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By BOB YORK
Back in 1965, University of Florida Gator football coach Ray Graves asked a group of researchers at the university’s School of Medicine to come to the aid of his team. What he wanted was for them to concoct a drink that would replenish the body fluids his players were losing during physical exertion. What he got was a beverage fitting labeled: Gatorade.
Over the past 56 years, Gatorade has become the official thirst quencher of the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, WNBA and NASCAR. Despite its popularity, however, it hasn’t forgotten its roots, as its ascension throughout the professional ranks has never diverted its support for thousands of high school-age sports teams throughout the country. In fact, in what proved to be one of the premier marketing campaigns of any product, ever, the company, the Quaker Oats Company that owned Gatorade at the time, founded the Gatorade State High School Player of the Year Award in 1985. The motive was to recognize the nation’s most elite high school age student/athletes for their athletic excellence, athletic achievement, performance in the classroom and exemplary character. PepsiCo, which purchased Gatorade in 2000, also looked favorably upon the promotion and has continued to endorse these awards for more than two decades now.
In each of the 50 states, plus 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 and softball as well as boys and girls track. The award isn’t limited to just public high school players, however. Year in and year out, those who compete under the New England Prep School Athletic Conference banner are eligible to compete for these awards as well and quite frequently prevail in the balloting over their public school counterparts. This past school year (2020-21) for example, NEPSAC produced 11 blue-chip athletes.
In breaking down the prep school winners sport by sport, boys basketball paved the way to the podium with three winners, while both boys and girls track registered two each. Girls basketball, meanwhile, finished with one first-place finisher, as did football, baseball and girls cross country.
Territorial bragging rights went to Massachusetts, which claimed home-field advantage in four sports: boys and girls basketball, as well as baseball and boys track. New Hampshire (boys basketball and boys track), Connecticut (football and girls track) and Rhode Island (boys basketball and girls track) collected two winners each, while New Jersey led the way in girls cross county. No single school ended up being represented by more than one student-athlete.
The two representatives in boys track were James Donahue of Belmont Hill (Mass.) and Jeremiah Swett of Phillips Exeter (N.H.) while Sydney Masciarelli of Marianapolis (Conn.) and Sophia Gorriaran of Moses Brown (R.I.) prevailed in girls track. The baseball award went to Joshua Baez of Dexter Southfield (Mass.).
Donahue, a 5-11, 150-pound junior, finished third in the mile run at the RunningLane Track Championships this spring in a time of 4:09.50 which ranked him 34th nationally among prep competitors in this event this past spring. Donahue was also 11th nationally in the 1,500-meter run, 35th in the 3,000-meter run and 56th in the 800-meter run. In July, he ran even faster. At the Outdoor Nationals at the renowned and newly revamped Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, Donahue ran a newer personal record of 4:08.28 in the boys mile run championship, finishing fourth of 42 runners.
“James Donahue was a true force in the in the Independent School League by dominating every race he ran in by leaps and bounds,” said Kate Blake, the head coach at Noble & Greenough School. “He is fast becoming one of the distance greats of all time in the league.
Donahue, who maintains a 3.56 GPA in the classroom, regularly volunteers on behalf of Belmont Hill’s Thanksgiving Turkey Drive, which annually provides meals to underprivileged families throughout the Boston area.
Swett, meanwhile, culminated his career at Phillips Exeter in style this spring as the 5-11, 235-pound senior launched the discus 190-1 and beat out everyone else in the state by nearly 29 feet. The toss placed him as the nation’s 17th best in 2021 and he went on to qualify for the National Scholastic Athletic Foundation Outdoor Nationals, where he placed 10th with a throw of 177-8.
“It’s been a massive privilege to watch Jeremiah’s progression to reach national caliber in the discus,” said Phillips Exeter coach Hillary Coder Hall of Swett, who maintained an A average in his studies and is planning on attending Harvard University in the fall where he will compete in track and field. “He has trained and willed himself to a point where he could earn a medal on a national stage.”
While at Exeter, Swett formed the Black Sock Foundation, which seeks to spread awareness of May-Thurner Syndrome, a rare blood-clotting disorder he suffers from and during the recent COVID pandemic, he organized a spare-change fundraiser that ultimately purchased thousands of dollars of food for the St. Vincent Food Bank.
