Brian Balkun – First County Bank Athlete of the Month

Brian Balkun


Brian Balkun

Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for November is seventeen year old Brian Balkun. A senior at New Canaan High School, Brian was just recently selected to be tri-captain for the upcoming varsity baseball season, which deserves a huge congratulations in itself!

Brian has been playing for New Canaan Baseball ever since he was five years old. He spent the last eight years playing both recreational and travel baseball, and has been pitching ever since the switch from coach pitch to kid pitch. When not pitching, he has played a ton of third base as well.

“Brian was one of our most reliable pitchers last year.  He is unflappable when things get tough, and his quiet confidence is contagious.  I look forward to him doing big things this coming year and being one of our leaders.” – Coach Anthony Bloss

You may very well know Brian around BVSA as Coach Brian, as he spends a ton of time here both with his New Canaan team but also coaching many of our clinics. He has been a tremendous part of our BAPs, TPTs, and pitching clinics, and we cannot thank him enough for the contributions and value he brings to our BVSA team.

“Brian is simply awesome. It’s so easy to be just an extra set of hands, but Brian goes above and beyond what is asked of him. He does an amazing job working with our kids, developing relationships with them, and having fun while doing it. It’s pretty cool to hear kids come back and ask for Coach Brian.” – Joe Wanderlingh, BVSA Instructor

Brian has been an honor roll student all throughout high school and just recently submitted his college applications. As far as baseball goes, he would love to play club baseball in college.

In his free time, Brian enjoys hanging out with his friends and family. He plays a lot of pickup basketball with his friends. Apparently, they invented a game called “tennis baseball”.  So next time you see Coach Brian at BVSA, make sure to ask him how to play!

BVSA wants to congratulate Brian once more for earning the First County Bank Athlete of the Month honor for November. The ability to lead so well while also being so humble and modest is not something you see every day.  We are so excited to continue to watch Brian grow both on and off the field!

Christina Zinicola – First County Bank Athlete of the Month


Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for October is Christina Zinicola. Christina made the switch from baseball to softball when she was seven years old, and made her first travel team two years later. In her first travel year, she helped lead her Stamford Stars team to a state championship! This was only the beginning for Christina.

After a couple of years with the Stars, Christina made the switch to the Darien Angels. She went on to BVSA and the Lady Titans, where she is now in her fourth season with the team. Christina plays middle infield and pitches for both the Lady Titans 18u team as well as Stamford High School, where she received all-FCIAC honors this year!

“Christina is one of the best players I’ve ever coached. She is the definition of a gamer and a treat to watch on the field. She’ll make plays that could be on SportsCenter highlight reels and has a college level softball IQ. It’s been such a pleasure to both teach and learn from her.” – Ashley Simoneau, Lady Titans Coach

At Stamford HS, Christina is in her senior year and is currently taking all AP classes. She has also taken additional college classes at Norwalk Community College throughout high school, specifically studying software engineering. Last year, Christina was awarded a 2021-2022 College Board National Hispanic Recognition Scholar!

“Christina is a tough, tenacious softball player who consistently demonstrates her true passion for the game. Her drive and wanting-to-win attitude are remarkable. Christina is never afraid of getting dirty and is always thinking about taking the extra base. Christina’s an extremely hard worker in the classroom as well. She takes multiple AP classes and already has an associate’s degree. Christina is the true definition of a student-athlete.” – Coach Beezer

The hope and plan for Christina is to continue playing softball in college, while majoring in Civil Engineering. She has always been passionate about helping and giving back to the community, dating back to when she was nine years old. For the last nine years Christina has collected items to donate to local homeless shelters and food pantries in place of birthday gifts. Last year, she was a part of the Stamford Answer to Cancer team, contributing to raising over $25,000 towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Christina once more for earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for October. She definitely has made her presence felt here at the facility, whether she is training with her team, or volunteer coaching for our softball clinics, or walking around in her inflatable dinosaur costume on Halloween. We cannot wait to see where Christina goes from here! Congratulations!

Connor Kelly– First County Bank Athlete of the Month


Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for September is Connor Kelly. You very well may have heard the name before as Kelly is currently playing in the PLL for the WaterDogs, where he is already a two time All-Star and two time champion.

Kelly started playing at Wakeman Boys & Girls Club in Southport when he was seven years old. He attended Fairfield Prep and then Avon Old Farms where he played both football and lacrosse. He was a two time captain in both sports and won a MVP award in both sports as well. From there, he went on to the University of Maryland and won a national championship. He currently holds the record for most goals by a midfielder in Maryland history.

Outside of football and lacrosse, Kelly loves competing and playing all sports. He is a part of a family of six, and grew up in Fairfield. He is an avid New York Jets fan and UConn basketball fan. To this day, Kelly still lives in CT and continues to coach lacrosse in the area.

Kelly’s awards and accomplishments include…

  • 2017 Big Ten Tournament MVP
  • 2018 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year
  • 2016, 2017, 2018 First Team All Big Ten
  • 2016, 2017, 2018 NCAA All Tournament Team
  • 2017, 2018 First Team All America

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Connor once more for earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for September. It has been a pleasure having Connor around our facility as we get to witness him continue to live out his dream! We wish him all the best moving forward in his career!

