By Tim Yean, TSM President
(CRANSTON, R.I.) – TSM has conjured up what has arguably been the biggest project of the year for the media organization: an East Athlete of the Year Award.
If you haven’t seen, here’s how we’re going to break down how Athlete of the Year is selected:
Coaches (or the team itself if necessary), nominate their athlete to represent their sport based on multiple factors (overall talent and production on the field, accolades, contribution to team success, leadership, etc.).
The people get a vote on who they would like as athlete of the year. However, their vote is just part of the formula. Members of TSM will also cast their votes.
With 22* total candidates to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one player to win it all, so we decided to bring in some reasons on why each candidate deserves the inaugural award.
Starting with the fall season, here are the nominees from each sport, and why they deserve your vote to win East Player of the Year.
Football: Senior, Da’Qwon Foster (#7)
Despite the Thunderbolts failing to find traction throughout most of the season, Foster stayed the course and started at quarterback the entire way for the ‘Bolts.
The work finally paid off, as well as the entire team, with a 42-21 win over East Greenwich in the second-to-last game of his football career, where the Avengers struggled to fend off Foster on the air and ground, with Foster throwing for three touchdowns and adding another two in the rushing department. In his final game, the annual Thanksgiving matchup vs Cranston West, Foster had four total touchdowns
At the end of the season, Foster was named as part of the D-II Second Team, as well as Providence Gridiron Offensive MVP.
Boys’ Soccer: Senior, David White (#0)
White received First Team All-Division Honors from the RI Boys Soccer Coaches Association.
In the City Cup, White was named Team MVP, where he recorded 10 saves in the 2-0 defeat.
Girls’ Soccer: Senior, Norah Flinn (#10)
Norah Flinn presents herself in extremely elite territory for the inaugural Player of the Year vote, with her soccer head coach, Brianna Oakes, and girls’ lacrosse coach, Howard Chun, nominating the star athlete.
During her senior season for the girls’ soccer team, Flinn was able to stand out not only on the field, but in the classroom as well. Her career as a key player on her team ended with Flinn being named to 1st Team D-III-A, All-State D-III-A, and receiving an all-academic award while at it.
In the City Cup, Flinn was named Team MVP in the loss to Cranston West.
Girls Cross Country: Senior, Stella Loezos
Helping to capture the team’s first division championship since 1986, Loezos proved to be one of the top runners for the girls’ cross country team en route to a state championship appearance.
Loezos was named 1st Team All-Division, 2nd Team All-Class A, and Academic All-State. Her efforts were noticed by Wesleyan University, and she’ll be attending the university this upcoming season to continue her academic and athletic career.
Boys’ Cross Country: Senior, Wyatt Harris
As by far the top runner on the team this past fall, Harris was named 3rd Team All-Division. Harris was a leader and a role model for the ‘Bolts this season, and while he was barely unable to make it to the State Championship, there’s still a good amount to be proud of.
One of the highlights from this past season was in a September 19 Meet, where Harris finished 1st place in total domination from Cranston East runners.
Field Hockey: Senior, Maura Kitterick (#0)
Maura Kitterick was a wall at goalkeeper for the co-op Cranston team in the fall, notching six total shutouts on the season.
Kitterick was also named to be a part of the All-Star Game in East Greenwich High School.
Girls’ Tennis: Senior, Isabella Ba
Even with her involvement in the JROTC, Class Council, and all other things East-related, Ba somehow managed to sneak in girls’ tennis as well.
Ba was one of the leaders on the team on their way to a playoff run, being named to 2nd Team All-Division Singles, and was given a Team Sportsmanship Award.
Girls’ Volleyball: Senior, Sarina Marines (#20)
Marines did a lot for the Thunderbolts’ attack during the fall, being the top kill-getter for the team by a mile, and being prioritized as one of the main hitters in the first year of being coached by Mackenzie Richards.
While it was a rocky season throughout, Marines and the team survived long enough to reach a preliminary match vs Classical, where they were defeated in five sets.
Following the season’s end, Marines was named to Second Team All-State, at least ending off a career here at East on a high note.
Despite the cold, these nominees stayed hot throughout the season and showed their talents to the East community.
Boys’ Basketball: Senior, Naz Milien (#1)
Milien was stellar in his last season donning the green and white, leading his team in scoring multiple times throughout the season. Averaging 20.4 during the 22-23 campaign, he flexed his strong shooting skills while having the ability to get it done inside as well.
In a 73-61 loss to North Smithfield, Milien accounted for 30 points– half of the team's total, by far his best game of the season.
