With a number of winter sports already in postseason play, area teams more than ever could use clutch individual performances to stay alive in conference or state tournament competition.
This past week, two local athletes did just that to either help their team advance or walk away with a medal. Both carry big goals for the rest of the postseason and both have already left a mark on the winter season by being key contributors to their respective teams.
New Britain’s Isaiah Medina and Berlin’s Carly Grega are this week’s Athletes of the Week for coming up big when the lights shined the brightest.
After an undefeated regular season with the New Britain wrestling team, Medina came into the weekend’s Class LL state championships looking to make a big splash after taking fifth place in the event last year. The top seed in the bracket, Medina cruised through the first two rounds, beating Kyle Tompkins of West Haven with a first-round pin before doing the same to Manchester’s Gabriel Fountain in the second round, setting up a high-profile bout with Danbury’s Tyrell Jones in the semifinals.
Medina took a 6-3 lead early in the second round, but Jones came back with two takedowns to take a 15-9 lead in the final minute of the third round. Medina kept fighting, logging three more points in a span of eight seconds, but Jones hung on for the 15-12 decision.
Medina was out of the running for a first-place finish, but even after recording his first loss of the year, the senior bounced back, pinning NFA’s Mason McMahon in the final minute of the third round to end what had been a close match, then battled into the third round with Fairfield Warde’s John Summers in the bout for third place. Trailing 5-4 on the scorecard, Medina secured a pin to seal the win and finish in third place overall in the tournament, improving upon his fifth-place finish the year before.
With the help of Medina, New Britain finished in 15th place overall at the event, and Medina will look to earn another medal this coming weekend at the State Open in New Haven.
This season has been a particularly meaningful one for Medina, who lost his mother to cancer last summer. Medina dedicated his final season to his mother’s memory and so far has logged a perfect regular season, just one loss overall and a medal at the state championships. Still, he’s not done just yet.
Fighting for their conference tournament lives on Thursday night, the Berlin girls basketball team battled No. 15 Simsbury into the fourth quarter, leading by just one in the closing seconds of play until Grega drew a foul with 5.4 seconds remaining, and calmly sank both free throws to give Berlin a three-point cushion and secure a 45-42 victory.
Grega also had a big 3-pointer in the second half during the back-and-forth affair, finishing with 10 points to help the Redcoats advance to the CCC quarterfinals.
Grega, a sharp-shooting junior, made herself known during the second half of last season, when she emerged as a productive sophomore and became a major part of Berlin’s march to the Class M state semifinals. During that sophomore season, Grega finished second on the team with 246 total points and second on the team in made 3-pointers. This year, Grega’s 10.6 points per game are second on the team among players who have played in at least 10 games, trailing only All-State senior Lyzi Litwinko, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Grega is once again second on the team in total points scored and has sank more 3-pointers (22) than anyone else on the team (Litwinko is second with 13).
Grega has attempted more threes than any Redcoat this season, and for good reason. The junior shoots from downtown with efficiency, connecting on 34 percent of her 3-point attempts, the best mark on the team among players with at least 15 3-point attempts. Grega has also been a lethal threat in transition, piling on the fast-break points after defensive stops to make Berlin’s offense one of the most efficient in Class MM, and a big reason why the Redcoats will enter the first-ever Class MM state tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
In state tournament play, the difference between a win and a loss can often be a hot shooting night from one capable player. Grega is certainly capable of catching fire from downtown, and will be a major factor for the Redcoats and their mission to bring home a state championship next month.