By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Last year, the consideration for the 2014 Bristol Observer Girls Athlete of the Year was a simple one.
Bristol Eastern High School’s Karissa Smith ran away with the award in 2013 as she dominated in three different sports.
This year, it’s another landslide nomination for another three-sport star.
And without a doubt, this year’s choice of Bristol Central’s Chandler Walker is truly the correct – and really – only decision to earn this year’s award.
Simply put, Walker was the premier athlete in all of the Mum City – boy or girl.
When you can dominate three different sports – soccer, basketball, and softball – and do it on a CCC South all conference level, there’s not much room for debate.
“She’s probably the best athlete I’ve ever coached in my short career,” said Central girls soccer coach Scott Redman.
When it comes to her, watching Walker compete at the highest level on the field, it’s hard to tell what makes her so special.
Is it overwhelming athletic ability?
Is it a high IQ?
Is it good genes passed down from her athletic family?
Ot is it a combination of all those traits?
Maybe only scientists at NASA know the answer for sure; but on the local level, whatever she did, it worked like magic.
“In soccer, it was ability,” said Redman. “It’s her ability to full extension, layout and making a save that’s tucking in the near post or the far post. That’s what takes over for her on the soccer field.”
While Walker will attend – and play softball at – Pfeiffer University, she still found time to man the goal for Central this past fall and proved to be the most versatile keeper in all the CCC South.
The Rams went 9-4-1 this season in league play and once again, Walker was a CCC South all conference pick – just like she was in 2012.
Overall, Central went 9-6-2 and there wasn’t much that got by her in the goal.
That kind of stopping power gave Central the advantage on defense all season long.
“She made saves in the goal no one else could make, it was just pure athleticism,” said Redman. “Sometimes, she was in the wrong position but made a sensational save. She just bailed us out so many times the past couple years, kept us in games we have no business being in.”
“She’s just a freak athlete.”
Walker allowed just three goals a total of three times in 2013 and in four of Central’s six losses in 2014, it was just a goal difference that was the ultimate difference in the game.
“It’s no secret that soccer is not her ‘A’ sport,” said Redman. “It’s not her number one sport. But you watch her in a game and you wouldn’t know it. She lays out, she sprawls out, she gives 100 percent, day in and day out. She does the best she can within the season and she does some incredible things in just working for 10-12 weeks during the year.”
“She just gets better every day.”
And just like with soccer, Walker moved quickly from the fall season to the winter and she quickly traded in her cleats for a pair of sneakers for hardwood action.
Walker is a three-time all CCC South conference selection in basketball and after leading her squad into the state tournament during 2012-13, she wanted to make it a repeat performance this past winter.
And in terms of state tournament, it took just eight games to get there, an amazing accomplishment for the program.
In fact, the 13-8 record Central finished with ended up being the most wins for the program since the 1999-2000 campaign.
Walker was a double-double machine for the Rams as she scored just under 14 points per game and was a deluxe rebounder and shot blocking machine.
“She’s such a hard worker,” said Bristol Central coach Steve Gaudet of Walker. “I never get on her too much because I know she’s going to give me everything’s she got.”
In the fourth game of the year, in Central’s 50-45 win over Wethersfield, Walker dumped in 18 points, 14 rebounds, and blocked seven shots while posting 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks a few days later against Bulkeley.
And then there was a rare triple double against always pesky Berlin.
In a 43-27 triumph against the Redcoats on Jan. 31, Walker put together an amazing 12 points, 18 rebound and 10 block performance.
In a huge overtime win over Middletown on Feb. 11, Walker was the player of the game again.
Walker flipped in 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks as the Rams came away with a CCC South defining 70-64 win.
In her final regular game against Eastern, she scooted in 17 points – as Central lost by only six points – while in her final scholastic appearance, Walker netted eight points as the Rams fell to Greenwich, 45-28, in state tournament play.
Obviously, soccer and basketball weren’t sports Walker focused on elusively.
Now, what happened when Walker made her way onto the softball field where all her skills were put on display?
The results were a scholarship to Pfeiffer University of North Carolina and the Division II school is getting a supreme athlete that can play multiple positions.
Walker has been on the AAU circuit for years now, as well as playing for the Rams, and did just about all she could for every program she was a part of.
“That’s where her training comes in,” said Redman of Walker’s vast softball talent. “She’s just a special player in softball. She has the ability there. She has the knowledge of the game (and) it takes over a lot more for softball.”
This past season, Walker played in all 22 games as Central went a stout 18-4 and, for the first time in softball (strangely), earned all conference honors.
Overall, she batted an outstanding .478 and wrangled up 32 hits and 17 RBI.
Walker smashed out five doubles, five triples and also drilled a home run during her busy senior campaign.
She also scored 21 runs and stole four bases for Central.
Walker’s offense is one thing, her defense is totally another.
At Central, Walker was used in the outfield and her athleticism and versatility proved to be a key ingredient in the squad’s success over the past four seasons.
Last year, in Central’s final game against Mercy, Walker alone made three straight putouts in one inning – including a diving catch that brought the crowd in Stratford to its feet.
Walker can play first or second base, shortstop and, of course, has ability to man all three outfield positions.
“She just knows the game,” said Redman. “Going from shortstop as a young player, move to the outfield and still be a positive leader…that was not negative for her, that wasn’t a step back for her. That was a role she needed to fill on that team and they (almost) go to the state finals in her junior campaign.”
“This year, they made a pretty good run, too.”
The incredible offense she provides has been on display over the past four seasons for the Rams as she batted no less than .321 over her career.
Walker has been one of the most dangerous hitters for Central no matter which pitcher took the mound on the opponents side of things.
“She can hit the ball to all fields and that’s where her constant, full year preparation for softball really helps her,” said Redman. “She’s a special hitter, she’s a special player.”
Redman knows first hand what Walker can do for his team and, of course, against his team as well.
The Bristol Eastern softball coach has gotten burned by Walker’s bat on several occasions and its those skills that makes Walker the all around, amazing talent that she has become today.
“She kills you going as a coach against her,” said Redman. “But as a supporter of hers, I’m really happy for her and I wish her all the best at the next level.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE