NEW HAVEN >> Two scenarios typically arise when it comes to choosing the annual New Haven Register male and female athletes of the year.
There’s the athlete who proves to be so much better than the competition in a given sport that the choice is relatively simple. Or the athletes who may not have been the best in a particular discipline, but managed to perform and win at elite levels in multiple sports.
In this year’s recipients, Danae Rivers and Chris Jean-Pierre, we have a little of both.
Rivers, a junior at Wilbur Cross, showed once again she is far and away the top middle distance runner in the state, MVP during indoor and outdoor seasons. Jean-Pierre captained three sports at Valley Regional. And though he wasn’t named a Register MVP in football, basketball or track, he was at the heart of two heart-stopping comebacks that resulted in one state championship and one runner-up finish.
Both were honored Tuesday night as part of the Register’s 21st annual Area MVP banquet at Amarante’s Sea Cliff.
Rivers, who won the same honor last year, joins Morgan’s Lisa Barbaro as the only two-time recipient, male or female, in the 20-year history of the award. Jean-Pierre joins Haddam-Killingworth’s Peter Fink (1998), North Branford’s Chris Tracz (2000) and Hyde’s James Nixon (2006) as the only male athletes of the year from Shoreline Conference schools.
The city of New Haven has earned a reputation for churning out Division I-caliber track talent. Rivers, still undecided on college, will certainly uphold that tradition no matter where she decides to continue her career.
By middle school, her rising ability became well-known throughout the city. Her father, David, was a middle distance runner at the University of New Haven in the late 1980s. With additional guidance from her mother, Andrea, Danae’s path to success started early in New Haven’s youth track feeder program.
She won a Junior Olympic national championship at 10. By 12, she’d broken two national records in her age division.
“(My parents) were a big part of my success growing up,” Rivers said. “They still are.”
Additions to the resume this year include new 800 records in Class L, disposing of the old mark that stood for 34 years, and, at the New England Championships, a 2:05.86 that shattered Liz Mueller’s 1992 standard.
On Sunday, Rivers placed third at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, cementing her status as an All-American.
“I have been coaching since 1986, and I have had the pleasure of witnessing and coaching some amazingly talented athletes,” Sacred Heart Academy coach Patrick Redding said earlier this year.
“She has been one of the best I’ve witnessed. She has been a dominant runner from the moment she hit high school. She has an effortless way of running, textbook form, and she is a tremendous competitor. She is a coach’s dream. She can run anything from a 200 to a cross country course. She’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.”
Jean-Pierre’s high school career is defined by winning. As a sophomore basketball player, he started on Valley’s Class S state championship team. Only a dominant Sacred Heart-Waterbury squad, which knocked off the Warriors in the Class S final the past two seasons, kept Valley from a three-peat.
On the gridiron, Jean-Pierre helped Valley/Old Lyme end a streak of three semifinal losses in four years, thus ending Ansonia’s four-year stranglehold on the Class S championship in stunning fashion.
His team trailed 14-0 in the fourth quarter when Jean-Pierre took over, engineering three scoring drives in the final 7 minutes to pull off the 21-20 victory. That included the winning 4-yard touchdown on fourth down with 22 seconds remaining, capping a perfect 13-0 season.
That was not his only heroic comeback. Valley trailed SMSA-Hartford by 20 points in the Class S basketball semifinal only to rally back in the fourth quarter and win 60-58. Jean-Pierre had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“When the lights get brighter, he rises to the occasion,” said Kevin Woods, Valley’s head basketball coach and football’s offensive coordinator. “We’ve had some good athletes over the years. But the level he played at in all sports makes him special.”
He also maintained a 3.0 grade-point average. Last weekend, he moved into his new residence at UConn, where he will join the football team as a preferred football walk-on. Jean-Pierre played nearly every position in high school, but expects to be used as a safety in Storrs.
Their chosen athletic paths are different. But what drives Rivers and Jean-Pierre is very much the same. Family, friends, faith and, of course, the pure enjoyment of competition.
“My family and coaches are what keep me going,” Rivers says. “And basically just being alive and young and having fun”.
Said Jean-Pierre, “I was always hungry to succeed, not only for me but for my family and my teammates. God blessed me with so many opportunities throughout my life, and I’m thankful.”
2014-15 New Haven Register MVPs
- Boys Cross Country — Kyle Beaudette, Amity
- Girls Cross Country — Mackenzie Pias, Mercy
- Field Hockey — Hannah Leckey, Hand
- Football — Mark Piccirillo, Shelton
- Boys Soccer — Salah Oumorou, West Haven
- Girls Soccer — Julia Carr, Guilford
- Swimming — Liz Boyer, Cheshire
- Volleyball — Jilian Haberli, Cheshire
- Boys Basketball — Tyreek Perkins, Career
- Girls Basketball — Maura Fitzpatrick, Mercy
- Gymnastics — Abby McGuirk, Hand
- Hockey — Alec Martone, North Branford
- Boys Indoor Track — Akiel Smith, Hillhouse
- Girls Indoor Track — Danae Rivers, Wilbur Cross
- Swimming — Karl Bishop, Cheshire
- Wrestling — Chidi Broderick, Xavier
- Baseball — Mike Cowell, Shelton
- Boys Golf — Zach Iannone, Notre Dame-WH
- Girls Lacrosse — Lauren Cole, Hand
- Boys Lacrosse — Colin Uyeki, North Haven
- Softball — Ashley Guillette, Oxford
- Boys Tennis — Jason Seidman, Amity
- Girls Tennis — Emily Migliorini, North Haven
- Girls Track and Field — Danae Rivers, Wilbur Cross
- Boys Track and Field — Ruvens Exantus, Bunnell
- Boys Volleyball — Erik Kocur, Shelton
New Haven Register Athletes of the Year
Pierre Venditti (Law)
Diane Potkay (Derby)
Steve Coughlin (Ansonia)
Lisa Barbaro (Morgan)
Mike O’Keefe (Notre Dame-WH)
Lisa Barbaro (Morgan)
Peter Fink (Haddam-Killingworth)
Sarah Katinger (Bunnell)
Adam Greenberg (Guilford)
Nicholette Chambers (Hillhouse)
Chris Tracz (North Branford)
Megan Miller (Law)
Glenn McFadden (Hillhouse)
Jenn Piazza (Lyman Hall)
Brian Mariano (Naugatuck)
Emily Hardy (Westbrook)
Randy Gress (Notre Dame-Fairfield)
Melissa McGow (Branford)
Mike Tamsin (Branford)
Brittney Carfora (Branford)
Craig Kenney (Branford)
Natasha Harvey (Career)
James Nixon (Hyde)
Kristen Frost (Hand)
Terrell Wilks (Hillhouse)
Katie Yanagisawa (Amity)
Rob Moir (Seymour)
Ann-Marie Clarke (Hillhouse)
Jeremy Moore (Hillhouse)
Allison Barwise (Amity)
Conor Keniry (Notre Dame-WH)
Courtney Schissler (Branford)
Pat Gillen (Shelton)
Sage Esposito (Foran)
Jake Scinto (Cheshire)
Bria Holmes (Hillhouse)
Andre Anderson (Hillhouse)
Precious Holmes (Hillhouse)
Arkeel Newsome (Ansonia)
Danae Rivers (Wilbur Cross)
Chris Jean-Pierre (Valley Regional)
Danae Rivers (Wilbur Cross)