The path to prestige is firmly paved between Avon Old Farms and the Ivy League.
It’s a journey that takes a student from one distinguished institute of higher learning to the next, though each individual journey often is quite different.
A trio of Avon Old Farm players soon are to embark on that adventure, having each taken different routes to their ultimate destinations, but ultimately all prepared to the fullest thanks to what they have gained during time at the Connecticut prep school.
“I really found myself as a student more than I was previously, so I realized that I could get into these Ivy League schools. That was my main drive,” said Darian Cook (Redding, Conn.), who is bound for Brown University. “I knew I could handle it. Before I came here, my old school didn’t really push me as a student, so, I didn’t really know what I was capable of. Here, they really pushed me. I’ve realized that I could handle better schools.”
The stories play out under the watchful eye of coach Henry “Skip” Flanagan, who came to Avon in 1972 and has assembled another group of players good enough to challenge the best in New England, all the while pushing them forward academically.
“Similar to Darian, I came to Avon and was completely changed as a student,” added George Pike, a middie from California who will join Cook at Brown next year. “Having that extra year of growth (he repeated his junior year as well) just made such a difference in changing who I was, who I am.
“A lot of credit goes to Dr. Flanagan. He likes to call the kids who come in at first, and who weren’t necessarily the best students initially, ‘aspiring scholars.’ I was definitely an aspiring scholar.”
Entering Avon lacking confidence in their academic skills, both Cook and Pike had committed to alternate schools initially — Cook to UMass and Pike to Maryland — before ultimately committing to play for coach Mike Daly’s program in Providence, R.I.
For Luc Anderson, the voyage through Avon and to the Ivy League differs in many ways, the first is the fact that he is Princeton-bound.
The Littleton, Colo., native arrived in Connecticut as a postgrad from the powerhouse Culver Academy program already having made his commitment, though like his teammates it was not always cut-and-dried after offering an initial verbal commit to Dartmouth.
“There’s a special coaching staff there that I’m really attracted to,” Anderson said of his decision to play for Princeton. “They seemed really personable, they reached out to me, they were connectable, understanding and it was something that I related to. The atmosphere was something similar I had gone through at Culver. … The mindset is similar there and that’s a big reason why I chose Princeton.”
Unfortunately, Anderson has not been able to see the playing field for the Winged Beavers, having suffered a torn left labrum during the hockey season. Despite the injury, he has never left the team’s side and has gained a wealth of knowledge in doing so, becoming a greater student of the game, pairing nicely with his academic prowess.
“You’d be surprised (that) you learn so much watching the game rather than just playing it,” Anderson said. “One thing you notice is just the grit that some guys have over others. It’s something that coaches preach all the time, but it’s not necessarily something that’s always understood by players.”
“Luc is a guy who has almost perfect SATs,” Flanagan said. “He’s a bright guy, as humble as you could want, very understated. … We went on our spring trip, Luc decided to give up his spring break to join us on the bus so he could carry, with one arm because the other was in a sling, water and balls and pinnies and all those things. He’s a good human being and a fine young man.”
Though the trio may not get to see the field together this season, they are eager to face off in the future, knowing the relationships they have built here will carry them through those battles, which will come against many other former teammates, while former foes may soon be wearing the same jerseys.
“It’s going to be really fun in the future, lining up across from these guys, rather than next to them,” Anderson said. “I’ll look forward to those games every year when we get to reunite and battle every year, rather than just with each other.”
“It’s really cool to see that there’s other guys who have shared the same sort of brotherhood that comes from going to a prep school,” Pike said. “That lasting friendship extends over into college. It’s sad because I won’t get to play with Luc, but I’ll get to go against him.”
But before that can all go down, there is much work to be done at Avon Old Farms, where the team is looking to send the retiring Flanagan out with his sixth Founders League title in nine seasons. The team stood 6-3 in late April, the losses coming to out-of-region teams Army Prep and Hill School, as well as New Canaan (Conn.) High School
A loaded roster sees Cook spark the attack with pure skill and Pike doing major damage with his explosiveness across the midfield, adding to the chances of them achieving such a goal, and possibly more.
“George is young man who has developed in particular as these past two years have progressed. Originally, we saw him as a defensive middie, but he’s managed to work so very hard with regards to his mental and physical well-being,” Flanagan said. “Darian has God’s gift. He works at it, but, he has that natural ability to move right and left, north, south, east, west, all at the same time. He’s terribly tough to guard. I think both of them, without question, will add in no uncertain way to the Brown program, in a hurry.”
“A goal of ours is winning the Founders Cup, like we did last year,” Cook said. “Then going on and beating Brunswick and Deerfield and winning New Englands. Everything we do, we’re doing it for ‘Doc,’ because that man’s changed all of our lives so drastically. We owe it to him.”