Masciarelli, who was named Connecticut’s Gatorade Player of the Year in girls track and field in 2019, was back on top again this spring – and with good reason. The 5-10 senior, who will be doing her running for the University of North Carolina next spring, shattered the national record in the 2,000-meter steeplechase this spring in a time of 6:25.35 during the New York State Showcase. She was also clocked in the nation’s No, 1 prep performances this season in both the 3,000-meter run (9:24.09) and the two-mile run (10:04.54).
“Breaking a national record in the steeplechase during her debut in the event may have shocked many people, but not the people close to Sydney,” said Aisling Cuffe, Gatorade’s National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year in 2010-11. “When she wants something as badly as she wanted to knock her first steeplechase out of the park, it happens. The sky’s the limit for whatever she puts her mind to.”
Masciarelli, who also was a top performer in both cross country and basketball, owns a 3.43 GPA in the classroom and spent much time volunteering on behalf of a local food pantry, various youth basketball camps and the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation.
Gorriaran may be only heading into her junior year at Moses Brown, but during her sophomore season she became one of Rhode Island’s youngest competitors to ever be crowned a Gatorade Girls Track & Field Player of the Year. The 5-6 sophomore earned the title in fine style, as she broke Mary Decker’s 45-year-old sophomore class national record in the 800-meter run during the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. Her time was 2:02.26, breaking her own state record and ranked her third nationally in the event.
She is also currently ranked in the top 50 nationally in the 400-meter dash, the 1,500-meter run as well as the mile and two-mile runs. Closer to home, Gorriaran is also the top-ranked runner in Rhode Island at distances from the 200-meter dash to the mile. She currently owns eight state records and is second in national prep annals in the indoor 600-meter run in a time of 1:27.02.
“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Sophia since she was five years old,” said Thom Spann, the head coach of Hope High School and Gorriaran’s club coach with the Providence Cobras. “I could tell right away that she was special … she never backed down from the older kids. When all is said and done, Sophia will be the greatest female track athlete in Rhode Island’s history.”
Gorriaran will begin her junior year this fall with an impressive 3.87 GPA in the classroom. Away from school, she volunteers at an inner-city elementary school and as a youth track coach.
Josh Baez turned out to be NEPSAC’s lone representative in baseball, but the Dexter Southfield grad proved to be one of the very best throughout the entire country. He proved that this summer when he was selected in the second round of the Major League Baseball Draft (54th pick overall) by the St. Louis Cardinals and signed with the team one week later. Earlier this year, Baez had signed a National Letter of Intent to play with perennial powerhouse Vanderbilt University.
The 6-4, 215-pound senior outfielder, who won the Gatorade title following his junior year as well, chalked up a .378 batting average with three home runs, 25 runs scored and 13 RBI to help lead Dexter Southfield to a 14-2 season. The big right-hander also pitches and posted a 1.94 ERA while striking out 44 batters in just 18 innings. Combined, that led the publication “Perfect Game” to rank him as the country’s No. 5 draft prospect.
“Josh Baez is a tremendous athlete and physical specimen and can certainly have a big impact on a game,” said Tim Mitropoulos, the head coach at Phillips Exeter Academy. “He has great tools and he is certainly someone you mark in the lineup and make sure he doesn’t beat you because he certainly has that potential.”
In the classroom, Baez maintained a 3.09 GPA and donated much of his time as a youth baseball coach and umpire.
Alex Karaban, a 6-8, 220-pound senior forward is ranked as the nation’s No. 48 recruit in the Class of 2022 by ESPN.com – and with good reason. While leading New Hampton School to an 11-3 record last season, Karaban averaged 25.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 blocks per game while connecting on 60.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. He also led the Huskies to the 2020 NEPSAC Class AAA tournament title and was named MVP of the championship game.
“Alex exudes basketball fundamentals such as fakes, footwork and shooting ability beyond the arc,” said Paul Biancardi, ESPN’s National Recruiting Director. “He keeps defenders guessing with the ball in his hands as he is a very good decision maker. He is extremely productive everywhere on the court but especially on the glass.”
In addition to serving as a proctor in his dorm at New Hampton, Karaban, who owns an impressive 3.87 GPA, volunteers locally as a youth basketball coach.
