For Hale-Ray, A Sense Of Closure Amid Cancellation

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Note: We’d like to tell the stories of senior student-athletes whose seasons ended suddenly before coronavirus led to a national emergency. Today, we spotlight the Hale-Ray boys basketball team. If there is a story to be told, reach out to middlesexcountysports@gmail.com.

By Paul Augeri

The Hale-Ray boys basketball team was one of the fortunate few to experience closure to the 2019-20 season.

The Noises last Monday appeared in a state tournament game for the first time in nine years. They won it, 72-59 over Westbrook.

On Tuesday morning, the CIAC canceled remaining state tournaments in boys and girls basketball, boys and girls ice hockey and boys swimming, citing rising concerns about the coronavirus. The virus has since become a national emergency.

On Wednesday evening, Hale-Ray squeezed in a scaled-down version of its winter sports banquet, 24 hours before other schools in the Shoreline Conference and the county as a whole either postponed all activities and functions or canceled them outright.

Minus the dinner, each Hale-Ray team gathered separately for a final time and distributed season-ending awards.

“It was nice to have that kind of wrap-up given how the season ended, to have that time together,” coach Corey Zdunczyk said.

Three seniors were recognized. Center Zak Cunningham, a First Team All-Shoreline Conference performer, was the Noises’ MVP. He led the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks and 3-point field goal percentage.

Senior center Zak Cunningham, right, was Hale-Ray’s MVP this season.

“He was our leader on and off the court,” Zdunczyk said. “I was glad to see him recognized by the Shoreline Conference. That’s a huge honor and Zak worked very hard to improve his game to get to that point.”

Guard Cody Velikaneye, the first player off the bench and a scoring threat, received the Coach’s Award. He suffered a severe ankle dislocation in the fourth quarter of the final game of the regular season and sat out both the Shoreline and state tournaments.

“His injury certainly was devastating and hard to see,” his coach said. “Cody is just a selfless kid. He was our sixth man who was an energy player off the bench and some big games for us scoring wise. After his injury, he just wanted the team to do well. He was right with us the whole way. He had a great attitude through it all.”

Guard Jacob Soucier, who started all 22 games, was named Most Improved Player. He became one of the Noises’ most consistent scorers down the stretch and Zdunczyk looked at him as the team’s top defensive player.

“His role, his presence, he became a go-to, lockdown defender for us,” the coach said. “There are so many talented wing players in the Shoreline Conference and Jacob guarded every one of them. As a lockdown defender he was vital to us winning our last three games (of the regular season), and against Westbrook his presence defensively was a huge key for us. Plus, his scoring kept increasing as the season went on. His improvement was excellent.”

Along with Antonio Dadario, James Gagne and David King, Zdunczyk loses six seniors from the program. As freshmen in the program, the six saw their varsity brethren go 0-20. They made it their long-term goal to qualify for the state tournament, which is why the game against Westbrook was so festive.

“The tournament night was such a special night,” Zdunczyk said. “A sold-out crowd, kids and parents wore white T-shirts, so many people came back to see this team play that hadn’t seen them play in a while. It was such a great moment, to be able to host a tournament game. The excitement surrounding that game, we couldn’t have pictured it any better. I’m proud and happy they got to have that moment and they’ll remember it forever.”

The next day, with the Noises hours away from a practice to prepare for a second-round game against Achievement First, the CIAC canceled the remainder of play.

“We met on Tuesday and I emphasized for them, just remember this last moment and all that was great about this season,” Zdunczyk said. “It’s easy to just kind of put a black cloud over the season with the cancellation, that it was unfinished, but the reality of it was we had a lot of success and these kids changed the perception of the program.

“We had our moment after the Westbrook game, the kids were so excited to move on to the next round, but clearly given what’s going on in the world right now, it was pretty inevitable that continuing the tournament wasn’t meant to be and wasn’t going to happen. We’re very proud of all they accomplished and looking forward to the underclassmen to carry on this tradition.”

More Hale-Ray Winter Season Awards

Girls Basketball

Hustle Award: Brooke Praskiewicz
Most Improved: Jessica Stricker
Coach’s Award: Hannah Klick

Girls Indoor Track

MVP: Alexis Desiata
Sportsmanship: Julianna Cazassa
Rookie of the Year: Julia Freeman

Boys Indoor Track

MVP: Sean Kennedy-Wonneberger
Sportsmanship: Connor Young
Rookie of the Year: Michael Kraszewski

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