With the fall season almost at the halfway point, coaches know which players they can rely on to step up to help deliver their respective teams a win.
Plainville swimmer Lydia Weinberg and Southington football player Will Downes both came through with those kinds of performances to help their teams come out with a victory.
Weinberg helped the Blue Devils sweep both of its meets against Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central last week, while qualifying for states in two events in the process.
In Plainville’s 101-85 win over the Lancers, the senior qualified for states in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle, two events she typically doesn’t swim last Tuesday.
The sprinter has taken on a different role this season with the distance swims and Weinberg is not only embracing her new role, but excelling at it as well. The captain finished the 200 freestyle in a time of 2:14.91 and the 500 freestyle in 6:09.34, placing first and second in those events respectively.
“It was a whole new experience swimming the distance events once and a while,” Weinberg said. “You definitely start feeling it in your arms a lot faster, but it’s the same mindset, same power going all the way through till the end.”
Weinberg came through with another strong performance on Friday in the 96-87 win over the Rams.
She placed second in the 200 freestyle with a time of 2:15.21 and second in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:07.20, just short by .08th of a second.
“She’s one of the hardest working girls on the team,” Plainville head coach Chris Zagorski said. “She really sets the bar high for the other girls, intensity wise in practice, personality keeps the girls lose when they need to be focused and she’s really living up to her title as captain. She’s a real team leader.”
The Blue Devils are certainly expecting big things from Weinberg this season. As a junior, she was a state medalist last season in the 50 freestyle. She placed sixth with a time of 26.05. Weinberg also placed ninth in the 100 freestyle with a time of 57.90.
“She just missed [medaling] in the 100 last year,” Zagorski said. “So she’s looking to come back and score higher and potentially get All-State if she can get her times down.”
It’s a good start.
The Blue Knights came through with a dramatic 27-24 comeback win over New Britain Friday night to remain unbeaten with Downes playing an instrumental role, having a hand in setting up all three fourth-quarter scores.
With Southington trailing 18-7, the wideout came up with a pair of catches, including one that went for 24 yards and set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacob Drena to Jamie Lamson to cut the deficit to 18-14.
Downes then came up with a diving 14-yard catch on the team’s next drive, one that ended with the 21-yard catch by Jacob Flynn. On the deciding drive, Downes caught two of Drena’s four passes for 36 yards. The last of which was a post corner route that got the team to the New Britain 4-yard line and set up Tanner LaRosa for the winning score.
“When we needed a play, Will made it,” Drena said. “Will is a dynamic player. He’s one of the top guys in the state right now. He can run around. He can make plays everywhere, a diving catch over here, a corner route over there on the 4-yard line.”
The senior finished his night catching six passes for 85 yards in the win to bring his season totals to 25 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns.
“Everyone was just doing our jobs,” Downes said. “We balled out on that last drive. But knowing that I got a lot of varsity time last year has given me a lot of confidence this season. I’m just trying to lead the underclassmen and teach them whatever I’ve gotten taught before.”
But the biggest play from Downes wasn’t on the offensive side of the ball, it was on defense.
With 47 seconds left in the third quarter, Downes intercepted New Britain quarterback Tahje Yopp. That play officially turned the momentum in the Blue Knights’ favor. More impressive was Downes has played little on defense this season up to that point.
“It was all coaching,” Downes said. “Before the drive, I asked my coach were he wanted me to lineup and he told me outside. Me getting that pick was all because of that.”
With the second half of the season set to begin next Friday for Southington, expect more big plays from the senior wide receiver - on offense, as well as defense.