The great Crusaders: A look back at the players and coaches who made Trinity Catholic a success
Trinity Catholic was a winning sports program on and off the field not because of the name on the front of the jersey. It became a respected and successful school because of the boys and girls who wore those jerseys and the men and women who coached them.
We take a look back at some of the players and coaches who helped shape Trinity into one of the most successful sports programs in the history of the FCIAC.
The man who hired legendary coaches is a legend in his own right.
In his time as athletic director at Stamford Catholic (1961-76), Joe Anzalone hired Hall of Famers Mike Walsh and Mickey Lione Jr., along with other talented coaches.
“I feel proud to have appointed so many great coaches,” Anzalone said. “Stamford Catholic was a great place to be and we had some great kids come through. It was never like going to work, it was always a great atmosphere back in those days. I did love that place.”
Anzalone even coached Walsh on the JV basketball team in his early days at the school.
Anzalone coached the football team as an assistant from 1961-63 and then as head coach from 1967-84, leading the Crusaders to three state finals appearances (1977, ’78 and ’83) and winning Class S in 1978.
Among the players he coached was Pete Stokes, who later became the head coach of the football team himself in 2009.
His name did not go on a banner, but every coach, teacher and student at Trinity knew Larry Byrd.
Byrd was a parrot and the pet of former athletic director Tracy Nichols, who kept Larry in the small athletic director’s office at the school and often walked the halls of the school with Byrd on his shoulder.
Byrd died this past spring at the age of 33, fittingly the jersey number as Larry Bird, the NBA legend for whom he was named.
Basketball officials throughout the years got to know Byrd as they would use Nichols’ office during games.
“That bird hated (longtime basketball official and baseball umpire) Nick Koules. I don’t know why, but he would go crazy when Nick would come in the office,” Nichols said about the late official. “He would also attack the feet of (former Trinity girls basketball coach Tom) Kriz anytime he came into the office, too. He was a great pet and gave my mother a lot of comfort over the last few years.”
On another occasion, Byrd pulled an official’s shirt out of his gym bag and ate the buttons off it while the official was on the court.
Stamford Catholic won the first two FCIAC baseball championships and reached the 1970 CIAC Class L State Championship game, largely riding the arm of Art DeFilippis.
“I played left field on that team and I had maybe two balls hit to me all season because Artie struck everybody out,” former teammate Jim Moriarty said of DeFilippis. “Artie was as good of a baseball player to ever come out of Stamford and that includes Bobby Valentine, who was tremendous.”
DeFilippis was a big lefty with a sidearm motion who was 35-2 in his time a Stamford Catholic, striking out 451 batters in 248 innings pitched.
The Sporting News ranked him as one of the top 12 prospects in the country and he was drafted in the second round by the Washington Senators with the 38th overall pick in the 1970 amateur draft.
Earl Johnson led Trinity to its first FCIAC title as a freshman in 1993 and to Mike Walsh’s first state championship his senior season in 1996.
Johnson scored 38 points as Trinity beat Northwest Catholic for the 1996 CIAC Class M State Championship.
He left Trinity sixth on the all-time school scoring list with 1,362 points over his four years.
He was the 1996 New Haven Register MVP and a two-time New Haven Register All-State and All-FCIAC selection.
He went on to play in college at Rutgers before transferring to Iona where he helped guide the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament in 2001.
Everything changed when Rashamel Jones got to Stamford Catholic in the fall of 1991.
The course of Trinity Catholic, FCIAC and CIAC basketball would never be the same
Jones was the first of many top-flight players brought in by Mike Walsh in the 1990s, sparking an unprecedented era of success on the basketball court at the school.
Jones was named All-State three times, leading the Crusaders to the 1992-93 FCIAC championship, Walsh’s first title as a coach.
“That win was excitement for the whole school,” Jones said. “I can say that was our coming out party. After we won that game, the state took us seriously. There was no more, ‘Well, Stamford or Trinity Catholic is OK,’ now they looked at us like a top-10 team in the state. It was a big win and it set up the program infinitely.”
As a senior in 1995, he was the Gatorade Player of the Year and named the top player in New England
His 2,301 career points make him the leading boys scorer in the city of Stamford and the fifth overall in the state.
At UConn, Jones was a part of three Big East championships and helped the Huskies win the NCAA national championship in 1999 with an upset victory over Duke.
EMILY (Robustelli) KAUFMAN
In the proud tradition of softball at the school, Emily Robustelli is considered the best to ever take the field.
“Without a doubt, she was the best softball player we ever had at Trinity,” former softball coach Tom Kriz said. “She also played basketball and was just a tremendous athlete. If she wanted to, she could have taken up any sport and within a year she would have been all-state. She was that good at everything she did.”
Robustelli led the Crusaders to a runner-up finish in the CIAC Class S tournament her senior season of 1999, a 3-2 loss to Coginchaug in Class S.
She was a freshman on the 1996 FCIAC championship team.
