The past week saw plenty of memorable moments for area sports, from state tournament-clinching wins to the retirement of local heroes. But there was also two big individual performances that helped two local teams pick up big victories, and served as the continuation of a full season’s worth of star play.
Whether it was taking down a state juggernaut or starting a much-needed winning streak, Newington’s Karissa Zocco and Southington’s Tyler Heidgerd were on top of their game when it was needed most, and are this week’s Athletes of the Week.
The Newington girls basketball team was locked in a tight battle with undefeated and sixth-ranked East Catholic on Thursday night, and despite a cold start from deep, Zocco came alive when it counted and helped lead the Indians to their most impressive victory of the season.
Zocco, who entered the fourth quarter struggling from the floor, drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with less than four minutes left in the game to put Newington ahead by one. On the next possession, still up one, Zocco watched a 3-point attempt go halfway through the basket before rimming out, but the sophomore was fouled on the shot and sank three clutch free throws to extend the Indians’ lead to four. The lead shrunk to one with 15 seconds left, but another free throw from Zocco proved to be huge once a halfcourt shot at the buzzer from the Eagles banked in, but still left them one point short, as Newington handed East Catholic its first loss of the season.
Zocco finished with 13 points, and is now averaging 12.1 points per game, second on the team behind all-conference senior Ashanti Frazier. The sharp-shooting sophomore currently leads the team with a 3-point percentage of 33 percent in 87 attempts, hardly a small sample size. What is possibly even more impressive is her poise at the free throw line, especially in big situations like Thursday night. So far this season, Zocco has been nearly automatic from the charity stripe, sinking 22 of 24 foul shots, good for 92 percent and easily the best mark on the team. Her defense is also a plus for Newington, as her 2.2 steals per game is tied with Frazier for the team lead.
“Karissa is one of the team’s hardest workers,” head coach Marc Tancredi said. “She is very coachable, is a tremendous teammate and always lifting up others.”
She may be an underclassman by grade level, but Zocco is playing like a poised senior for the Indians, and played a big part in taking down one of the top teams in the state last week.
The Southington boys swim team was looking to get a winning streak started last week against East Catholic, and it turned to one of its top swimmers in Heidgerd to lead the way.
Heidgerd anchored the Blue Knights’ 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams and helped both take first place in an eventual 86-73 victory. Heidgerd helped the 200 medley relay team finish with a time of 1:45.96 and the 400 freestyle relay team finish in 3:40.03. When individual events began, Heidgerd shined just as bright, taking first place in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:20.08 and first in the 100 backstroke with a time of 58.69.
Heidgerd’s effort helped Southington improve to 2-1 on the season after a 0-1 start. When the Blue Knights were still looking to crack the win column, Heidgerd again helped the same two relay teams to first-place finishes, and was a double winner in the 50 freestyle with a time of 23.76 and the 100 backstroke with a time of 57.27. Even in the season opener, when Southington fell to a tough Cheshire team, Heidgerd still grabbed a first place spot, winning the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:51.20.
“He serves as one of our captains and serves as an example to others as to what exactly it means to devote oneself to a goal,” his head coach Evan Tuttle said. “He is a fierce competitor that each of his teammates can learn from and draw motivation from.
Of course, this kind of success is nothing new for Heidgerd. The senior grabbed two top-10 finishes at last year’s Class LL state championships, coming in eighth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:47.30 and ninth in the 100 freestyle with a mark of 48.87. It was an All-State season for Heidgerd in the 2018-19 campaign, and it was also his third straight all-conference nod. Named Southington’s most valuable swimmer last year, Heidgerd is looking like he’s in good shape to make it four all-conference and two All-State selections before his high school career is over.
“Tyler has been a model of hard work and determination since Day 1 of freshman year,” Tuttle said. “He has not rested in his mission to be his absolute best since that day. He trains year round to ensure that he is able to give everything that he has and ensure that he is tapping into every ounce of his potential.”