By Mike Madera
Special to the Voice
It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning and the spring high school season has all but ended, except for the select few teams preparing to play in the state finals. Most 18-year-old student-athletes are sleeping.
Most except Gabi Prisco. Despite her sensational high school career coming to an end with a state tournament loss in lacrosse two weeks earlier, there is still plenty of work to be done.
For Prisco, despite being a week shy of graduating from high school, her mindset is already on preparing for her collegiate career, which is set to begin in less than two months. With that in mind, even the first day of summer-like weather won’t deter Prisco from getting her running in at Ken Strong Stadium, a place she has called home the last four years.
“If you had one word to describe Gabi, it would be dedication,” West Haven assistant hockey coach Jocey Morrell said. “Whether it’s in sports or in school, Gabi is motivated and determined to be the best athlete and student that she can be. When other kids are hanging out on the weekend, you can find Gabi working out on the turf to get better because she’s always striving to be the best. Gabi is the kind of athlete you want on your team as a coach. She is a born leader and the definition of bleeding blue. I will miss her positive attitude and her athletic ability next year, but I am more excited to see what the future holds for her.”
Student athletes with a resume of Gabi Prisco do not come around too often. To put things in perspective, Prisco may be the benchmark by which those are now measured in the coming years.
Prisco came on the scene at West Haven High as a highly touted freshman in September of 2013, and by all accounts, did not disappoint. With a smile to light up a room, Prisco quickly showed just because she has a nice personality and is a pleasure to be around off the field or ice, she was not one to distract while competing at the high school sporting level.
When Prisco entered the halls of West Haven High as a 15-year-old freshman, a spotlight was already cast upon her as she may well have been one of the most highly anticipated female athletes to arrive in several years.
Prisco was so highly regarded she started as a varsity player for all three sports since her freshman year, and earned Rookie of the Year honors for each sport as a freshman.
Not surprising at all, Prisco capped her career in style, becoming the first female athlete in recent memory at West Haven to take home All-State honors in three different sports in the same year, doing so in soccer, hockey and lacrosse her senior year.
“Gabi has all the qualities that you look for in a student athlete: dedication, leadership and commitment,” West Haven athletic director Jon Capone said. “She works hard in the classroom and on the field. She leads by example. What she has accomplished at West Haven High School has been remarkable. She is the first athlete in West Haven High School history to be named to three different All-State teams in one year. She is truly the best all-around athlete that I have been associated with during my tenure as athletic director at West Haven High School.”
For all of her efforts on both the soccer and lacrosse fields, as well as on the ice, Prisco will get to walk across the athletic turf of Ken Strong Stadium one last time Thursday, June 15, 2017 when she receives her high school diploma from Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro and Principal Pamela Gardner. That walk will surely bring back vivid memories of her times where she almost always was the most dominant player on the field.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Prisco said of taking that last walk on the turf. “It is so much to take in. It is an incredible feeling to receive all those accolades. I will probably think of all my accomplishments after I graduate.”
From the start, Prisco showed signs she would be someone special for the West Haven athletic program. Thought highly by her teammates, Prisco leaves the school as a six-time captain, leading all three of her teams with the captain’s “C” her junior and senior seasons.
“It has always amazed me how someone with Gabi’s talent has so little ego,” West Haven girls lacrosse coach Chrystal Fanelli said. “She has always been a selfless player and really puts her team first. She always looks to get the assist, not necessarily the goal. She’s such a natural athlete and has a great sense of the field. She’s able to anticipate what her opponents are going to do and has had multiple interceptions in just about every game. It’s just really fun to watch her play.”
During that final walk at Ken Strong Stadium, plenty of memories will go through her head from a field she fondly called home, as well as the neighboring hockey rink the last four years.
Whether it was the first time scoring on her home field against Sacred Heart Academy in soccer as a freshman on a cool Saturday night in September, or calmly drilling in a shot off a penalty kick in a gut-wrenching loss to Amity in the Class LL first round as a sophomore, no moment has been too big for Prisco.
Her efforts have been second to none, and as she walks up to receive her diploma, that vision of her scoring the lone goal on the ice in the Southern Connecticut Conference championship loss as a junior to Amity/North Haven/Cheshire will ring through with the deafening roar of the crowd after the goal.
But, what may have defined her as an athlete, was the play she made, diving across the ice in the latter moments of that game, to prevent an open-net goal by Amity and keeping her team’s title hopes alive.
Her Westie Sharks got a chance to atone for that championship loss, and as a senior, Prisco and company took home the SCC crown with a victory over Amity/North Haven/Cheshire on the ice. Shortly after, Prisco was recognized as the SCC Division II Player of the Year.
As Prisco walks back to her seat, she will get a chance to scan the field one last time from the spots she did most of her damage playing lacrosse.
It is only fitting she scored five times in her final time playing on the turf of Ken Strong, a loss to Trumbull in the state tournament which ended the West Haven lacrosse’ season and Prisco’s high school career. It was also only fitting Prisco scored the team’s last goal of the season, the last time she would put up a point in a West Haven uniform.
“It has not hit me yet that it will be the last time I will be doing something on that field for West Haven,” Prisco said.
Over the last four years, Prisco has received 12 varsity letters, was named to five All-State First teams, was named to nine Southern Connecticut Conference First teams, and was the SCC Player of the Year three times, twice in hockey and once in lacrosse. She was also named the Vio’s Sports Plus / Westie Blue Female Athlete of the year following the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons.
If that was not enough, with her Coaches All-State selection in lacrosse following this past spring season, Prisco became the first West Haven female student athlete in recent memory to be named a First Team All-State selection in three sports in one year, as she also received the honor in soccer and lacrosse her senior year.