Robustelli was named Gatorade Softball New England Player of the Year in both 1998 and 1999.
She went on to play softball at UMass and later as a standout player for the Stratford Brakettes.
Up until 2016, Trinity Catholic had only two softball head coaches: the late Mary Kay Smith and Tom Kriz.
Kriz joined Smith’s staff as JV coach and assistant varsity softball coach from 1987-99, becoming the head softball head coach in 1999 after Smith’s death.
The softball team reached the 1999 Class S state final, losing 3-2 to Coginchaug.
On the basketball court, Kriz elevated Trinity to a perennial power in the FCIAC and the state.
His teams appeared in four CIAC state finals, winning titles in 2002, 2003 and 2006 and coming in second in 2004.
The Crusaders won the FCIAC girls basketball championship for the first time in 2002 and then won three straight from 2006-08 under Kriz.
MICKEY Lione JR.
Mickey Lione Jr. was the link connecting the old days of Stamford Catholic to the modern days of Trinity Catholic.
He was the first name mentioned by nearly everyone connected to the school’s athletic programs prior to 2000.
Lione, who died in 1999 at the age of 59, coached for 30 years at the school.
He was the head baseball coach from 1971-98 and hockey coach from 1979-98, winning a combined 731 games in the two sports.
His career accomplishments included four state titles (1982, ’91, ’93 and ’94) and two FCIAC crowns (1990 and ’94) in baseball, two state championships (1991, ’98) and three FCIAC titles (1990, ’93 and ’95) in hockey.
In addition, he was an assistant football coach at Trinity Catholic and later at New Canaan.
The Mickey Lione Foundation was created in his honor following his death and since its inception has awarded over a half-million dollars in scholarships.
The Stamford Old Timers Athletic Association also presents the Mickey Lione Coach of the Year to a Stamford coach each year, and several baseball fields and leagues throughout Stamford are named after him.
The Stamford Catholic football program began in 1959 with 34 players being coached by Bob Lynch.
In the first five years, the Crusaders were 23-16-1 after putting together a team from scratch.
Two freshmen from Lynch’s first Stamford Catholic team went on to play professional football, Dick Swatland (Houston Oilers) and Bo Hickey (Denver Broncos).
“Bob was ahead of his time as a coach,” Hickey said after Lynch’s death in 2011. “He was able to take an athlete and make him a football player. Everyone wanted to play for him. He was innovative and unlike many coaches he was willing to adjust his offense and defense to the players he had. But more important, he was a teacher on and off the field. Lessons I learned in life came from my father and Bob Lynch.”
McClure helped lead the boys basketball team to an eye-popping 101-7 record over his four years, including his senior year when the Crusaders went 27-0 and won the CIAC Class 1 State Championship.
McClure closed his high school career as part of a team that won 52 consecutive games and was the MVP of both the 2003 and 2004 state championship games.
Trinity won three FCIAC titles with McClure.
As a senior, he earned the Gatorade Connecticut, Connecticut High School Coaches Association, Coca-Cola, New Haven Register and Hartford Courant State Player of the Year awards.
He was named All-FCIAC and All-State three times.
He is fifth all-time on the Trinity scoring list with 1,367 career points and second all-time in rebounds with 1,186.
He is currently an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.
Nichols was athletic director at Trinity Catholic High for 34 years, touching countless lives along the way as the ambassador of all things Trinity Catholic sports.
During his tenure as athletic director, the Crusaders collected 31 state championships in 10 different sports and had 12 individual state championships along with 27 FCIAC titles.
“Having Tracy as AD, all you had to do was coach the kids, he took care of everything else,” longtime basketball and baseball assistant coach Mike Walsh said. “We couldn’t have had the success we had without Tracy Nichols supporting us. You always knew as a coach that Tracy had your back. Some of my best memories are of coaching baseball with him. We had some great times.”
Nichols coached Stamford/Trinity Catholic baseball for 40 years, starting out on the staff of the legendary Mickey Lione Jr. as an assistant.
Nichols was the Crusaders’ head baseball coach for 19 years before retiring from that position in 2017.
Nichols amassed 207 career victories, including a Class S state title in 2000 and FCIAC championships in 1999 and 2000.
Few athletes in school history left as decorated as Amanda Pape on the basketball court.
In her four years, she scored 2,429 points, becoming Stamford’s all-time leading scorer and second in scoring in state history for girls basketball.
She was named All-State and All-FCIAC all four years and was a three-time member of the CT Post Super 15, a two-time member of the Hartford Courant’s Best of the Best selections from 2001 and 2002 and an ESPN/Starter All-State Team selection in 2002.
Pape was the Connecticut Gatorade Female Player of the Year in 2003 and was nominated to the McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball Team.
Pape guided Trinity Catholic to consecutive state championships in 2002 and 2003, as well as an FCIAC championship in 2002 where she was awarded the MVP.
