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Words Unlimited: RI Sports Award Winners and Banquet

by John Cardullo, sportswriter

Words Unlimited, the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists, will hold its 74th annual Sports Awards Banquet on Sunday, February 16 at the Cranston Country Club, 69 Burlingame Rd, Cranston. Reception will start at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30. Tickets are priced at $35 each and may be obtained by contacting Words Unlimited President, John Parente, at 401-826-0555 or any Words Unlimited member.

A silent auction also will be held to support the Words Unlimited Scholarship Fund. Cash and checks will be accepted for all items (no credit cards).

Following are the Words Unlimited award recipients for the 2019 calendar year:

Male Athlete of the Year: Jay Albis, Johnson & Wales wrestling: A two-time NCAA national champion at 125 pounds, Albis was voted the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the 2019 NCAA Championships, a first for a New England wrestler. A three-time NCAA All-American and NCAA Northeast champion, the 2019 NEWA Wrestler of the Year finished last season with a 39-4 record and set the school record for winning percentage (92.12 % on a 152-13 record).

Female Athlete of the Year: Sydney Cummings, Brown University soccer: A junior center back, Sydney Cummings earned second-team All-American, first-team All-Ivy League and first-team All-East Region honors last fall. Also a United Soccer Coaches First Team Scholar All-East Region selection, she played all 1,790 minutes on the season and ranked third in the Ivy League with seven assists. 

Female Sports Coach of the Year: Kia McNeill, Brown University soccer: Voted both the 2019 Ivy League Coach of the Year and the New England Soccer Journal’s NCAA Division I Women’s Coach of the Year, McNeill guided the Bears to their first Ivy League championship and first NCAA appearance since 1994. Her squad produced six All-Ivy selections, as well as the Rookie of the Year.

Male Sports Coach of the Year: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins manager: At age 38 and in his first season with Minnesota, the Woonsocket native became the youngest man ever voted American League Manager of the Year after guiding the Twins to 101 victories and their first American League Central championship since 2010. The 2019 season marked only the second time in the franchise’s 118-year history that Minnesota had won 100 games.

Small College Achievement Award: Rhode Island College women’s tennis: The Anchorwomen compiled a 15-1 overall record and finished the regular season with a 9-0 mark in the Little East, capturing the program’s fifth straight and 10th overall tournament title. R.I. College has won 32 consecutive matches against Little East opposition.

Co-Schoolgirl Athletes of the Year: Jayme DeCesare, La Salle basketball and softball and Alyssa Worthington, West Warwick GymnasticsEarning tournament MVP honors for the second time, DeCesare led the La Salle basketball team to its third state title in four years. Earning All-State honors both in basketball and softball, she also helped the Rams capture the 2019 Division I Softball Championship. Last winter, Worthington became just the fifth three-time state gymnastics all-around champion, placing first on vault, bars and floor and posting the top all-around score of 37.625. Her performances that day also led the Wizards to the 2019 Division II State Gymnastics Championship. 

Schoolboy Athlete of the Year: Kyle Moison, Lincoln indoor and outdoor track & field – Capturing All-American honors in the indoor weight and outdoor hammer in 2019, Moison became the top-ranked thrower in the country with a throw of 75-2 ½. Setting five school records in the indoor and outdoor shot put, indoor weight, outdoor hammer, and outdoor discus during his junior year, he won the shot put (56 feet, 7 1/4 inches) and 25-pound weight (74-10 3/4) at the Indoor State Championships and the shot put (56-6) and discus (176-4) at the Outdoor State Meet. Moison also won New England titles in the indoor weight (74-10 3/4) and outdoor hammer (233-4) and discus (182-3).

Schoolgirl Coach of the Year: Tom Martin, La Salle tennis – La Salle’s only girls tennis coach in the 33-year history of the program, Martin led the Rams to their sixth straight Division I Championship last fall. Under his guidance, La Salle went 13-0 during the regular season, then defeated Cumberland (4-0) in the Division I quarterfinals, East Greenwich (4-0) in the semifinals and Barrington (4-0) in the Division I Championship.

