With the spring season now in full swing, the area athletes have continued to make strides in their respective games in order to help their teams come away with the best results.
Newington’s Owen Freeman and Innovation’s Aaliyah Walker have done just that with each stepping their games up, especially over the past week.
Entering Thursday, the Newington boys lacrosse team had what it called its “biggest game of the season” against South Windsor. The Indians lost to Bobcats twice last year - 20-6 during regular season and then 16-7 in the first round of the CCC tournament and wanted a win against a quality opponent.
Newington might have ended up with a 9-8 double-overtime loss, but it was in a back-and-forth game the entire time. Freeman certainly played a large role in that, coming away a hat trick for his 14th, 15th and 16th goals of the season.
“We reminded everyone through the week that we had to come out strong,” Freeman said. “After our losses last year by a large margin, I knew what I had to do and when the opportunities were there I seized them although we did come up short and [in] double overtime which was heartbreaking knowing that you put your heart into that game.”
It’s quite a difference from where Freeman was before the season began. The sophomore wasn’t sure where or how he was going to fit into the lineup for Newington. Then during the preseason, Freeman competed for a first-line midfielders spot throughout the preseason, he began making an impression.
“At the beginning of this year we didn’t even know if [Freeman] was going to start or not,” Indians head coach Zach Zarookian said. “He was doing really well and scoring a lot. All last season he had zero goals and two assists on varsity, against lower competition. He’s been huge for us this year, scoring two, three goals every game. He’s just been kind of doing his job and what we ask from him, he does a great job.”
Freeman responded with a strong start to the season. He netted 13 goals and recorded two assists in the team’s first eight games before Thursday’s breakout performance. And as a sophomore, he’s only going to get better.
“Owen’s really small, but he’s really scrappy,” Zarookian said. “He plays really hard. He’s actually made a bunch of what we call ‘garbage goals’ where he hits the goalie's stick and it bounces off. I'm surprised he gets the ball as much as he does because he is one of the smaller guys out there. He just plays with a lot of heart and is also very skilled. He’s a very talented young player.”
Walker is not only helping the Ravens succeed on the track, but is making school history in the process.
The junior became the first female athlete in Innovation’s history to qualify for the Class S championships in the 300 hurdles last Tuesday against East Windsor, SMSA and Suffield.
“I tried hurdles before and I wasn’t that good at them so I feel like this was a big accomplishment for me,” Walker said. “I’m honored to be the first female to qualify in the 300 hurdles.”
Walker has been setting school history in more ways than one, setting a new school record in the event as well as the 400-meter dash. At a little over the halfway point of the season, she is also close to qualifying for states in the 200- and 400-meter dashes and the high jump. She also is planning on competing in the heptathlon for the first time in her career.
And she plans to keep getting better times at each meet. Walker, after all, has high expectations for herself.
“My goals for the season are to continue improving in my events,” Walker said. “I hope to place in top 6 in Class S states for 300 hurdles. Later on in the season, I also hope to compete well in the heptathlon.”
Walker has always been drawn to sports and as she was growing up, it took her a little time to figure out exactly what she wanted to participate in.
“I always wanted to do sports but I didn’t know what sport I wanted to do,” Walker said. “In eighth grade, my dad convinced me to try track and I’ve been sticking with it since then.”
And the Ravens are sure glad she has.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org