Category Archives: Athlete Profile

Connor Cavanagh ’20 Heads to Junior Olympics for Gymnastics

Connor Cavanagh ’20

Connor Cavanagh ’20 started gymnastics lessons when he was just two years old, and began competing at age five. It’s no wonder, then, that after more than 12 years of hard work, he’s off this week to Kissimmee, Florida, to compete in the Junior Olympics Nationals.

Setting aside 20 hours a week to practice gymnastics at a gym in Agawam run by former Olympic gold medalist Tim Daggett, Connor also finds time to participate in other sports.

“In addition to his noteworthy success in gymnastics,” cemmented Athletics Director Mark Conroy, “in his spare time, Connor also plays on the football and baseball teams here…pretty remarkable!”

A versatile athlete, Connor’s focus at the moment is on improving as a gymnast. “The most challenging part of gymnastics for me is how precise and explicit the sport is,” he said. “Nothing in gymnastics is given, I have to work hard for even the smallest improvements. Gymnastics is very tedious when it comes to form and technique, and any slight hesitation or form break will cost you in a meet.”

Form is everything. Connor pauses at the top of the high bar.

So far, Connor’s focus on perfection and hard work has paid off. He’ll be among the nation’s elite young gymnasts in Florida this week, competing in all events: the rings, vault, parallel bars, high bar, floor exercise, and pommel horse. Connor’s strengths are on the rings, the parallel bars, and the floor exercises, according to Lynn Cavanagh, his mother.

A level 10 gymnast—the highest level of expertise for young competitors—Connor spends more than 1,000 hours a year training, and takes nothing for granted. “Staying humble is what I use to keep me going during practice and at meets. Even if you know you are at the top it is important to continue grinding as if you are at the bottom.”

Connor’s family couldn’t be any prouder of him, Lynn said. His family travels with him to his meets, both home and away. Williston wishes you luck in Florida, Connor!

Command Center: Jordan Strum’s Pitching Power

By Matt Liebowitz

Jordan Strum’s fastball makes a mark—on the opposing lineup, who one after another leave the box dejected, bat in hand; on the catcher’s glove, which it hits with a satisfying and resonant smack; and on her coaches and teammates, who show the confidence of playing behind such a force on the mound.

Jordan’s fastball, most of all, makes a mark on Jordan. Her arsenal of pitches, which also includes a change-up, drop curve, screwball, and “riseball,” is, in a way, Jordan’s armor on the softball field.

“I’ve never been really good with [handling] attention,” said Jordan, a junior at Williston, who as an example, said public speaking is something she “doesn’t do.” On the mound for varsity softball, however, Jordan, 16, is a ball of energy and confidence.

“I’m always zoned in when I’m [pitching]; I’m not thinking about anything else,” said Jordan, whose fastball reaches into the upper 50s. “It’s the same for hitting. When [my] team’s cheering for me I can’t hear them, I’m so focused on them and ball and the pitcher.”

The focus has paid off; last year, with Jordan on the mound, the Wildcats won the Class A League  Championship against longtime rival Westminster. Jordan shared co-MVP with Delaney Belinskas, ’16.

Jordan credited her coaches, Davey, Rodgers, Marsland, for their support and instilling in her a strong sense of confidence. She’s grateful to have eight girls out there with her who have her back. That camaraderie, Jordan said, has translated to her life off the field as well, and made her more poised and self-assured.

“I don’t like when people tell me what I can or can’t do,” said Jordan about the power she feels while pitching. “I like to take control of my own life.”

It’s crucial to note here just exactly how powerful and persistent a pitcher Jordan is. We know her team rallies behind her, but how often they do is almost unbelievable. For a sport so indebted to statistics, here’s one that stands out: In her time on the Williston softball team, Jordan—until last Saturday, April 15—had pitched every single inning of every single game. That’s two years and counting where Jordan has been the only Williston pitcher on the mound, ever.

The girl who broke her streak? Her younger sister, freshman Jersey, who threw two innings during Williston’s commanding shutout over Berkshire School.

Jordan loves her sister, but did not love watching the action from shortstop.

“It was the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve ever watched a pitch happen,” Jordan said. “I didn’t like it. I like being able to control what happens.”

Jordan’s skill, and her ability to so deftly control a game from the pitcher’s mound, took root early on in her original hometown of Raytown, MO, a Kansas City suburb. It was there, as a five-year-old, she began playing tee-ball, then moved up to coach pitch and then regular softball. Jordan had no interest in pitching. But when the coach, who also happened to be her mom, Jocelyn, put out the call, nobody responded.

“She asked multiple times, and nobody ever volunteered,” Jordan recalled. “My mom being the coach—I got stuck, and I just fell in love with it.”

Her mom, maiden name Johnson, is a 1991 Williston graduate. Known on campus as “Sis Jocelyn,” she played softball and hockey. Jordan’s parents recently moved to Somersworth, NH, and attend many of her games.

With the help of a pitching coach, Jordan’s strength and skill grew. She was soon playing on a travel team, the Kansas City Zephyrs. Her reliability and resilience as a pitcher has its roots here, where, Jordan said, she’d pitch three games in a row without tiring. As opposed to baseball, which takes a toll on the rotator cuff, throwing a softball underhand is a much more natural motion and requires significantly less recovery time.

Jordan began focusing on her mental acuity as well. “I used to let the smallest things get to me,” she said. “I was very emotional.” From age 10 to 13, she said her “main focus was not letting my emotions show.” A lesson she took from the years of inner, emotional practice: “Look confident anyway and it’ll intimidate the batters,” she said.

If her confidence on the mound came from a fake-it-‘til-you-make-it approach, it’s an attitude that’s seeped into Jordan’s everyday life. She might not feel comfortable as the center of attention, but her pitching prowess has put here there, and she is handling it with determination and resolve.

“I bring to the mound the mindset that I’m only thinking of the next pitch,” she said. “I don’t start thinking about the next inning. I control what I can now.”