Schoolboy Coach of the Year: Aaron Thomas, North Kingstown Boys Basketball – After dropping three straight games in January, Thomas’ Skippers never lost again last season, defeating top-seed Bishop Hendricken, 64-60, for the Division I Championship, its first boy’s basketball crown since winning Class B in 1989-90. Thomas then guided North Kingstown to the Open State Tournament title, as well, with a 77-57 victory over Woonsocket.

Team of the Year: Brown University women’s soccer: Posting an overall record of 14-2-3 including a 6-0-1 record in Ivy League play last fall, the Bears captured their 13th Ivy League title and earned their first NCAA appearance since 1994. Setting program records for wins in a season (14), home wins (11) and shutouts (13), Brown ranked second in the NCAA in goals allowed (eight) and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament by topping Monmouth in a penalty kick shootout.

Words Unlimited Hall of Fame Inductees: Al Aleixo, late Providence Journal sportswriter; Frankie Galasso, Syndicated Sports and Editorial Cartoonist/Illustrator; and Ed Habershaw, Salve Regina University Associate Athletic Director

Amby Smith Achievement Award: Bill Giusti, CCRI Equipment Director – A member of the West Warwick High Athletic Hall of Fame

Frank Lanning Achievement Award: George Egan, former longtime hockey coach and RIIL hockey sport director – a guidance counselor, school administer, coach, and scout leader

Bill Cawley Achievement Award: Ray DeAngelis, longtime volleyball official, coach and RIIL sport director – Story of the Year: Barrington Little League All-Stars: After capturing the District 2 Championship, Barrington then clinched only its second state title by scoring eight runs in the sixth inning to beat Cranston Western, 10-7. The Rhode Island All-Stars went on to win the New England Regional Championship in Bristol, Conn., earning themselves a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., where Barrington notched its first World Series victory in program history.

Community Service Award: Lincoln High’s Peanut Butter Express: Led by students Madi Flaxington and Grace Swanson, Lincoln High School collected a record 1,290 jars of peanut butter totaling more than 13,750 pounds for the R.I. Interscholastic League’s fifth annual Peanut Butter Express Challenge. Overall, the R.I.I.L. initiative brought in more than 1.7 tons of peanut butter for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank which oversees a statewide network of 167 food pantries, meal sites, shelters, youth programs and senior centers.

2019 WORDS UNLIMITED AWARD WINNERS

Male Athlete of the Year: Jay Albis, Johnson & Wales wrestling

Female Athlete of the Year: Sydney Cummings, Brown University soccer

Female Sports Coach of the Year: Kia McNeill, Brown University soccer

Male Sports Coach of the Year: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins manager

Small College Achievement Award: Rhode Island College women’s tennis

Co-Schoolgirl Athletes of the Year: Jayme DeCesare, La Salle basketball and softball and Alyssa Worthington, West Warwick Gymnastics

Schoolboy Athlete of the Year: Kyle Moison, Lincoln indoor and outdoor track & field

Schoolgirl Coach of the Year: Tom Martin, La Salle tennis

Schoolboy Coach of the Year: Aaron Thomas, North Kingstown Boys Basketball

Team of the Year: Brown University women’s soccer

Words Unlimited Hall of Fame Inductees: Al Aleixo, late Providence Journal sportswriter; Frankie Galasso, Syndicated Sports and Editorial Cartoonist/Illustrator; and Ed Habershaw, Salve Regina University Associate Athletic Director

Amby Smith Achievement Award: Bill Giusti, CCRI Equipment Manager

Frank Lanning Achievement Award: George Egan, former longtime hockey coach and RIIL hockey sport director

Bill Cawley Achievement Award: Ray DeAngelis, longtime volleyball official, coach and RIIL sport director  

Story of the Year: Barrington Little League All-Stars

Community Service Award: Lincoln High’s Peanut Butter Express

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