Sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises
By BOB YORK
Whether your favorite flavor is Fruit Punch … Orange … Lemon Lime … or Riptide Rush, it’s time to pour yourself a glass of whatever and toast the 2017-18 Gatorade State High School Players of The Year.
Gatorade established this award in 1985 to recognize the nation’s most elite high school student/athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character. In each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Gatorade selects a player of the year in the following sports: football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and boys and girls track.
The title of this award may be a bit of a misnomer, however, because – much to the chagrin of high school athletes throughout the country – prep school athletes are included in the selection process, too. With that said, this year’s search, which was conducted by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, yielded 15 student/athletes from New England Prep School Athletic Council schools who were named winners in their respective sports.
Breaking down the winners sport-by-sport, boys soccer topped the New England-area prep charts with four winners, while boys and girls basketball chalked up three winners each. Girls soccer registered a pair of chart toppers, as boys and girls track and softball rang up one winner each. As for the schools themselves, Loomis Chaffee School prevailed in the most-winners category with three: Boys and girls soccer and boys basketball, while Moses Brown School had two winners: Girls basketball and softball.
Geographically, Massachusetts schools posted five winners: boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball and boys track, while Connecticut logged four: boys and girls soccer, boys basketball and girls track. Rhode Island schools had winners in boys and girls basketball and softball, as New Hampshire (girls basketball), Maine (boys soccer) and New York (boys soccer) had one each.
The lone New York representative in boys soccer put together quite a resume for himself, however, as Ousseni Bouda, a junior at Millbrook School in Millbrook, N.Y., not only won state honors, but ended up being named Gatorade’s National Boys Soccer Player of the Year as well. The award distinguishes Bouda as the nation’s best high school boys soccer player and puts him atop a field that numbers nearly 432,000 high school soccer players throughout the country.
The 5-11, 165-pound forward chalked up 49 goals and four assists as he helped his Mustangs (9-8-2) to the NEPSAC Class C finals last fall. A two-time NEPSAC All-Star, Bouda is a dorm leader and has served as an advisor for international students at Millbrook and has collected used sports equipment to be sent to children in his native country of Burkina Faso. In the classroom, Bouda maintains a B-plus average.
“Ousseni is an exceptional student-athlete who has earned recognition as the nation’s best high school boys soccer player while also excelling in the classroom and making a difference in his native Burkina Faso,” said Gatorade Senior Vice President and General Manager Brett O’Brien. “Ousseni’s statistics on the field speak for themselves, but even more impressive is the impact he has had on his teammates and the example he sets for younger student-athletes. Ousseni represents everything we look to celebrate in a Gatorade Player of the Year recipient.”
Michael Suski of Loomis Chaffee is Gatorade’s Connecticut Boys Soccer Player of the Year after the 5-9, 160-pound junior led the Pelicans (19-3) to the NEPSAC Class A championship following a 1-0 victory over Berkshire School. That single tally during the title tilt belonged to Suski, which wrapped up his season with 52 points on 40 goals and 12 assists. Heading into his senior campaign, he already owns the school’s career record in goals with 60 and has dished out 34 assists.
Away from the field, Suski spends time volunteering at a local senior center as well as serving as a youth soccer coach and donating his time to multiple community-service initiatives on behalf of his church. In the classroom, Suski, who has given a verbal commitment to play soccer at Boston College in 2019, maintains a B plus average.
Jacob Shaffelburg of Berkshire School was voted the top boys soccer player in Massachusetts after he led the Bears to the NEPSAC Class A Tournament title game and to a final record of 19-1-1. The 5-10, 150-pounder is the No. 10 recruit in the Class of 2019 according to TopDrawerSoccer.com and his statistics bear out his popularity among college coaches as he concluded his junior season with 16 goals and 12 assists. Through his three years at Berkshire, he has accounted for 75 points on 50 goals and 25 assists.
Shaffelburg volunteers locally as a youth soccer coach and maintains a B average in the classroom and has made a verbal commitment to play soccer at the University of Virginia in the fall of 2019.
Michael Tahiru proved to be the big man on the high school soccer fields throughout Maine this past fall by being named the state’s premier Gatorade vote getter after he led Hebron Academy (15-0-3) to the NEPSAC Class C championship. The 5-8, 155-pound midfielder paced the Lumberjacks with 42 goals and 20 assists for a 62-point effort.