“I just never wanted to lose,” Prisco said. “I always gave 110% and always encouraged my teammates to do the same. That is something I always had in me. No one in my family likes to lose.”
Prisco’s numbers in her four years at West Haven are staggering. She finished with 45 goals and 36 assists on the soccer pitch, added 47 goals and 37 assists for 84 points on the ice, and finished with 177 goals and 65 assists for 242 points on the lacrosse field.
The contributions Prisco made to her teams in her four years go beyond the numbers. Her intensity and determination to succeed trump all numbers she posted.
“She is the type of player that will put the team on her back when we are down, and keep everyone focused on the job at hand,” West Haven girls soccer coach Pete Trenchard said. “On and off the field, she is dedicated to being the best she can be. She is one of the best athletes I have ever had the privilege to coach, and I am thankful I had that opportunity the last two years.”
Prisco, who will attend Endicott College in Massachusetts in the fall to study criminal justice and political science, will play both soccer and lacrosse.
In the four years since her arrival at the high school, the 18-year-old has not only left a mark on the athletic surfaces of her sport, but in the class room as well.
That self-driven hard work has allowed Prisco to receive such honors as the Connecticut Association of Schools/CIAC Scholar-Athlete (2016 and 2017), West Haven Rotary Club Student of the Month (February 2017), Southern Connecticut Conference All- Academic Team (Winter 2016-2017), Westies Care/Watson Community Service Award (March 2017), Wendy’s Heisman Award: School Recipient- Female Athlete (February 2017), Southern Connecticut Conference Scholar Athlete of the Season (Winter 2016-2017), West Haven Rotary Club Scholar Athlete (May 2016), and a nomination for the Greater New Haven Soccer Officials Association Award (November 2016).
Prisco is a member of the National Honor Society, an officer for DECA (Distributive Economic Clubs of America), a member of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), and she also took 11 Honors/AP courses.
If those along with her athletic achievements were not enough, Prisco dedicates her time as she has completed over 150 hours of community service, including volunteering at the Blue Devils Summer Soccer Program, the West Haven Parks and Recreation Learn to Skate Program, West Haven Youth Lacrosse clinics, West Haven Apple Festival, Pagels Elementary School Field Day, Pagels Food Truck Festival, West Haven Youth Soccer clinics, and the West Haven Homecoming Festival.
Those who know Gabi Prisco will tell you one thing and that is not to let her bubbly personality fool you. On the field, Prisco is as tenacious and as competitive as anyone.
“Gabi is a special kid, and an extraordinary young woman,” Trenchard said. “She is a competitor. Every game, every drill, every activity, she wants to win. It is that drive that makes her special. She pushes herself to the limit every day, and she makes those around her better.”
On the soccer pitch, Prisco, who has played in Italy and Sweden for her club team, never wavered or was overwhelmed. Coming on the scene to score seven times and lead the team with seven assists as a freshman. As a sophomore, she increased her totals to nine goals and 12 assists, before adding 12 goals and four assists her junior campaign, and 17 goals and 13 assists as a senior.
Prisco, who has played for the Connecticut Football Club (CFC) since U-10, was an All-SCC and All-Area selection after leading her team in assists and points following her sophomore campaign. She attained both honors again her next two years after she led her team in both goals and assists her junior and senior seasons, added an All-State selection in her final season, and finished with a nomination to play in the Senior Bowl.
What defines Prisco even more is her sense of team. In a combined 12 varsity sports seasons, she led her team in assists 11 times. The only time she did not have the advantage in assists was in her senior season on the ice, with her primary focus anchoring the defense.
“Gabi is as close to perfect as you can come,“ West Haven girls hockey coach Erin Blake said. “She is a true leader in every aspect of the word. Her hard work and determination is a coach’s dream. Every practice and game, she leads by setting a continual example to her teammates by giving 110% every time she enters the rink. I have felt honored to have had the chance to coach such an amazing player and young lady like Gabi.”
After scoring 10 times and adding a team-leading 16 assists as a freshman on the ice, Prisco racked up All-SCC and All-State honors the next three years, adding SCC Division II Player of the Year to her resume following her junior and senior seasons. Prisco was the first ever girls hockey player in the history of the program to be named an All-State selection.
Prisco led the team with 19 goals and seven assists as a sophomore, and moved to defense her junior year where she led the team in total points with 11 goals and seven assists. Ironically enough, Prisco’s best value came in her senior season on the ice, where she anchored her team’s stingy defense all the way to a SCC Division II title, scoring just seven times and adding seven assists.
“I just think I have been (successful) because of my love for each sport and because of the connection I have had with all of my teammates,” Prisco said. “It has been truly amazing. I will never forget these past four years. They have been four of the most amazing years of my life.”
On the lacrosse field, Prisco was an unstoppable force, increasing her goal and point totals all four years, and her assist totals her final three seasons. As a freshman, Prisco scored 20 times and added a team-leading 14 assists, before following her sophomore campaign with a team-leading 37 goals and 10 assists.
As a junior, Prisco led the team in assists and total points, finishing with 52 goals, 20 assists, and 72 points. Despite being marked all over the field, senior year saw Prisco finish with a team-leading 68 goals, 21 assists and 89 points.
“Gabi has made my job as a coach very easy,” Fanelli said. “She always comes to practice with new drills to try, or something she wants the team to work on. She has been such a great role model to her peers. She has shown the younger players that no matter how much talent you have, you still have to work hard. I think her selflessness as a player has really rubbed off on her teammates, and this year more so than ever, we had a team that was really supportive of each other. The girls were never competing with each other, no one was a ball hog, and there was never any bickering or blame placing at halftime. I think that really started with Gabi as the leader of the team.”
While Prisco reflects back on all the memories created over the last four years, she may want to keep a day open in the future, one which may stem from a call from the school’s Hall of Fame.