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Thunderbolt Sports Media 2023-24 Athletes of the Year

John Devine (left) and Isabella Sousa (right) are TSM's 2023-24 Athletes of the Year

Photo credits: The Cranston Herald, The Providence Journal, CHSE Photography, Team Instagram accounts, Thunderbolt Sports Media


Athlete of the Year - The Process

For the second consecutive year, Thunderbolt Sports Media engaged in a process to name male & female athletes of the year at Cranston East. Our experience undertaking this process last year, along with observing a variety of student-involved voting projects this year, helped us streamline this selection process. 

After witnessing the toxicity that existed in some social media comments during voting last year, and the over-the-top campaigning for student-superlative votes this year, the decision was made to limit the player of the year to a selection committee of three people: Tim Yean, TSM President; Charlie Adams, TSM Vice-President/Lead Writer; myself, TSM Founder & Advisor. We’ve been the ones announcing or broadcasting the games, sifting through schedules, results, and statistics on a daily basis and working late into the night to create our social media content, all while continuously discussing the performances of Cranston East athletic teams and members all year long. We feel more than qualified - and informed - to make these selections.

While the majority of Team MVPs were selected by coaches using the literal criteria of “most valuable”, the selection of TSM’s Athletes of the Year was a little more complicated.

Should being named a team MVP in multiple sports be valued more than a dominating performance in just one? How much should a team’s division and level of competition be weighed when considering an individual’s performance? Does team success add more value to an individual’s candidacy? Can we fully evaluate spring athletes who are moving on to the postseason and will be (hopefully) playing after this feature is published? And, are we fairly considering athletes who participated in sports that did not garner as much attention because of the setting in which they are held?

We considered and discussed EVERYTHING. Ultimately, the choices were clear. We also decided, while we were at it, to name a girls and boys Coach of the Year to recognize the accomplishments of those ultimately responsible for the performance of our sports teams. Cranston East, for a variety of reasons, is not an easy place to coach for any sport. All of our coaches deserve credit for the time and energy they put forth to provide the best possible environment for our student-athletes to perform, but since wins and losses are tracked in competitive sports, there are a few individuals who stood out above the rest due to their team’s success.

As stated earlier, we considered everything and looked at this from all angles. Now, since we don't have a budget at TSM, the best we can offer the winners (other than prestigious recognition that will look pretty cool on future college applications) is a serving of our "Press Box Turducken" at halftime of the 2024 Thanksgiving Day Football Game. (For those not familiar, a turducken is a de-boned duck inside of a de-boned chicken inside of de-boned turkey with layers of Cajun stuffing in between.)

Athlete of the Year - The Debate

Weighing a single-season dominating performance against outstanding achievement in multiple sports is probably the most challenging aspect of making these selections. When discussing the candidacy of our female athletes, we strongly considered the exploits of Lily Tillinghast (field hockey, girls’ lacrosse) and Jessica Chin (cross country, indoor track), two-sport MVPs. We also looked at the season Mya Jiminez put together for the girls’ basketball team, leading the state in scoring with 23.0 ppg while surpassing 1,000 career points. There was also a strong push from Nevaeh Fatorma, the leadoff force of the top-seeded softball team in the Division III playoffs. However, when you have the school’s version of Shohei Ohtani putting together a season for the ages, it is impossible to ignore.

Frankly, the fall and winter sports seasons weren’t providing us with too many options when talking about naming a male athlete of the year. The premier boys’ sports of football, soccer, and basketball went a combined 7-36-5. While Armand Reed showed he could dominate as a freshman playing against some of the best football competition in the state, and Christian Gomez did his best as the goalkeeper to keep the boys’ soccer team competitive in most matches, there wasn’t a candidate that made us say, “That’s the guy.”

In terms of individual honors and highest performance in an activity, we had long discussions about whether an ESports participant could qualify for an athlete of the year award. Miles D’Arconte was the best Mario Kart player in the state, earning first team all-state honors. However, after consulting with the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, we did not consider D’Arconte a candidate. The RIIL refers to participants in E-Sports as “gamers” and/or “players”, and as much as RIIL Assistant Director Tom Marcello loves Mario Kart, the official ruling was that E-Sports participants are not considered “athletes”. If there is a debate to be had on those semantics, it will have to wait for another time.

Spring season provided some stronger cases. Adrian Rosales finished his tennis season with an undefeated record for the second-seeded boys’ tennis team. Cam Felici took home the outdoor track honors, giving him two MVP awards for the year. 