The New England Soccer Journal Prep School Player of the Year is a two-time NEPSAC All-Star and a veteran of his native Ghana’s Youth National Team. He is also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, serves as a Sunday school teacher and volunteers for local youth soccer clinics. As for his academics, Tahiru owns a 3.40 GPA and intends on playing at Lehigh University in the fall.
Loomis Chaffee made a clean sweep in the sport of soccer, as Lauren Hinton joined her male counterpart, Michael Suski, atop the Gatorade leaderboard as she was named the Connecticut High School Girls Soccer Player of the Year. The Brown-bound defender keyed the Pelicans (16-3-1) to a second straight NEPSAC Class A Tournament title this past season by helping lead a stingy defense that notched 14 shutouts and allowed just 10 goals in 20 games. She dabbled in the offense as well, posting two goals and one assist on the season.
Hinton, who is a two-time State Coaches Association Player of the Year and who has twice earned United States Soccer Coaches All-American laurels, will be playing her soccer at Brown this fall after maintaining an A average in the Loomis classrooms. She also served as editor of the Loomis Chaffee Log, a school journalistic publication and played trombone in the school’s concert band.
Kayla Duran, a senior midfielder for Buckingham Browne & Nichols School was named the Massachusetts High School Girls Soccer Player of the Year by Gatorade after helping spark the Knights (14-2-4) all the way to the NEPSAC Class A finals. She did so by collecting 25 goals and 10 assists for 35 points. She closed out her career at BB&N by surpassing the century mark in scoring by chalking up 107 points on 63 goals and 44 assists.
Duran, who was named All-Scholastic by the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, is also a two-time Independent School League MVP. The 5-10 midfielder also plays defense for the BB&N hockey team and when not competing for the Knights, she volunteers as a school tour guide, donates her time at a homeless shelter and food bank and serves as a youth soccer coach. Duran’s immediate future will find her playing at Boston College this fall after maintaining a B average in the classroom.
Jaiden Delaire, who is rated as Connecticut’s top recruit of the 2019 graduating class, was named the state’s Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year after leading Loomis Chaffee School to a 17-7 record and a berth in the NEPSAC Class A Tournament. He did so by averaging 21.3 points per game, as well as 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists every outing. As a sophomore, he earned second-team All-New England Class A laurels.
Delaire, who owned a 3.47 GPA during his junior year at Loomis, serves as a tour guide for prospective students at Loomis and volunteers locally with the Special Olympics. He is also hoping to become a residential advisor for the upperclassmen dorms on the Loomis campus.
A.J. Reeves of Brimmer & May School received the nod as Gatorade’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year for Massachusetts after the 6-5, 170-pound senior forward poured in an average of nearly 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals every time he stepped foot on the court. His statistics, plus his being named a first-team All-NEPSAC selection following his junior campaign, exemplified why he was ranked as the No. 44 recruit nation-wide in the Class of 2018 according to 247Sports.com.
When not competing, Reeves volunteered locally as a youth basketball coach and maintained a B average in the classroom and will play for Providence College this winter.
Brycen Goodine of St. Andrew’s School was voted Gatorade’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year for Rhode Island after netting 21.1points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.4 steals a game during his junior season. Due to his efforts, which include 1,904 points throughout his prep career, the Saints chalked up a 25-7 record and made it all the way to the NEPSAC Class AA Tournament title game.
Goodine, who serves as a student ambassador at St. Andrew’s, also volunteers locally as a peer tutor and donates his time to help feed the homeless as well. The owner of a 3.19 GPA has made a verbal commitment to play basketball at Syracuse University in 2019.
Aliyah Boston has now won the Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Basketball Player of the Year for a second straight season – and she still has her senior season remaining at Worcester Academy. This past season, the 6-4 center led the Hilltoppers to a 23-1 record and the NEPSAC Class AA Tournament championship. She averaged 21.2 points per game as a junior, as well as 14.0 rebounds, 6.6 blocks, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals.
The nation’s No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2019 according to Blue Star Basketball, Boston was a member of the USA Basketball Under-16 Women’s National Team and was named the tournament MVP after the United States won the gold medal at the 2017 FIBA Americas U-16 Championships in Argentina.