An outstanding final season had Milien awarded a 1st Team Division-I nomination, and even without it, the influence he had in keeping the team competitive is worthy of a vote for Athlete of the Year.
Girls’ Basketball: Junior, Mya Jiminez (#0)
Jiminez has played a role for the varsity Lady Bolts since her freshman year and has continued to provide ever since. The 1st Team All-Division selection was one of the most consistent players for the team, helping to lead them to the playoffs. She was second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.8 ppg, and first in rebounds.
The junior was a mismatch for nearly everyone that had to go against her, powering through defenders in the paint while out rebounding on both ends. Don’t forget the three balls, too, as Jiminez took any opportunity to take them, and usually hit them.
She broke her career high twice during the season, once in a 52-44 upset against Chariho (24 pts), and the infamous win over Woonsocket (29 pts).
Wrestling: Senior, Eneas Castillo
There’s a very strong case to be made for Castillo, who arguably has the most on his resume out of all the nominees. The most common position you’d see him in is an arm raised to signify another victory for the senior wrestler.
Castillo recorded multiple wins on the mat this season and was quick with it too.
When playoff time reached, he kept his foot on the gas, placing first in the D-II/D-III Qualifying meet, while placing 2nd place in the State Wrestling Championships.
Castillo was the premier wrestler on the East wrestling team, and with a second-place finish in the state championships to finish off a storied high school career, you have a guy that’s worthy of your nomination.
Boys’ Indoor Track: Senior, Ben Chen
Chen may not be the best athlete on this list, nor the flashiest, but he does have a few things going for him: attitude and perseverance.
The shot put thrower always had a good attitude the entire way, providing team spirit and a gung-ho perspective for the team. He supported the team when he was available, and his teammates supported him back.
That leads to perseverance. He never really lost hope or gave up, and always tried his best. In one of the final meets of the season, Chen set a new PR for his shot put throw (26’10”), an example of that gung-ho and never-give-up attitude.
Girls’ Indoor Track: Sophomore, Nevaeh Fatorma
Fatorma gains recognition as the only sophomore on this list, and she for very good reason. The runner was phenomenal for the girls’ track team, and clocked in as one of the best sophomore athletes on the track.
In a January 2nd meet, Fatorma broke her own school record in the 55-meter dash in 7.68 seconds. It wasn’t the only time she did it; in the divisional championship, Fatorma did it again, finishing second with a time of 7.64 seconds. It’s only a difference of .04, but progress is progress!
If she doesn’t win this year, it’s nothing to be worried about for Fatorma. As a sophomore, there’s still two more chances to secure that elusive Player of the Year Award.
Boys’ Swimming: Senior, Timmy Dietrich
Dietrich, and essentially the entire team, was handicapped due to problems out of their control. No coach for some of the season, and a pool in disarray that couldn’t allow them to hold practices for most of the time, it was tough.
Despite the issues, Dietrich and the team persevered, and at divisionals, Dietrich earned himself third place for freestyle.
The nominations for swim are more of a testament to how far the team came, even with the limitations put on them. Dietrich simply just showed out the most.
Girls’ Swimming: Senior, Ruby Houle, and Junior, Samaira Sierra
There were varying opinions on who was the MVP for girls’ swim between Houle and Sierra, so I just decided to include both on the list. Both swimmers had great seasons despite unfortunate circumstances surrounding the lack of a coach for some of the season and a faulty practice pool.
For Houle, she has a good case. In a meet vs Portsmouth, she took second in the freeform. The team Houle, Madeline Baxter, Elaine Wu, and Samaira Sierra had 11th place in the free relay at the state meet.
Sierra also has a strong case. In the 200 medley relay vs Portsmouth, they took second place with her teammates Wu, Baxter, and Hannah Jiminez. She also took second in backstroke.
The spring season, while not exactly finished yet as of the writing of this article, still brought out the thunder in our athletes. Here’s the case for each player nominated from spring.
Baseball: Junior, Carlos Merejo (#3)
Merejo was a feared batter this season, and the pitchers weren’t showed that fear not-so-proudly. Pitchers had the junior intentionally walk multiple times across the season. In the 5-0 loss at West, the Falcon pitcher let Merejo walk at the top of the fifth inning, just in case he would have changed the entire momentum of the game.
When he wasn’t allowed to walk to first base? He made pitchers pay the price. In an 11-0 shutout vs North Smithfield, Merejo went 3-3, with three home runs and six RBIs. Versus Coventry (5-4 W), he was 2-3, notching a double, home run, and two RBIs.
