Most teams have go-to players who show up game-after-game in providing solid performances for their teammates and coaches. Two athletes who have been doing this and did so again last week, are St. Paul soccer goalie Nina Zwolinski and Bristol Central quarterback Dathan Hickey.
Zwolinski, the daughter of Jadz and Robert Zwolinski of Bristol, was presented the MVP honors for her play in the NVL tournament. She made 21 saves in the finale, a 2-0 shutout of Holy Cross on Thursday evening at Seymour High School. The Falcon keeper recorded two shutouts during the tournament and totaled 53 saves after three games of play. The shutouts were her fifth and sixth this fall and the Falcons enter this week with a 13-3-3 mark.
“When you look at what she accomplished during the entire tournament, 15 saves vs. Naugatuck, 17 saves vs. Woodland and then 21 saves in the championship game vs. Holy Cross, this shows how important her play was to our success,” St. Paul coach Jim Husbands said.
“For a freshman to be named All-NVL is quite an accomplishment and it showed how respectful the other coaches in our league are of her talent. I’m hoping she can continue this kind of postseason success by earning All-State honors. Her play certainly had proven she deserves it.”
Zwolinski, who plays like a seasoned high schooler, called the success a team effort.
“We had enough passion and we poured our hearts into the game,” Zwolinski said. “Every position on the field from the defense to the strikers, they were all just on top of everything. We were focused the entire time. Even after we scored, we felt it wasn’t enough, we kept playing hard.”
Up next for the Falcons is the Class S state tournament. The No. 4 seed Falcons get a bye for the first round today and will play in the second round on Thursday against a team to be announced. Zwolinski believes the Falcons are ready.
“We’ve already proved how well we can play, so we just have to stay focused,” Zwolinski said. “In my opinion, I don’t believe we need to improve on anything.”
Zwolinski, who concentrates on soccer year-round, began taking the sport seriously at age 9.
“I kind of started one-half on the field, and one-half in goal, but eventually decided I wanted to be in goal full-time,” Zwolinski said. “I like making that big save, just kind of like holding the ball after a tough shot or catching off a cross.”
Hickey, a senior captain who is the son of Rod and Pam Hickey, was chosen for “AOW” honors after the Rams, now 5-3 on the season, beat Platt on the road 43-26 Friday night. A big 84-yard punt return by Hickey, one of his four touchdowns in the game, turned the momentum in Central’s favor halfway through the second quarter to help lift his team to an eventual 37-14 lead at the start of the final quarter.
Hickey finished his night with 208 rushing yards and now has 967 on the season. He also has 20 touchdowns this fall, placing him seventh on Bristol Central’s single-season touchdown list, and that’s with two regular season games to go.
“The Platt game was big for both teams and it took a total team effort to get the job done,” Bristol Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “Dathan played a great all-around game. He ran hard all night. Our offensive line did a great job opening holes and both Daman and Darrell Payton (running for 152 yards) took full advantage of that. He played a real disciplined game at safety for us, and the big punt return he had turned the game around.
“Dathan’s put in a ton of work to get to where he is now. It’s no accident that he’s having a great year for us. It’s not an accident that he’s getting the attention from colleges that he’s getting. He’s worked his tail off in the classroom, in the weight room and on the field. He’s earned everything he’s getting right now.”
What helped the most according to Hickey was how quickly the Rams were able to start the game.
“We’re very physical,” said Hickey. “We came out hungry, we came out running hungry on the jump and when others’ jobs weren’t done, we had others to pick each other up. Our offensive play wakes up our defense and putting numbers on the board makes our defense play more free.”
Central will face winless and visiting East Catholic on Thursday. But Hickey and his teammates need to win out with the slight possibility of postseason play.
“We have to come out to play on Thursday,” Hickey said. “We need a lot to happen for us and we need to take care of our part.”
As far as Hickey’s future plans go, the senior will be off to Yale University next year, where he has committed to play football and will study sports management.