CHESHIRE — We launch the Record-Journal Scholar-Athletes winter series going well beyond the rah-rah and the routine.
That’s because the senior captain of Cheshire’s cheerleading squad has one of the most eclectic sports resumes we’ve seen, well, ever.
How many athletes can you name who compete in rugby and fencing, and cheer on top of it?
We submit for your consideration Mia Denhart, who participates in all three of those activities at Cheshire High School.
She is also a leading student-athlete. After making Distinguished Honors in her first semester this year and High Honors in the second, Denhart is carrying a 3.94 grade-point average.
The two-time Student of the Month pays it forward by tutoring in Biology and volunteering as a coach with Cheshire Youth Cheerleading.
“Mia is the type of athlete every coach wants on their team,” said Cheshire cheer coach Samantha Buckley. “She is hard-working, responsible, supportive and knowledgeable. She is constantly working to improve herself. Even when she was injured, she conditioned, stretched and worked on anything she could.
“She supports her teammates on the mat and off,” Buckley added. “At every practice you can hear her cheering for individuals or giving the team words of encouragement. If I need her to do something, she does it right away or is already one step ahead of me.”
Denhart was one of 11 Record-Journal Scholar-Athletes selected by their coaches at Cheshire High School for the 2019-20 winter season. The others were as follows.
■Zack Bates, boys skiing: This guy has rhythm on the mountain and in the music room.
Along with placing in the top 10 in each ski race this season, senior Zack Bates is a member of the Cheshire High School Marching Band. He plays in the CHS Orchestra, the Cheshire Symphony Orchestra and the Greater Hartford Wind Ensemble.
He’ll pursue a degree in Music Education in college. He schussed out of ski season with a 3.77 GPA.
“Zack wants to be a leader and he wants to work with everyone. Zack is always asking for ways to become a better skier and will always try what has been said to him,” attested Cheshire’s new ski coach, Duane Bass. “Zack is a pleasure to coach and his enthusiasm for the sport is very exciting to watch.”
■Ruth DelVecchio, girls indoor track: This four-year runner wrapped up her final indoor season serving as captain and qualifying for the Class L state meet in the 55 hurdles, 55 dash and relays for a third time.
Should the spring season be held, she’ll look to return to the postseason outdoor meets in the 100 and 200 meters, the 100 hurdles and the relays.
“Ruth is a talented, motived young lady,” said indoor coach Allen Dvarskas. “She has worked hard to accomplish some great things during her time at the high school. She has been a leader since her sophomore year, individually teaching the hurdlers form and technique and leading our hurdle crew to have three state qualifiers.”
Del Vecchio is carrying a 4.3 GPA. She’s a member of the National Honor Society and has been a Student of the Month.
She participates in Mock Trial and, starting in the fall, will pursue college studies in Pre-Law.
■Nadia DiNatale, girls ice hockey: A Record-Journal Athlete of the Week nominee early in the season, senior Nadia DiNatale kept up her quality play throughout the campaign for the Connecticut Blades, the co-op team of Cheshire, Amity and North Haven.
The forward finished with 12 goals and 14 assists on the season.
She and the Blades went 13-9-1. They were regular-season champs in the SCC and runners-up in the conference tournament.
The season came to a close with a 5-3 loss to rival Guilford in the first round of Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association state tournament.
■Sam Hanke, boys swimming: This senior was on the bell lap of his checkered high school career before the coronavirus crisis spelled the end of the postseason before the state meets could be held.
Hanke did go out with his second straight SCC conference championship in the 100 backstroke with a time of 51.56.
He departs as Cheshire’s record-holder in that event with the 51.33 he swam in finishing second in last year’s State Open.
Hanke earned additional All-SCC recognition this season with second-place performances in the 200 freestyle (1:44.12) and with the 400 freestyle relay (3:17.32).
Academically, Hanke has made High Honors in every semester and holds a 3.875 GPA. He’ll study Business at the University of South Carolina, where the Connecticut All-Stater will continue his swimming career.
“I am incredibly proud of the swimmer and the person he has become,” remarked Cheshire swim coach Kevin Reeder. “He excels in everything he does in and out of the pool.
