Postseason competition can sometimes bring out the best in athletes fighting to achieve a season-long goal or to keep their season alive. Over the weekend, two area athletes turned in big performances in key spots to either end their season on a high note, or to ensure they would have at least one more game this year.
New Britain’s Kaiyon Gunn and Berlin’s Patricia Mroczkowski are this week’s Athletes of the Week for their performance on the state and national stages.
The New Britain boys basketball team was fighting through a rough start and a loud Wilton crowd in the Division II state tournament quarterfinals on Friday night. One of those players struggling for the Hurricanes was Gunn, who picked up four early fouls that forced him to the bench for the majority of the second and third quarters, while his teammates helped New Britain fight back and tie the game.
Gunn checked back in for the fourth quarter, and despite being one foul away from fouling out for the game, he came up with what proved to be the game-winning basket thanks to an aggressive play on the defensive end, where he picked off a pass near the top of the key and drove down the floor for an easy layup to give the Hurricanes a 64-62 lead.
“He didn’t have his greatest game, but he came up with the biggest play of the game,” New Britain head coach Kurt Reis said.
While Gunn struggled with the rest of the Hurricanes to start the game, he turned up his defense down the stretch when it mattered most. Perhaps most important of all, Gunn began to play smarter, no longer letting the magnitude of the moment get to him.
“My coaches just told me to ease up,” Gunn said. “My coaches and teammates had full trust in me.”
Gunn has been exceptional in transition thanks to forced turnovers this season, and with New Britain’s season on the line, he delivered his biggest steal yet, effectively erasing three quarters of frustration.
Thanks to Gunn’s heroics, the Hurricanes are moving on to the state semifinals for the first time in 15 years.
“It means a lot,” Gunn said. “We haven’t been there in a long time. Me and my teammates have worked really hard for this.”
Mroczkowski, Berlin girls indoor track high jumper, has been working hard to earn an All-American selection since finishing 15th nationally last year. Having earned a trip to the New Balance National Championships every year since she was a freshman, Mroczkowski hoped to reach the top six this year, which normally is enough to earn All-American honors.
Mroczkowski did everything in her power to achieve that goal, setting a personal high jump record with a jump of 5 feet, 8.75 inches, but a stacked group of talent at the competition pushed Mroczkowski to a seventh-place finish, as she was still able to accomplish one of her initial goals of finishing inside the top 10 at the event held in New York City this past weekend.
“She had skipped the New Englands to focus on the National Championships and finish in the top 10,” Berlin coach Steve Soucy said. “She had an amazing season.”
Mroczkowski’s season consisted not only of a top-10 finish at the national level, but a class state championship for the second year in a row, as well as a conference championship. The senior was only topped by four jumpers in the nation over the weekend, including Morgan Smalls from North Carolina (who jumped 6 feet, 3.25 inches, the second-highest jump in U.S. history), but tiebreakers pushed her to just outside the required placement to secure an All-American spot. While that came as a disappointment, the season as a whole was not lost on Mroczkowski or the Berlin coaching staff.
“We knew the All-Americans last year finished seventh or better and she did that (this year), but unfortunately it was just a really talented field this year,” Soucy said. “I think she was frustrated because she set a personal record and broke her highest mark. It really came down to one other girl who wasn’t having a great day but cleared 5 feet, 10 inches on her last jump and knocked Patty out of the sixth spot. So she was proud of her season as a whole, but it just came down to someone else making a jump and they did it.”