Athletes made their mark in academics and sports

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

The all-around student-athlete takes both sides of the hyphen seriously, and each spring, high schools choose one male and one female who best exemplify excellence in both academics and athletics.

This year’s local CIAC Scholar-Athlete Awards went to Woodland’s Nick DeLucia and Emma Slavin and Naugatuck’s Jay Mezzo and Brielle Behuniak.

Nick DeLucia –FILE PHOTO

NICK DeLUCIA was a multi-year standout for the Woodland baseball and basketball teams. As an infielder and pitcher, he helped the Hawks reach the Class M semifinals and tie the program record with 20 wins. That tops his list of sports memories, but he also points toward the class of 2020’s two victories in the school’s annual Spirit Week competition as another sentimental favorite.

“The overall experiences of baseball, basketball, and just going to school every day are very memorable for me,” said DeLucia, who also started at forward during his senior basketball season.

DeLucia was quick to spread around the credit for his scholar-athlete award.

“It all comes down to hard work, but I would not have been able to accomplish this without the push and motivation by my family, my friends, my classmates, my teammates, my coaches, my teachers, and so many more,” DeLucia said. “I owe the people around me most of the credit for that award.”

DeLucia plans on majoring in finance and computer science at Fairfield University after enjoying classes at Woodland taught by Mike Magas and Mike Cullen.

“I feel like a job in these fields is exactly what I’m looking for with my future, but I’ll figure that out for sure as those four years go by,” DeLucia said.

Emma Slavin –FILE PHOTO

EMMA SLAVIN will leave Woodland as one of the best runners in school history. Between cross country and track, she was a six-time all-league honoree and earned All-State honors as a senior cross country runner. She was also part of eight Naugatuck Valley League championship teams during her 11 seasons, but the titles weren’t her favorite part of high school.

“The best sports memories are definitely being a part of such an incredible team of motivated and driven girls that all want to succeed and want each other to succeed, whether we won or lost,” said Slavin, who also noted how much she enjoyed making friends in the school’s most challenging classes.

Many students work hard in the classroom as a product of their athletic discipline, but it actually started the opposite way for Slavin.

“I’ve always been very dedicated to school and have been very hardworking in that aspect of life,” Slavin said. “Once I got serious with running during my freshman year and realized I had a passion for that, it drove me to work even harder in sports to achieve my goals. As I became more motivated in sports, I also became more motivated in the classroom, and I think they both worked together well to make me a well-balanced student-athlete.”

Slavin originally planned on running in college, but she decided late in the spring to switch her commitment to UConn, where she will major in biomedical engineering.

“I eventually decided that UConn was a better fit for me and was a better opportunity,” Slavin said.

Jay Mezzo –RA ARCHIVE

JAY MEZZO was a three-sport standout at Naugatuck. He was a two-year starter at quarterback for the Greyhounds, a member of the Naugy basketball team that won the program’s first NVL title in 51 years, and won the 2019 NVL doubles tennis title with Jared Montini. His favorite sports memory happened on the gridiron.

“I think one of my greatest memories was down in Seymour, when it was third-and-long and I threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Eli Robinson to put us ahead and eventually win the game,” Mezzo said, remembering Naugy’s 28-26 comeback victory in November 2018 to help the ‘Hounds improve to 8-0.

Mezzo comes from a prominent family in the borough — his father, Bob, served as mayor from 2009-15, and his mother, Eileen, is the principal at City Hill Middle School. Those influences (especially from his Greyhounds-loving dad) shaped his high school success.

“I give credit to my father because he always persisted that I played three sports every year,” Mezzo said. “That embedded a hardworking and determined mentality into me, not only in sports but in the classroom, as well.”

He isn’t done with the pigskin yet, either. Mezzo will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he will play football for the Engineers while majoring in cybersecurity.

“The academic side of the school had a big impact on my decision,” Mezzo said. “I believe they will equip me for the skills I need for my career.”

Brielle Behuniak –RA ARCHIVE

BRIELLE BEHUNIAK also starred in three sports for the Greyhounds. She earned All-State honors last fall after leading Naugy to its first NVL volleyball championship since 1998, gaining tournament MVP honors along the way.

She was also the 2019 NVL champion in doubles tennis with Hailey Russell and a multi-year basketball standout. Behuniak will leave Naugy with four All-NVL medals, favorite sports memories from her two NVL championships, and lasting school memories from freshman lock-in and DECA’s All Night for Avery fundraiser.

“The memories and bonds I made with my teammates is something I am so thankful for,” Behuniak said.

Behuniak explained the importance of keeping a balance between athletics and academics for the past four years.

“It took a lot of dedication to both my academics and athletics,” Behuniak said. “School comes first, so I made sure I managed my time wisely, especially when it came to game days. Academics and athletics are very important to me, so I made sure I did everything I could in order to succeed in both. Working hard in everything I did was key.”

Behuniak plans on majoring in nursing at Quinnipiac University, hoping to fulfill a lifelong goal of becoming an APRN.

“After the deaths of both of my grandmothers, I knew I wanted to help others and provide comfort to those who are in need,” Behuniak said.