attention to the Class LL playoffs. The Wreckers topped West Haven 7-4 the day before their meeting with No. 1 Xavier.

Facing the top team in the state, the 17th-seeded Wreckers slowly built up a 4-0 lead heading into the seventh inning. Starting pitcher Ryder Chasin threw six shutout innings before the Falcons rallied in the bottom of the seventh with four runs to send the contest to extras.

Wreckers' catcher Noah Yokoi broke the tie with a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth that plated pinch runner Ethan Mellin. Alec Johnson retired the side in the bottom half of the inning to send the Wreckers to a stunning win.

"Like the LL heavyweight champion (the Falcons) are, we knew they'd take one run at us. And they got it to four runs," Staples coach Jack McFarland said. "We took their best shot."

June 8: Boys volleyball regains Class L title with 3-1 (24-26, 25-17, 25-13, 25-23) win over Glastonbury

Once the dominant force in state volleyball, the Wreckers went about three years without any postseason hardware. Three weeks in late May and early June changed all of that.

After the Wreckers recaptured the FCIAC title for the first time since 2010 May 24, they set their sights on the Class L tournament. Staples didn't drop a game until the final, where it met top-seeded Glastonbury in Shelton.

The Wreckers dropped Game 1 but dominated most of the match to win their first state title since 2009.

"It means everything," said middle hitter Lucas Grevers, who notched six kills, five digs and four blocks and was named MVP. "For me it's been three years of hard work, for the seniors, four. This is such a big thing for us."

October 11: Girls volleyball defeats Darien 3-2 (25-10, 23-25, 18-25, 25-23, 15-12) for first time since 1992

The Wreckers enjoyed their best season in 20 years this fall, posting a 22-3 final record with appearances in both the FCIAC and Class LL title games. While this included some memorable moments in the playoffs, a regular season win put Staples on the map.

When Staples defeated the Blue Wave for the first time since 1992, it served notice to the rest of the league that not only was Darien, winners of 19 of the previous 20 FCIAC championships, mortal, but that the Wreckers would be a force to be reckoned with the rest of the season.

The Wreckers had to rally to claim the historic win. After claiming Game 1, Staples dropped the next two before staging a rally of its own. Trailing in the fourth game, the Wreckers hung on for a 25-23 win, and then took the tiebreaking set 15-12 to seal the match.

Cornell-bound hitter Amelia Brackett had 24 kills and 11 digs in the win.

"It was huge," Brackett said. "I always wanted to be on the team that beat Darien and I was. I was so happy; it was monumental."

Individual Performances:

June 1: Melissa Beretta (tennis) advanced to State Open third round

Staples had one of its best seasons in recent memory and Beretta was at the heart of the turnaround. During her season with the Wreckers, Beretta helped the team advance to the FCIAC semifinals and Class L quarterfinals.

Beretta won her first-round matchup against Lianne Maynard (Law) 8-2 before taking on Riya Abraham (Newington). Beretta cruised past Abraham in the second round, winning by a count of 8-3.

Beretta was the first Staples girls singles tennis player to reach the third round since Rebecca Boas in 2005.

June 4: Faith Garcia (golf) finishes sixth at State Open

Garcia, a transfer from Trinity Catholic, led the Wreckers to a 12-2 record during the regular season. She scored in the 30's six times including a school-record round of 37.

Garcia then turned her attention to the Orange Hills Country Club in Orange for the State Open. Noted for being one of the hardest courses in the state, no golfer broke 80 in tough conditions.

The junior carded an 85, which qualified her for the New England Championship and helped Staples to a tie for second place.

"I would say because of her commitment, her dedication and her work ethic, being the best she can be, she is the best player we've had in my 17 years," Staples coach Bob Byiteck said.

June 16: Henry Wynne (outdoor track) wins mile run title at New Balance Outdoor Nationals

In a splendid career that saw him rewrite the Staples running record book from 800-3200 meters, Wynne saved his best performance for last.

In his final race as a high school athlete, Wynne captured first place in Greensboro in a race that featured some of the best runners in the country.

Wynne 4:07.84 took the lead at the quarter mile pole and never looked back, besting second place finisher Jack Keelan (Ill.) by less than a second. A runner was on Wynne's shoulder for middle stages of the race, but Wynne pulled away as Keelan closed from behind. Wynne's final kick was more than enough to put an exclamation point on an incredible high school career.

"I don't know how close the second-place guy was," Wynne said, "but I always think in my head they are close. I don't want to be slowing down in that kind of race. I powered all the way through it and didn't let up."

October. 30: Verity Abel (swimming) breaks 26-year old record in winning 200 Freestyle

Abel set multiple records in the 200 and 500 freestyle during her time at Staples, but breaking a record set by an Olympic silver medalist stands above the rest.

That's exactly what Abel did at the FCIAC championships at Greenwich High School in the 200 freestyle. Abel (1:50.23) edged Janel Jorgensen's (Ridgefield) long-lasting mark by 0.36 seconds. Abel, who went undefeated during her season that helped Staples to sixth in FCIAC's and the State Open, won the race by five seconds.

"I'm honored; it's such a great feeling as a senior to have our whole team go out with a bang," Abel said "It's cool to make history. I had my eye on the records. But I didn't realize that I broke (Jorgensen)'s record until my coach told me."

December. 14: Hannah DeBalsi (cross country) finishes second at Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship

Sophomore standout runner DeBalsi smashed just about every course record she ran in during the regular and post season. Those accomplishments paled in comparison to what she did competing with the best runners in the country.

After taking the FCIAC, state and New England by storm, DeBalsi set her sights on the national stage. She finished third at a regional qualifier in the Bronx, N.Y. and earned a trip to Balboa Park's Morley Field in San Diego.

In San Diego, DeBalsi ran the perfect race. Staying within striking distance while conserving energy, DeBalsi got stronger as the race went on. After running in seventh at the mile and a half mark, DeBalsi charged into second over the next mile.

DeBalsi caught leader and eventual winner Tessa Barrett down the stretch, but the senior pulled away in the final 700 meters. DeBalsi finished the course in a sensational time of 17:25.3, earning all-American status.

"I don't know how to describe it," DeBalsi said. "It's an honor to compete with such great runners."

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