Boston, a native of the Virgin Islands who lives with her aunt in Worcester, has volunteered for hurricane relief efforts in her hometown of St. Thomas. Locally, she donates her time as a student ambassador at Worcester and as a youth basketball coach. In the classroom, she maintains a B average.
Angelique Ngalakulondi of Proctor Academy is Gatorade’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year for New Hampshire after leading the Hornets (18-7) to the NEPSAC Class C Tournament semifinal round. It was a premature exit from postseason play as far as Proctor was concerned as Ngalakulondi led it to Class C crowns her freshman and sophomore seasons.
The 6-2 forward posted an average of 24.5 points per game this past season and has p
oured in 1,213 through the first three years of her prep career. She also averaged 13.0 rebounds a game, as well as 3.6 blocked shots and 2.9 steals. Away from the court, she volunteers locally at a food bank in addition to donating her time to the Special Olympics. In the classroom, she owns a B average.
Oluchi Ezemma is Gatorade’s Rhode Island Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the second straight year. The 5-11 senior forward led Moses Brown School to a 20-5 record and the Open State Tournament title this past winter. She spiced up the Quakers run for the title by averaging 19.1 points and 14.0 rebounds per game, including 21 points and 15 rebounds in a 55-51 win over Barrington High School in the R.I. state final to earn the tournament MVP award. A two-time first-team All-State selection, Ezemma concluded her Quaker career with 1,607 points and 1,337 rebounds.
She volunteered her time locally at Camp Eureka, a free summer camp for children who have witnessed domestic violence. A peer leader at Moses Brown, Ezemma also donated her time at a food bank and at a homeless shelter. The owner of a 3.85 GPA, she will be playing basketball at Holy Cross College this coming season.
Sam Welsh of Concord Academy headed up the voting for Gatorade’s Massachusetts Boys Track and Field Player of the Year after the 6-4, 240-pound senior established a state record in the discus at the New England Prep School Track Association Division III Championships this spring with a toss of 212 feet. The distance also ranked first in the nation among prep school competitors in 2018. He won the shot put during the NEPSTA meet with a heave of 60-0, the 65th best effort in the nation. He would later go on to capture the national championship in the discus at the New Balance National Outdoor Championships this summer.
Welsh volunteered with The Food Project, a farm that provides food for locales that don’t have ready access to healthy food. He also donated his time as an orientation leader at Concord. In the classroom, he maintained an A minus average and will compete for Harvard University the next four years.
The Connecticut Girls Track and Field Player of the Year is Cheshire Academy’s Alexis Holmes, who captured the 400-meter dash at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor in a meet record time of 51.21, which ranked as the nation’s top performance among prep school competitors in 2018 and was the seventh fastest time in U.S. high school annals.
Holmes also won three individual events at the Division III NEPSTA championships, setting meet records in all three. She won the 100-meter event in 12.24, the 200-meter race in 24.86 and the 400-meter race in 53.95. This winter she placed second in the 400 and third in the 200 during the New Balance Nationals Indoor.
Off the field, she volunteered locally on behalf of clothing-donation drives and at a food pantry. In the classroom, she maintained a 3.16 GPA and will compete for Penn State University this coming year.
Ali Blanchard of Moses Brown School headed up the voting for Rhode Island’s Softball Player of the Year. The multi-purposed Blanchard proved to be the Quakers mound ace and played first base when she wasn’t pitching. When she was pitching, she posted a 7-1 record with a stingy 1.03 ERA, fanning 108 in 47 innings. She finished with four no-hitters and allowed just 14 hits in 18 games. Offensively, the 2017 first-team All-State selection owned a hefty .533 batting average and entered postseason play with five home runs, 28 runs scored, 23 RBI and a .983 slugging percentage.
Off the diamond, Blanchard is a member of the Key Ambassador Group at Moses Brown, which provides tours for prospective students and mentoring new students. She also created Friends of Fastpitch, which collects and donates gently used softball equipment to those in need and has volunteered locally as part of multiple community service projects through her church. The owner of a 3.86 GPA will attend Princeton University in the fall and compete for the softball team in the spring.
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