The winter sports season was again a memorable one as athletes and teams at Staples High made an impact at all levels. Let's take a look back at the best of the best.
Most outstanding team: Boys indoor track
Last season, Staples ran to one of its strongest finishes in program history, winning FCIAC, LL state and State Open titles. It would've been a little much to expect the Wreckers to do the same this winter, but they came close -- really, really close.
After edging perennial power Danbury to repeat as both conference and LL champions, the Wreckers -- on just two-days rest -- took third at the Open, with Bloomfield and the Hatters claiming the top two spots. To make their season even more impressive, the Wreckers also struck on the national level on March 8 at the Armory in New York. That's when Henry Wynne, Peter Elkind, Jack Scott and Walker Marsh teamed up to win the 4,000-meter distance medley relay (10:07.01) at the New Balance National Championships.
Laddie Lawrence, in his 44th season as coach, later admitted, "We thought we could place. We never even dreamed of winning" at Nationals.
The quartet set a state record -- topping Hamden's three-year-old mark (10:07.58) by less a second -- and a school record.
Staples, powered by a Division-I runner in Wynne, showed strength in numerous events in the championship season. At FCIACs, the Wreckers finished first in five of the 15 events, winning the 1,000, 1,600 and 3,200 -- all by Wynne -- as well as the 600 (Marsh, 1:23.57) and pole vault (Matt Mula, 14-00). The team also had runner-up finishes in the 4x800 and the 1,600 sprint medley relays.
The Wreckers' accomplishments and wealth of talent are tough to match.
Most outstanding male athlete: Henry Wynne, indoor track
Lawrence has seen a lot of talented runners pass through Staples -- none, he believes, as good as Wynne.
"It looks like he's the best we've ever had. ... We've had a lot of good ones go through here," the longtime coach said last week.
The University of Virginia-bound Wynne was dominant in his final indoor campaign at Staples. He capped his illustrious year with a pair of victories at Nationals, anchoring the 1,600 leg in the 4,000 distance medley relays before winning the mile. His mile time of 4:08.15 is now both a state and school record.
Coming off an unbeaten cross country season, Wynne won every individual race he competed in this winter, setting several other school records in the process. His times in the 1,000 (2:25.15), 1,500 (3:52.49) and 800 (1:53.71) -- the first two of which he recorded this season -- are unmatched at Staples.
Most outstanding female athlete: Hannah DeBalsi, indoor track
In the fall, Hannah DeBalsi came out of nowhere to establish herself as one of the region's premier runners. A freshman, she placed second at LL states (19:17) and 11th at New Englands (19:32) in the cross country campaign.
This winter, DeBalsi has accomplished just as much, if not more.
After taking second in the 3,200 and third in the 1,600 at FCIACs for indoor track, DeBalsi turned around and won the 3,200 at the LL meet with a state-record time of 10:44.57. Three days later, she won the event at the State Open in 11:00.37.
DeBalsi set school records this season in the 1,000, 1,600, 3,000 and 3,200. She was the only freshman to compete in the two-mile at Nationals, finishing 10th overall.
Suffice to say, DeBalsi is now a household name in the high-school running circuit.
Top newcomer: DeBalsi, indoor track
DeBalsi made a pretty strong impression in her first indoor track season. See above.
Best coaching performance: Frisk Driscoll, boys swimming
As assistant a year ago, Driscoll made a smooth transition to the head coaching role this winter.
At the start of the season, Driscoll said that Staples was "definitely" a top-three team in the FCIAC. Despite losing two top swimmers -- including last year's 100 free and 100 back conference champion, Nathaniel Boley -- to full-time commitments with the Wilton Y Wahoos, the Wreckers still finished strong. They took fourth in the conference championships, third in LL states and 10th at the State Open.
The Wreckers lost three straight meets from late January into February, but they responded with two straight wins to close the regular season.
Several of the team's swimmers -- including junior Jonathan Blansfield -- have peaked at the right time under Driscoll's guidance. Blansfield won the 500-yard freestyle at the FCIAC (4:35.08, a conference record), state and Open meets.
Best game: Staples 53, Westhill 50, boys basketball, Feb. 7
Westhill stormed into the late-season clash at Staples unbeaten in conference, 14-1 overall. The Wreckers, coming off two straight wins, were fighting for a spot in the conference's eight-team playoff field. The game with all the storylines lived up to the hype.
Tied with just under four minutes to play, the Wreckers turned to their lead scorer, senior guard Peter Rankowitz, for a jolt of offense. Rankowitz delivered, finishing the night with a game-high 23 points as the Wreckers defeated Westhill 53-50.
Staples head coach Colin Devine put the win in perspective afterward, saying, "When you play the No. 1 team in the league and beat them at home, it's a great accomplishment for our basketball team."
Best quote: "To win in this fashion just kind of validates all the hard work, despite the fact that things have not gone our way so many more times than they have. It's a tribute to every one of these players to hang together and have the courage and the will." -- Ed Huydic, Staples girls basketball head coach following 55-53 buzzer-beating win over Greenwich on Feb. 12.
Staples struggled this season, missing the state tournament for the first time in 29 years with a 7-13 record. But for one night, with the help of guard Abby Lustig's game-winning shot, the Wreckers had some satisfaction.
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