There are different levels of success for a high school athlete: all-league, all-state and all-region to name a few. There is also national recognition, like being named an All-American, that puts you on an entirely different level.
Dominating your sport or event truly puts you among the elite.
Scott Testori from Hand was the state’s best in boys soccer. Leah Moore from Hillhouse was at one point the top hammer thrower in the country and also a State Open champion in the discus. For their accomplishments, Testori and Moore have been selected the 2020-21 New Haven Register Athletes of the Year.
“It’s all about playing for me. I did not (go) out to chase awards,” Testori said. “I just wanted to do the best I could to help the team win.”
Said Moore: “It is he last thing I really expected to win (discus). It’s something I never felt like I was that good at. But this year, I really worked hard to learn to get better at it, to have the correct form in it. For me, to put it all together at the State Open and win it, I yelled (with joy). I finally got it down on my last chance to get it right.”
Moore, the Area MVP for both indoor and outdoor track and field this season, threw the discus 41 feet, 2.5 inches and the discus 131 feet in the State Open. She also won both events at the Class MM meet, the shot put in a meet record 42-11.5. Moore also had a victory in the CIAC girls hammer throw (153-5).
Moore has that competitive streak — as her mom Michele says, it runs through her immediate family. Gary Sr. and Michele both have driven the Hillhouse track and field programs to incredible heights. In the last decade alone, Hillhouse has won 20 state championships and three State Opens in boys and girls outdoor and indoor track and field.
Gary Jr., Leah’s younger brother, also won the shot put and the discus (meet record 188-7) at the State Open in June. His best marks in the discus and shot put are fourth and fifth all-time in the state.
“I have some of it in me, but they are crazy, along with their father,” Michele said. “Everything is a race. They go to the door, it’s who’ll get there first. Everything is a competition, a friendly one, but a competition. (Leah) struggled at first with what she was doing, but she still had that competitive nature. Her skill had to catch up with that competitiveness. Once that caught up, she took off, because that desire to win was strong.”
Leah herself was “not really satisfied” with her spring season, but “still worked hard and still came to compete even if it didn’t go well.”
Testori never lost in a state championship final. Hand won three in Class L with Testori, the three-time Area MVP, scoring four goals in those games.
There were no CIAC state championships held last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having a season of any kind was an uncertainty. The Tigers were set on one goal once the season started: win every game they possibly could.
Hand accomplished just that: the Tigers won all 11 games, including the SCC B Division Tournament championship.
“The fact that we had a season in the first place was insane. We weren’t thinking we would have 11 whole games to play. That was awesome,” Testori said. “I couldn’t have imagined it happening. When it all went through perfectly, I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.”
Testori scored 28 goals — a single-season school record despite less games being played — along with eight assists. His 86 goals are also a school record.
“Scott was just someone who always strove to improve every single day,” said Greg Cumpstone, Hand’s soccer coach the last three seasons. “It’s cliche to hear, but he did that all the time. He was someone dedicated enough to arrive at every single training session an hour early. He’d get there most of the time before I got there.
“Every time he got a little bit of success, it was, ‘How can I improve or ramp things up, how can I take it to the next level.’ From a high school athlete in a program, that is very rare to see.”
Then Testori won every honor he could possibly win in the sport.
He was named All-American and All-New England for the second time, the Register’s Area MVP for the third time, GameTimeCT and coaches State Player of the Year, the Gatorade State Player of the Year and, most of all, the National Player of the Year by the United Soccer Coaches.
“It’s kind of a dream senior year you could hope for in terms of individual awards,” Testori said. “Coming into my freshman year, I never would have dreamed about something this huge. I still don’t know how to react to it.”
Testori will head to UConn next month to begin his collegiate career with the Huskies’ men’s soccer program.
“I know it will be a challenge for me. I will have to adjust to a whole new game. The game is a lot faster in college. I have to get stronger, I have to get faster, I have to be in better shape and be as prepared as possible to play at UConn,” Testori said.
Moore will also depart for the Bluegrass State, competing in the field events at the University of Kentucky.
Moore said she was also considering Princeton, Indiana, Harvard and Iowa among others.
“I talked to the other throwers who were there (at Kentucky). I felt like they wanted you to be there and were excited to meet you, get to know you, want you to succeed. That was the biggest thing for me that put it over the top,” Moore said about Kentucky.
Testori and Moore either dominated their sports and earned or received national recognition for those efforts. And both are looking to become fixtures at Division I collegiate athletic programs. Dealing with the heavy weight of expectations — and thriving in spite of it — puts both Testori and Moore in that elite class.