The boys’ volleyball team and their amazing turnaround offered multiple deserving candidates for team MVP, with junior Charles Pincince ultimately earning that honor. The number two seed in the Division I playoffs has several candidates for first-team All-State among a team filled with players that have shown tremendous improvement since last season. 

And finally, the baseball team brought back last year’s TSM Male Athlete of the Year, Carlos Merejo, who has authored another monster offensive season, and also received a huge power hitting season from Jayden Tolentino. However, like our female selection, our choice for male honors dominated during their season. And, he dominated against the top competition the state has to offer in their sport.

Here are the 2023-24 Thunderbolt Sports Media Athletes of the Year:

MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: John Devine, Baseball, Class of 2024

The biggest problem with John Devine as a pitcher? There’s only one of him. If he could be cloned, East would pose the single biggest threat to knocking off undefeated Hendricken in the Division I playoffs and claiming a state championship.

While he takes his classes at the school on the other side of the city, that won’t be held against him here. He plays for East. In fact, he may even earn some extra points since he can walk around smiling at the same players he knows he’s going to be nasty to once he steps on the mound later in the day.

On a team with the returning TSM Boys’ Athlete of the Year, Carlos Merejo, Devine raised his level from being a solid pitcher in 2023 to a dominant one this year. Featuring a fastball with growing life, and a nasty, knee-buckling curveball, the ‘Bolt ace has saved his best performances for the toughest competition, defeating LaSalle, perennial state power North Kingstown twice, and the defending state champions, Cumberland. He threw a shortened no-hitter against Cranston West, two one-hitters (East Providence, LaSalle), and had four games of double-digit strikeouts. He then held North Kingstown scoreless for the first 6.1 innings of the ‘Bolts opening round playoff game before tiring and taking a tough-luck loss.

Devine limited opponents to a measly batting average of .124 against him while striking out 83 in 55.1 innings pitched. His miniscule 0.89 ERA ranked him as one of the state’s best starting pitchers while playing in its top division. Taking over the role as East’s ace from the start, Devine has a 7-2 record, ranking him top in the state, while giving up zero earned runs in five of his nine appearances.

The Bolts could get offensive production from several top hitters, including Merejo, Jayden Tolentino, Tony DeFusco, and Kelvin Santos, who, despite missing the start of the season due to a knee injury suffered last year, didn’t forget how to rake. Jerusalem Leon also offered the ability to get on base and affect the game with his speed.

But there’s only one player who could put this team on his back and completely neutralize the opposing team’s offensive attack. His ability to do that when his team needed him the most - after a loss - was Devine’s biggest strength. Five of his six victories came after an East loss in the previous game, stopping losing streaks before they started. THAT is an ace. THAT is the MVP. And THAT is why John Devine is TSM’s 2023-24 Male Athlete of the year.

FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Isabella Sousa, Softball, Class of 2027


That chant should send shivers down the spine of underclass softball players all around the state. Isabella Sousa has arrived and will be terrorizing high school opponents from the circle and at the plate for the next three years. Her performance as a pitcher is not only the most dominant in any sport in our school, but when you add in her MVP-worthy season as a hitter, the choice was clear: Isabella Sousa is the 2023-24 TSM Female Athlete of the Year.

Regardless of division, Sousa’s 2024 season is a career's worth of domination. She's 11-0 in the circle, and has an ERA you need a microscope to see (0.56). Batters might as well have saved the trouble of bringing their bat to the plate because most of the time, they have no shot at hitting the ball. “Hitters” hit .114 against her during the year, meaning about 9 times out of 10, they were going back to the dugout realizing it was going to be a bad day. Sousa struck out an unworldly 56% of the batters she faced, had ten games of double-digit strikeouts, including a season-high 20 (there are only 21 outs in a softball game). Plus, she did all this while only walking 11, an average of one batter per game, showing uncanny control for a pitcher. 

At the plate, Sousa has been one of the Bolts’ top hitters with a .425 batting average while ranking second on the team with a 1.499 OPS (On-Base plus Slugging). She raked all year with 11 extra-base hits (including 3 home runs), knocked in 18 runs, and scored 23 more.

Of Sousa’s impact on the team this year, head coach Jordan McHale says, “Her dominance in the circle has allowed us to develop in other areas of the game as well. In the past, we've had to approach each game with a defensive mindset and our offense suffered. This year, we've been able to focus more on developing our offense and becoming more aggressive on the bases. It has paid off tremendously, you can't win if you don't score runs!”

And, the other team can’t win if they can’t score. Izzy Sousa proves that each time she takes the field.

COMING NEXT WEEK: The final episode of Thunderbolt Sports Talk and an update on the future of Thunderbolt Sports Media.

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