Matt Constant helped lead St. Andrew’s to a 15-2 record during his senior year as the Pace University bound 6-2, 180-pound backcourt standout averaged 18.9 points per game along with 8.5 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 3.0 steals every time he suited up for the Saints. And, as if that wasn’t enough contribution, he hit on 46.2 percent of his 3-point attempts and 92.3 percent of his free-throw tosses. The All-NEPSAC selection finished his career with 1,201 points, 656 assists and 507 rebounds.
“Matt is one of the top point guards in the history of our program,” said Mike Hart, head basketball coach at St. Andrew’s. “He will go down as our leader in career assists despite not playing a lot as a freshman on a loaded team that went to the New England Championship game. If COVID-19 didn’t exist, Matt would have graduated as our all-time leader in games won. He’s been that good during his four-year career at our school.”
Constant, who maintained a 3.0 GPA in the classroom, volunteered with the Youth Basketball Association in his hometown of Londonderry and also donated his time to multiple fundraising campaigns to benefit the American Cancer Society through the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign.
Kyle Filipowski, a 6-10, 230-pound junior forward/center netted 21 points and 13.2 rebounds per game this season for Wilbraham & Monson during an abbreviated 5-0 season. He also registered 5.2 assists, two steals and one blocked shot while hitting on 56.3 percent of his field goal attempts. Heading into his senior season, Filipowski is rated as the nation’s No. 39 recruit in the Class of 2022 by ESPN.com. His sophomore season saw him average 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and led the Titans to the 2020 NEPSAC Class AA title while being named the tournament’s MVP
“Kyle is special because of his outstanding playmaking ability at his size,” said Paul Biancardi, ESPN’s National Recruiting Director. “He demonstrates extreme versatility as he handles passes and shows a good touch around the rim with a developing outside shot. It’s hard to find this type of skill set and decision making with a center’s height.”
Filipowski, who will begin his senior year maintaining an A average in the classroom, volunteers locally as an elementary school math tutor as well as a youth basketball coach.
NEPSAC’s lone girls basketball representative is Nobles’ Caroline Ducharme , who has now won this award in back-to-back seasons. The 6-2 senior guard earned the hardware a second time after leading the Bulldogs to an 11-0 record by averaging 31 points per game, as well as 15.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 4.5 steals and 3.3 blocked shots per outing. Despite sitting out her entire sophomore season due to an injury, she still concluded her career at Nobles with 2,092 points.
“There are countless ways that Caroline’s game makes her a standout,” said Alex Gallagher, Ducharme’s coach at Noble & Greenough. “Her ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, read double-teams, attack the rim, dominate the glass and defend all five positions are just a few dimensions of her skill set that make clear how versatile she is.”
Ducharme, who maintained a B average in the classroom and who has signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Connecticut this winter, volunteered locally at fundraising events to benefit the American Cancer Society and also donates her time as a youth basketball coach.
Wilfredo Aybar proved to be the council’s one-and-only participant in the category of football as the 6-4, 240-pound junior defensive end registered 39 tackles and four sacks – in just three games last fall for Cheshire Academy. A two-time First Team NEPSAC selection Aybar is ranked as the nation’s No. 112 recruit in the Class of 2022 by ESPN.com and is pondering more than 20 scholarship offers from Division I college programs. Heading into his senior year, he has chalked up 177 tackles and 18.5 sacks during his prep career.
“On the field, Wilfredo’s a complete terror,” said LJ Spinnato, the coach at Choate. “He’s strong, he’s powerful, he’s quick and he kicked our butts, there’s no doubt about that.”
Aybar, who maintains a B- average in the classroom volunteers much of his time as a youth football coach.
Charlotte Bednar of Lawrenceville School, who has now won back-to-back Gatorade awards for her performances in cross country, scampered to Holmdel Invitational title this fall in a time of 17:21. It was the fastest showing ever recorded by a New Jersey high school-age runner. She also finished second at the East Coast Championships in 17:46.7.
“Charlotte has grown so much as an athlete in the past year,” said Lawrenceville coach Katie Chaput. “Like all kids her age, she was unable to compete last spring due to COVID, but instead of letting that stop her, she kept her head down and trained steadily over the spring and into the summer. And when the opportunity came to compete this fall, she didn’t waste it.”
Heading into her senior year, Bednar maintains a B average in the classroom. She is a talented pianist who participated in Swim Across America and volunteers locally on behalf of a soup kitchen, clothing drives and Ronal McDonald House Charities.
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