SCHOLAR-ATHLETES: Kunst is out front for Spartans and Maloney’s Class of 2021

SCHOLAR-ATHLETES: Kunst is out front for Spartans and Maloney’s Class of 2021

MERIDEN — At 6-foot-4, Maloney forward Garrison Kunst has been known to throw down a dunk or two on the hardwood over the past three seasons.

In that same time, Kunst has been slamming it academically, too.

With a grade-point average of 4.72, Kunst is on course to be Valedictorian of Maloney High School’s Class of 2021.

His numbers from basketball were equally solid this winter: 12.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.6 blocks a game.

Kunst was a captain on a team that went a spotless 12-0 to win the Central Connecticut Conference’s Region D and qualify for the the CCC Championship Bracket Tournament.

“He holds himself accountable and is the first to pat another player on the back when they do something well or when they need some words of encouragement,” said Maloney basketball coach Dave Parness. “Garrison is an ideal captain as he sets the bar high in terms of his work ethic both in and out of the classroom.”

Kunst, who also plays lacrosse, is Class Secretary. He’s a member of the Math Team and Youth & Government. An Eagle Scout candidate, he works for a landscaping business.

An AP Scholar with Honor in 2020, Kunst is a member of the Spanish Honor Society and has been nominated for the National Honor Society. 

He’ll be attending either Duke or M.I.T. to major in Mechanical Engineering.

“Garrison is an absolute pleasure to coach,” Parness said. “He is a team-first guy who shows up every day willing to work, to take constructive criticism, and to push himself and his teammates. It has been a privilege to be able to coach him and watch his growth over the past three seasons.”

Kunst was one of five Record-Journal Scholar-Athletes selected at Maloney High School for the 2021 winter season.

■Haley Lespier, girls basketball: Haley Lespier’s inspirational story as a childhood cancer survivor and the tight bond she shares with her twin sister Abby spread far beyond Meriden after Haley won the CIAC Michael H. Savage Spirit of Sport Award last year — not only in Connecticut, but in Section 1.

Record-Journal Scholar-Athlete recognition is another item to add to the Lespier resume. The senior guard and team captain earned it with a 4.14 GPA and tireless work ethic.

“Haley is a grinder both on the basketball court and in the classroom; she goes 100 percent in everything she does,” said Maloney basketball coach John Vieira. “Haley is one of the toughest athletes I have ever coached and never cuts corners, which is what makes her such a great leader and positive influence to anyone around her.”

A Distinguished Honor Student, Lespier has been nominated for the National Honor Society.

She’s been a three-sport athlete throughout her Maloney career, playing soccer and tennis along with basketball. This spring, she and her sister, a successful doubles team since their freshman year, will look to return to the State Open.

Looking further down the road, Lespier has been accepted into Criminal Investigative Service program at the University of New Haven with a four-year Distinguished Scholar Award. She is also looking to be accepted by the ROTC program.

■Dylan Self, cheerleading: A four-year member of the cheerleading squad, Dylan Self was a captain in her senior year.

“Dylan is an asset to MHS cheer,” remarked coach Katie Barnicle. “You can hear her voice loud and clear at every single game and practice. Her positivity and energy will be missed next year.”

The Honor Roll student is heading to UConn, where she’ll pursue a Pre-Med track. Self also participated in Skills USA.

■R.J. Plumberg, wrestling: Though denied a senior season on the mat this winter, R.J. Plumberg’s wrestling career is not over. He’s on his way to Plymouth State University, where he’ll compete for his former Maloney coach, Eric Bergeron.

Wrestling primarily at 152 pounds, Plumberg piled up more than 70 wins over his scholastic career. He was named All-Conference and All-Record-Journal after his junior season in 2020.

Plumberg also has some artistic chops. He sings in the Maloney choir, plays in the band and has the lead role in the school play, “Footloose.”

“R.J. is a team player on and off the mat. He strives for excellence in both wrestling and in the classroom,” said wrestling coach Joe Winoski. “He is always uplifting his teammates and is a natural leader. That cannot be taught. He just has it.

“He takes initiative and never backs down from a challenge. He is the definition of heart and toughness,” Winoski added. “I am excited to see what he can accomplish, not just in college, but in the real world when those years are behind him. He is destined for great things.” 

■Sam Hurlburt, boys swimming: Sam Hurlburt broke the Maloney school record in the 100-yard breaststroke last year as a sophomore and broke it again this season as a junior.

This time, with a 1:02.43, he also took down Tyler Prescott’s Meriden Co-op record in that event.

When postseason times were tabulated across the span of the Central Connecticut Conference, Hurlburt had placed sixth in the breaststroke out of 91 swimmers. He was 11th out of 50 in the 200 individual medley.

That made him a cinch to return to the All-Record-Journal Boys Swimming Team.

With his 4.87 GPA, he was also an easy Scholar-Athlete pick for coach Ed Heath. Hurlburt was also an MLK Essay district winner. 

“Sam has achieved much success in the pool and classroom. His willingness to go above and beyond what is expected of him is commendable,” said Heath. “I have known Sam since he was a young swimmer. He always strives to be the best he can in everything he does. His desire and dedication to the  sport is second to none.

“The future looks very promising for him. It truly has been a pleasure to know and coach him.”

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