A pair of local teams encountered recent bumps in the road in an otherwise successful season, but nevertheless, a readjusting was in order to get back on track.
To do so, both squads turned to their most trusted performers, and they delivered, each guiding their group to flawless 3-0 weeks to put any previous struggles behind them.
New Britain’s Liana Silva and Newington’s Leonel Caceres are this week’s Athletes of the Week for their ability to turn trials into triumphs for their respective teams.
The New Britain softball team bounced back in a big way last week, routing Conard before securing a pair of impressive wins against Rocky Hill and Plainville after losing four games in a row.
The Hurricanes scored just one run in each of those four losses before last week’s surge, and they needed an offensive boost to get the team back in gear. They received one from Silva, who smashed a three-run home run against Conard to spark a nine-run fourth inning that had New Britain looking like a different team.
For head coach Joel Simmone, Silva’s clutch performance wasn’t anything new. In just her first year at New Britain High, Silva has taken up a demanding position behind the plate and also delivered with the bat, showing the mark of an established veteran despite her lack of experience.
“She’s a veteran,” Simmone said. “A freshman veteran. She’s a freshman playing like a senior.”
Like the rest of the Hurricanes, Silva entered the game against Conard in a slump, but broke out in a big way to help begin a three-game winning streak that stretched through last week, including the win against Rocky Hill, which was the first win against the Terriers in Simmone’s tenure.
“It felt really good,” Silva said. “It was great to help pick us up as a team.”
Despite her grade level, Silva has often been counted on to pick up the offense, as well as handling the pitching staff from behind the plate. Given starting pitcher Josleen Rivera’s immense success so far this season, Silva has handled the role well.
“She is really swinging it,” Simmone said. “She’s amazing behind the plate too. She works harder than anybody.”
That work ethic helps Silva shed her freshman label, instead playing like an established upperclassman for a New Britain team that appears poised for a trip to the state tournament. Given her performance so far, Simmone and the Hurricanes won’t have to worry about their freshman catcher crumbling under any postseason pressure.
New Britain needed a good week to break out of a prolonged slump, and the Newington boys volleyball team needed a good week of their own to wash away the sour taste of what was its first loss of the season. After falling to an undefeated Southington team the week before, the Indians got back on track and continued their march toward what they hope will be another state championship.
That was in part thanks to the steady hands of Caceres.
The senior helped the Indians win all three of their matches last week, all by scores of 3-0. The successful stint was bookended by two phenomenal showings from Caceres, who dished out 23 assists to start the week against Conard before finishing with 29 in a sweep against Wethersfield.
When the Indians began the 2019 season, they arrived with a massive void in the form of setter Dan Cloutier’s absence, last year’s All-State selection and CHSCA Player of the Year. Caceres, an All-State winner himself last season as an outside hitter after finishing the year with 361 kills, needed to take more of a setting role this year, and has thrived from the first match of the season.
“He’s really embraced a new position, which he never played until this season,” head coach Curt Burns said. “The setter position is akin to a quarterback. It’s an intricate and complicated position, and he’s embraced it and ran with it.”
Newington’s lone defeat through its first 15 matches of the season came at the hands of the Blue Knights, though Caceres did all he could for the Indians in the epic five-set duel, recording a match-high 49 assists in the team’s toughest contest of the year so far. More difficult matches will be in Newington’s future, including a meeting with Westfield, a reigning state champ in Massachusetts, next Monday. It will provide a valuable tune-up before the state tournament, when Caceres and the rest of the senior class will look to cement their legacy with what would be the team’s third straight state title, and the first for Caceres at his new position.
“Everything has kind of come together for him,” Burns said. “The big surprise is how well he is doing. I always knew he could do it, but he’s setting our team to a very high attack efficiency. He’s doing really well, and that’s a great reflection on him.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org