“Sam has gone from a swimmer who was a role player to one of the best swimmers in the state. I look forward to see what he accomplishes when he goes to South Carolina.”
■Kyle Kemp, indoor track: Actually, allow us to amend that. It’s indoor track AND field, as Kyle Kemp competes in both for the Cheshire Rams.
This winter, the senior qualified for the state Class L meet in the 300 meters and in the long jump. Kemp also ran on the 4x200 and 4x400 relays.
This spring, he’s hoping to compete in his third year of outoor track and lead the squad as one of its four captains.
Beyond that, Kemp is heading to Springfield College, where he’ll major in Physical Therapy.
A National Honor Society member, Kemp holds a 4.3 GPA, which has earned him All-SCC Academic status in both the winter and spring track seasons.
Kemp has participated in the National Student Leadership Conference and is a drum major in the CHS Marching Band.
“Kyle is a very hard-working and dedicated student and athlete,” remarked indoor coach Pam Gunneson. “His true commitment to the team and its success has made Kyle a valuable member of our team, and he has set an excellent example for his peers of what it means to be a part of a team.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Kyle and I know that he will have much success in his future endeavors. He will be greatly missed by the coaches and his teammates next year.”
■Olivia Kochol, girls skiing: Olivia Kochol is still deciding on what she’ll be majoring in next year in college.
For now, she’s finishing a final year at Cheshire High that featured work in the Drama Club, a 3.9 GPA in the classroom and a ski season that saw her place in the top five in each varsity race.
“Olivia is a pleasure to coach. She wants to learn to ski better and her enthusiasm is off the chart,” remarked ski coach Duane Bass. “Olivia always makes sure everyone on the team is aware of what is going on so everyone is on the same page. She is truly an inspiration to the whole team.”
■Max Novicelli, ice hockey: Senior Max Novicelli suited up on defense for the Rams, who went 8-10-2 and advanced to the CIAC Division II state tournament.
Academically, Novicelli carries a 4.5 GPA and has been named SCC All-Academic on multiple occasions, including in lacrosse, the sport he plays in the spring.
Novicelli’s interests are diverse. He’s been a member of DECA for all four years of high school and has earned gold (2020) and silver (2019) medals on the National German Exam.
He enjoys golf and photography. He volunteers at the Connecticut Food Bank.
“Max is a pleasure to coach. He is a hard-working kid who always shows up with a positive attitude,” said hockey coach Anthony Giusto. “He started playing hockey at a later age and his improvement in his skills is evident because of his work ethic and attitude.
“Max excels in the classroom and currently has a 4.5 GPA, which is a testament to the work that he puts in in his studies.”
Novicelli aims to study Accounting and Business Analytics in college.
■Ariana Perlini, girls basketball: A Cheshire student-athlete for all seasons, Ariana Perlini has wrapped up her career in volleyball and basketball and is now hoping to play a final season of softball.
She is carrying a 3.9 GPA.
“It's amazing what Ari is able to accomplish as a student-athlete competing at a high level in three sports while excelling in the classroom,” said Cheshire basketball coach Michelle Vieira. “Ari is committed to being her best both on and off the court. She is well respected by her peers for the tireless effort she puts in.”
Perlini was Cheshire’s female SCC Scholar-Athlete for the winter season. She participates in Best Buddies and is heading to Fairfield University next year to major in Psychology.
■Chris Scaffone, wrestling: This is the third straight year Chris Scaffone has been named Cheshire wrestling’s R-J Scholar-Athlete.
Scaffone wrestled at 152 pounds this season and advanced to the Class L state tournament.
■Jason Shumilla, boys basketball: Jason Shumilla makes it 2-for-2 for his senior year, earning R-J Scholar-Athlete recognition in basketball after doing the same as quarterback of the football team.
Shumilla is now hoping to hit the field for a final season of lacrosse.
Back in September, Shumilla opened the school year returning from injury and leading the Rams to their first state football playoff appearance since 2009.
Shumilla completed 91 of 168 passes for 1,253 yards and 14 touchdowns. He ran 57 times for 282 yards.
Shumilla’s GPA stands at 4.07.