Merejo has been an absolute monster this season, the stats show it, and the wins that the Thunderbolts have piled up show it too.
Softball: Senior, Trisha Lizarda (#10)
In a vastly improved season for the softball team, first-year head coach Jordan McHale selected Lizarda as the Team MVP for the squad.
It was in the pitching game where Lizarda was effective the most. A 6-5 win vs Davies showed Lizarda pitch a complete game, recording 4 strikeouts. On Senior Night vs Central, Lizards pitched five innings, recording three strikeouts in the 17-2 blowout.
Lizarda and the softball team is a great example of a team that was expected not to do much but exceeded expectations and more.
Boys’ Lacrosse: Senior, Antonello Lucchetti (#1)
“Nello” was productive for the co-op team of East, Johnston, and North Providence and was one of the senior captains for the team.
Lucchetti displayed toughness and grit this season and was the faceoff specialist to begin many of the Thundercats’ games this season.
An ankle injury in early May vs Tiverton didn’t hamper Lucchetti at all, really. To overcome an injury and still be the same flashy, speedy, elusive player, is pretty impressive. On Senior Night vs Classical, Lucchetti notched a goal in the 8-4 win against the Purple, a nice reward to finish off his athletic career at East.
Girls’ Lacrosse: Senior, Norah Flinn (#10)
Flinn appears once again in this article! Not only was she effective for the girls’ soccer team, but a massive impact for the girls’ lacrosse team as well.
Flinn scored multiple goals in nearly every single matchup this season, which made the decision pretty easy to make for head coach Howard Chun.
One of her biggest games of the season came early on, a huge comeback win against Bay View. Falling down big early in the first half, 5-0, Flinn put the team on her back and led the comeback effort, scoring half of the team’s goals in the 12-11 overtime victory.
In terms of who was the most important player on each team this season, Flinn is surely near, or at, the top of the list. The senior was a factor in every game for East.
Boys’ Tennis: Junior, Eston Fowler
Fowler’s been the top singles player for Cranston East this spring, and his track record supports that.
Fowler recorded eight singles wins during the season, doing so in blowout fashion for a decent amount of his matchups. He, along with doubles team Ansony Chavarria and Eri Ogunde, appeared in the state tournament.
Fowler put himself on the map with his performance this spring, and expect him to become even better next year as a senior.
Boys’ Volleyball: Senior, Jackson Rennick (#19)
While it wasn’t the prettiest season for the boys’ volleyball team, they found a way into the playoffs, and senior captain Jackson Rennick should be given recognition for what he’s done for the team.
One of the only players from this year’s squad to have played sizable varsity minutes last year, Rennick showed leadership on the court and provided a solid target for whoever played setter for the ‘Bolts. In a four-set win in their first match against Coventry, he accumulated five blocks and was efficient in the middle throughout the season.
Rennick, along with fellow senior Hunter Maloney and sophomore Charles Pincince were key offensive pieces for Cranston East, and maybe in the playoffs, Rennick and crew can create magic.
Boys’ Track: Senior, Eli Mejia
Mejia was one of the top runners for the outdoor track team this season, and will look to finish off his high school career on a good note at State Championships next weekend.
Mejia was a part of the 4x4 and 4x8 teams, and in the injury fund, he helped both teams place in the top three. For the Class A Meet, the 4x8 finished third with a time of 8:47.
Mejia helped bring the ‘Bolts to success, and strong finishes in the events he participated in puts him in strong contention for Athlete of the Year.
Girls’ Track: Senior, Madeline Baxter
Lastly, but most certainly not least, is Madeline Baxter. The Class of 2023 valedictorian was a strong runner for her team this season all the way and was why she was nominated by Coach Rob LaBanca.
In divisionals, Baxter placed second in the 300m hurdles and nearly medaled in the last chance meet just today, achieving seventh place in the 300m hurdles in that meet.
Baxter participated in multiple sports in her last season as a Bolt, and her outdoor track season stood out when compared to cross country and swimming.
Those are all 22 candidates for East Player of the Year, and why you should nominate them. Some have more reason to win than others, but it’s ultimately up to YOU, the reader, to cast your vote.
If you haven’t voted yet, vote. Vote as much as you can before the Monday night deadline. Winners will be announced at the end of the school day on Tuesday (approx. 1:55 pm EST).
While you’re reading this article and voting, if you haven’t yet, follow @tbsportsmedia on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, for sports schedules, results, and news.