Darien's Sload wins CAS Scholar Athlete Award
"Demonstrating exemplary academic and athletic careers including participating in an interscholastic athletics; possessing personal standards and achievements that are a model to others; exhibiting outstanding school; and community service and carrying themselves with high levels of integrity, self-discipline and courage."
Quite the award.
And that was the description of the 2013 CAS Scholar Athlete Award -- picked by then-principal Arlene Gottesman - bestowed upon Darien High School's Jeff Sload, a tennis and soccer player for the Blue Wave who graduated this year and will attend Williams College in the fall.
"It was a great honor to get the award, especially coming from the principal and athletic director," Sload said. "Their praise and the praise of my teachers was great."
The exclusive award is presented to only two seniors (one boy and one girl) at every high school, the other being gymnast Caroline Congdon.
Sload, a two-sport athlete for the Blue Wave, was part of the group that helped turned the school's boys soccer team from a cellar dweller into a legitimate conference contender.
"It was awesome. It was an amazing experience going from crowds ranging from 10-20 people, only parents, to junior year against New Canaan in the FCIACs and having 300 people lined up cheering for the team," Sload said. "It was amazing to be a part of that change."
"I'm not surprised (he won the award). He's a very hardworking kid both on and off the field," Darien soccer coach Jon Bradley said. "He's a great keeper. He was always at practice, he worked hard, he kept up his grades in the classroom and you never had to worry about him letting you down. Younger kids definitely looked up to him."
Sload, who played goalie and typically backed up fellow senior Jack Fisher, won some critical games during the stretch run of Darien's foray into the postseason in his final year when Fisher had to sit with an injury.
"I was happy to be able contribute in any way I could. It was a blow not to have Jack; he's a great player," Sload said. "But I was happy to try to shore up the defense without him."
According to Bradley, Sload was very capable of starting in net, and the Darien coach had great confidence in his senior when he needed to step in for Fisher.
"He played in a bunch of games when Jack was injured. I had full confidence in him. Sometimes in high school you get bad luck; his timing with years wasn't good," Bradley said. "He was fearless, brave and he read the game well. Any other year, he would have been the starting goalie."
Sload opened the tennis campaign at the fifth and final singles spot, and although he enjoyed some success, coach Rob Neuner felt that a lineup adjustment could benefit the team about midway through the season.
Ever the team player, Sload opted to grant his coaches request, relinquish the No. 5 singles spot and pair with freshman Harrison Walter to form the No. 2 doubles team.
"We had a Round Robin at the beginning of the year to determine where people would play on the team," Neuner said. "He won the matches he needed to win and was placed at No. 5 singles. Halfway through the year, No. 2 doubles was sort of struggling. I thought he would be better at No. 2 doubles and he said `no problem.' He said that he was happy to do it and he'd do his best at it."
Sload's selflessness paid off when he and Walter experienced what he considered "the best tennis of our lives" in Day 1 of the Class L state tournament. Though unseeded, the Darien duo dominated its three matches, winning all of them in straight sets, including a 6-0, 6-1 victory over the No. 10 Fairfield Ludlowe team of Samuel Flicker and Michael O'Neill in the second round to advance to Day 2 to the quarterfinals.
"The first day we were playing the best tennis of our lives. It was an incredible experience. We didn't expect to go that far, and it was awesome to do so," Sload said. "The first match we had together (in the regular season), we lost in three sets after never playing together against New Canaan. After that we didn't lose until the quarterfinals of states. I thought it was great coaching decision."
Though his duo's dream run came to an end at the hands of the eventual tournament champions in straight sets in the quarterfinals, Neuner appreciated Sload's team-first mentality and his ability to lead.
"I think it's wonderful (that he won the award). It couldn't happen to a better guy or a nicer guy," Neuner said. "They played great together. Jeff was a more powerful player and Harrison was very steady, so they complimented each other very well. Jeff hit hard and moved well, and he sort of tutored Harrison along way."
Sload indicated that he is considering science, specifically biology or physics, as a major at Williams, which is also Neuner's alma mater. Sload is also weighing his options in terms of athletics.
"I wanted to go to a small school and both my parents went to NESCAC schools, and it seemed like the right fit for me. I wanted to do stuff in sciences, and they have great science center," Sload said. "Maybe at the beginning I can try to walk onto the Williams tennis team, but they are the No. 1 Division-III tennis team, so I may try to walk onto the golf team."
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