In college at Sacred Heart, she set a number of school records including most career points (2,045) and steals (362). The two-time Northeast Conference scoring champ was the Player of the Year in 2006 when she led the Pioneers to a school-record 26 wins and their first NEC crown and NCAA Division I tournament berth.
This past winter, Pape was named to the CIAC All-Century team.
Randy Polonia was the last great baseball player to take the field for the Crusaders.
“I don’t think I have ever had someone who could do all the things he could do,” Former baseball coach Tracy Nichols said. “He can throw, run, catch, hit and pitch. He does everything and he does everything very well. We have had some very good players, players who got drafted, but none could do all those things at this level.”
His senior year, Polonia was arguably the best high school pitcher, shortstop and hitter in the state.
He batted .443 with 70 at-bats, scoring 27 runs, walking 23 times (13 intentionally), while going 11 for 11 in stolen-base attempts as a senior.
On the mound, he sported a 0.66 ERA with a .160 batting average against. Polonia was 12-1 with one save and 11 complete games, striking out 92 over 84 1/3 innings of work.
He was named All-State three times and was the FCIAC MVP his final two seasons in the league before continuing his career at UConn.
Polonia was also an All-FCIAC football player at the school.
MARY KAY SMITH
Mary Kay Smith meant everything to girls sports at Stamford/Trinity Catholic.
At the school nearly since it began, Smith began every sports team for girls at the school while also working as a physical education teacher.
“Mary Kay was a pioneer, not just at Stamford Catholic but for girls sports in Fairfield County,” said former girls basketball and softball coach, Tom Kriz, who was an assistant to Smith for years. “She had a great way about her. He legacy is of someone who understood being a young woman and knew how to connect with kids and get them to be the best they could be.”
Smith, a survivor of the 1944 Hartford circus fire, started the programs and coached field hockey, softball and basketball in her time at the school.
She led the softball team to two FCIAC titles (1992, ’96) and the 1982 and 1996 CIAC Class S softball championships, making four appearances in state finals.
The Crusaders were FCIAC runners-up in 1991, 1993 and 1998.
After her death, Stamford began awarding the Mary Kay Smith Trophy in 1999 to the Stamford City Softball Champion.
The softball field at Trinity was named in her honor after her death with a monument placed at the field.
Before the influx of talent brought in from other communities, the Stamford Catholic Boys Basketball team had John Smyth.
When he graduated in 1982, Smyth was the all-time leading scorer for the city of Stamford with 1,882 points.
That record would stand until Rashamel Jones surpassed it about a decade later, but Smyth is still second on Trinity’s scoring list to Jones.
Smyth was a two-time New Haven Register All-State and two-time All-FCIAC selection before going to play in college at Princeton.
In the 1983-84 college season, Smyth helped Princeton reach the NCAA Tournament where it beat San Diego in a preliminary game, with Smyth playing 40 minutes and scoring 13 points.
He later returned to help Mike Walsh as an assistant on the boys basketball team.
Da’Shena Stevens followed in the footsteps of Amanda Pape and nearly eclipsed her accomplishments on the court.
Stevens was named All-State three times and All-FCIAC four times, scoring 2,182 career points, placing her seventh in the state in all-time scoring.
Stevens was a part of the 2006 CIAC Class S state championship team.
Trinity was 63-0 in the FCIAC during Stevens’ final three seasons, winning the FCIAC Championship three straight years from 2006-08.
In college at St. John’s, Stevens scored 1,515 points during her career, the sixth-highest total in program history. She also pulled down 815 rebounds during her career in college, making her one of only three St. John’s players to get more than 800 career rebounds.
This past winter, she was named to the CIAC All-Century Team.
Mike Walsh is Trinity Catholic.
He graduated from the school in 1965 followed by over 40 years coaching at the school, watching it change from Stamford to Trinity Catholic and eventually closing its doors.
Though he retired as head coach, Walsh was an assistant on the 2019-20 boys basketball team, which was the last team from the school to win a game before the closing.
His 633 wins make him as the fourth winningest coach in Connecticut boys basketball history,
Trinity teams under Walsh won seven CIAC state championships and six FCIAC titles as the Crusaders reached the state final 13 times and the FCIAC championship game 11 times, beginning with Walsh’s first FCIAC title in 1993.
His teams appeared in eight of nine FCIAC championship games, winning five, including a record-tying three straight from 2003-05.
Walsh sent numerous players on to NCAA Division I basketball, including John Smyth (Princeton), Rashamel Jones (UConn), Earl Johnson (Rutgers, Iona), Torey Thomas (Holy Cross), Dave McClure (Duke), Craig Austrie (UConn) and Schadrac Casimir (Iona, Florida Gulf Coast).
Walsh was also the longtime assistant baseball coach under Tracy Nichols.
In 2019, Walsh was called upon to take over the girls basketball team after the coach left in the middle of the season.
Walsh guided that team to a CIAC Class S State Championship, giving the coach one last moment in the sun and giving the school one last state championship.