By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Selecting the “Bristol Observer Female Athlete of the Year” is the most daunting challenge to come up with every and year.
Once again, there were truly too many candidates to choose from over the past scholastic year.
How do you narrow down such a loaded field with three schools in town?
Just from a small sampling, soccer studs like Adalia Malick from Bristol Central or the all-time leading goal scorer from Bristol Eastern, Myah Croze, would be excellent choices for Athlete of the Year .
Look at how many All-State pitchers – and players – the scholastic level saw this season in softball.
Pick one: Bristol Eastern’s Erin Girard and Zoe Lowe along with St. Paul Catholic’s Abby Poirot and Jessica Persechino.
How about a hot rookie prospect like Eastern’s Ciara Collins, a rising three-sport star?
But as my head was spinning with choices and possibilities, one candidate kept leading the pack.
And by the time all her merits were added up, it was obvious that Bristol Eastern’s Paige McLaughlin was going to be this year’s 2019 Bristol Observer Athlete of the Year.
She’s a well-rounded, no-nonsense, jack-of-all-trades athlete that elevated each and every squad she competed for.
It was an award in the making for McLaughlin because as a sophomore on the basketball court, I watched this 5-foot-3, mighty-might holding her ground against all the trees in the paint, boxing them out and stealing rebounds away from girls who were six, eight or ten inches taller than she was.
And quickly, Eastern had this three-sport dynamite competing at the highest level possible on a nightly basis.
“She’s a four sport athlete if you want to get technical,” marveled Bristol Eastern softball coach Scott Redman about McLaughlin. “She’s an incredible athlete. She’s an even better person, number five in her class and able to get one-hundred career hits in softball as a captain.”
How many athletes in town have a double-figure tally in varsity letters that covers four different scholastic sports?
No one. No one except McLaughlin that is.
Ten varsity letters, multiple CCC South All Conference awards, and a trophy case that’s probably overflowing.
Her overstuffed resume included volleyball, basketball, softball and – in a big surprise – cross country just this past fall.
And she ended up being one of the top three runners of the XC program as the season moved on.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting a big change like that but it was a lot more fun than I ever expected,” said McLaughlin about switching to cross country.
Over her sophomore and junior campaigns in volleyball, she was one of the best liberos in the CCC South and Eastern’s defensive specialist.
McLaughlin was a model libero and she nailed down serves like Ray Allen shot free throws at UConn. She was nearly automatic.
McLaughlin collected 535 digs, 80 aces, and 758 serve receptions over his two varsity campaigns, netting All-conference honors in volleyball in 2016.
But she went out for cross country over the fall and held her own this year.
At the CCC championships from Wickham Park on Oct. 16, her 15th place finish (24:21) helped the Lancers to tally a runner’s up placing in the CCC Southern division race.
And then in hoop, McLaughlin led her squad to the quarterfinal round of the Class L bracket that gave No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield one heck of a scare.
The Lancers fell 55-48 in the end the year but the senior, also one of the team’s captains, left everything on the court to end her hardwood adventures.
“We went into that game, not with the highest hopes, and only losing by seven, it just showed how much heart we had and how far we could have gone and how far we did go,” said McLaughlin.
The girls basketball team at Eastern went 15-9 and her consistency helped the squad off a tough 0-3 start.
I’ve said it many times before, she was an invaluable jack-of-all-trades athlete that did a little of everything for her team once again.
McLaughlin was the only player to start all 24 games at Eastern and while her overall numbers (4.3 points-per-game, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists) don’t jump off the page, she always seemed to make the big play.
For instance, the guard co-led the team in rebounding against Bristol Central and, the Eastern assist leader in three games this year while collecting eight points three times this season — reaching seven rebounds twice.
She dished out at least four assists on six occasions and nabbed five steals against Enfield.
McLaughlin scored 102 points this year and tallied 242 total points over the last three years for the Lancers.
And then the All-Conference catcher had a great senior season (. 333 batting average, 28 hits, 24 runs, five doubles, .429 slugging) to augment her defense behind the plate.
She even threw out a couple runners from behind the dish.
Over four varsity seasons of softball, she batted .360 which included over 100 hits, 50 RBI, and nearly 70 runs scored.
And what about the game-ending double play in Eastern’s 4-3 win against Amity this past spring — diving for a foul ball, making the catch and then firing it to first base to end the game and propel her squad to an amazing victory?
That’s what you expect out of the captain of your squad.
“She’s been super consistent for us for four years,” said Redman. “She’s worked her tail off.”
This past year, she was named a scholar athlete at Eastern — taking all those challenging AP classes that included Chemistry, Human Geography, Biology, Psychology, and United States History.
And she belonged to just about every honor society at Eastern including the Science National Honor Society.
All that hard work paid off as she will attend the University of Connecticut, majoring in pharmacy this fall.
It’s obvious that McLaughlin balanced her scholastic work on the field — and in the classroom — like a seasoned pro.
“It’s tough at times, yeah,” said McLaughlin. “A lot of sleepless nights…”
“It’s a testament to the grind,” added Redman.
When it comes to playing sports, or in life in general, you want to leave the program in a better place than where you found it, and — without any hesitation or doubt — McLaughlin did exactly that over her four years at Bristol Eastern.
“I mean I hope so,” said McLaughlin of the question. “I hope I was showing the freshmen, like, how to play and how to be leaders. Hopefully, I’ve done a good job.”
And, once again, one of her coaches was hot to jump on that exact subject.
“There’s no question about it,” said Redman. “[After she got her 100th hit against Bullard Havens], a lot people would be gloating and have their head bigger than the dugout [but instead], she’s out here getting the field ready [for the next game].”
Bristol Observer Female AOY — Paige McLaughlin, Bristol Eastern
- Earned a varsity letter in softball over all four years of scholastic play, nabbing 10 letters overall.
- Lettered in volleyball, cross country, basketball, and softball.
- In 84 at-bats in softball this season, batted .333 for the season, tallied 28 hits including five doubles and a home run.
- Scored 24 runs, notched 12 RBI, drew seven walks, and carried a .429 slugging percentage for the Lancers.
- Started all 24 basketball games at Eastern, averaging 4.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists-per-game — earning All-conference, second team honors.
- Captain in both basketball and softball this year.
- Made a 15th place finish at the girls cross country CCC South championship race in the fall — helping Eastern to a second-place finish.
- Played travel softball for the Connecticut Titans, Lady Knights, and Connecticut Comets over the years.
- Heading to UConn in the fall, majoring in Pharmacy.
- Top five in her class at Bristol Eastern.
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.