Jack Nolan – First County Bank Athlete of the Month


Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for August is Jack Nolan. Jack is currently in eighth grade and playing for Mitch Hoffman and the Connecticut Baseball Club.

“Getting to coach Jack this year was an absolute pleasure. I have never come across a player with a better mindset than Jack. He was a leader on and off of the field and the definition of a true teammate. I am looking forward to years ahead with him!!” – Mitch Hoffman, CTBC Coach

You can find Jack all over the infield, from the pitcher’s mound to behind the dish to the hot corner. His summer was highlighted by playing tournaments with his team in Omaha, Nebraska and Hoover, Alabama, and winning the Perfect Game Northeast Tournament in Newark, New Jersey.

When not on the baseball diamond, Jack is at BVSA training either with the bat in his hands or working out in the gym.

“Jack and I have been working together for the past year and it has been an absolute pleasure. He is an incredibly talented baseball player with a serious power factor but what really makes him special is the person he is. He comes to every session in a great mood, with a positive attitude and enthusiasm to continue to improving. The combination of that attitude and his skill set is going to take him a very long way and I look forward to being a part of it! Congratulations Jack, well deserved!” Frank Ramppen, BVSA Managing Partner

In addition to baseball, Jack plays basketball in the fall and winter for High Rise and Darien Y Travel. During his downtime, chances are he’s either playing MLB The Show or watching some combination of the New York Yankees, Cleveland Browns, and Cleveland Cavaliers.

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Jack once more for earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for August. We know Jack has big goals to play at the highest levels through high school and college, and we admire his dedication to the process of always looking to get even bigger and better. We can’t wait to see where Jack goes from here, congratulations again Jack!

Cassie Robotti – First County Bank Athlete of the Month


Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for July is Cassie Robotti. Cassie started playing baseball at the age of five, and it quickly became her passion. She took that passion all the way to her freshman year of high school, before turning over to softball.

Cassie was dominating the field from the age of ten, switching back and forth between the pitcher’s mound and shortstop position. After winning districts that year as an all-star, she went on to be an all-star the following two years as well. The switch to softball came when the Stamford High softball coach approached her with the idea of becoming the starting shortstop on the varsity team. Hesitant at first, Cassie decided to make the move.

That winter, Cassie tried out and made the BVSA Lady Titans. Fast forward to her sophomore year, her first full softball season, she made Second Team All FCIAC.

A torn labrum in the fall of her junior year kept her off the field for a while as it required surgery and fifteen weeks of physical therapy. But Cassie bounced right back…

Despite playing only half the season, Cassie earned First Team All FCIAC and was named the only captain of the Stamford High Black Knights. Her current batting average is .419 with a .538 OBP.

Cassie is currently a rising senior and a Honors Student at Stamford High School, and looking to continue her playing career into college. The plan is to play while earning a degree in Physical Education and Health, and the dream is to coach softball after graduating college.

“Cassie exemplifies the meaning of being a great player and teammate. This kid has always been a die hard player since joining Lady Titans. Since bouncing back from her torn labrum injury Cassie has shown nothing but grit and determination. She never let her injury get in the way of her success. Cassie is an excellent hitter and a force to be reckoned with on the base paths. She is everything that a coach looks for in a player.” – Coach Beezer

Cassie’s favorite team is the New York Yankees, her favorite player being Aaron Judge. When she is not on the softball field or watching a Yankees game, she enjoys going to the beach, walking her puppies, and hanging out with friends.

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Cassie once more for earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for July. The admiration we have for both the desire to play baseball as long as she could, combined with the resiliency to fight back from injury is outstanding. We look forward to continuing to see Cassie around BVSA and can’t wait what she does at the next level!

Jackson Koeppl – First County Bank Athlete of the Month

Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for June is nine year old Jackson Koeppl. Jackson first started playing baseball three years ago when he was six years old, and was almost immediately thrown a curveball. The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on his spring 2020 New Canaan rec baseball season, but that did not stop him from continuing to practice and progress.

Jackson played constantly with his Dad in the backyard, doing anything from swinging a bat to long tossing. He was able to restart rec ball in the fall before joining 8U New Canaan Travel Baseball in spring 2021. As his commitment to baseball grew, Jackson wanted to go a step further and began training with BVSA this past January. His last six months can be summed up by his latest Spring Championship Game for his 9U New Canaan team.

Jackson came in to pitch in the 2nd inning with his team already down 4-0 to Danbury on their home field. Ten strikeouts later, he and his teammates were putting medals around their necks celebrating a 10-4 victory. Jackson pitched five innings and only allowed one baserunner, a sixth inning single. His final line read…

5 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 H, 10 Ks, W

“His stuff is electric. He is in complete control mentally when he takes the mound, regardless of the results. He can be dominant or he can be hit hard, his body language and his mindset does not change at all. I have never seen someone so young and understand this game so well.” – Joe Wanderlingh, BVSA Instructor and New Canaan Coach

Not only does he help himself with his demeanor, but he wears off on the rest of the team. The excitement and joy on his face when he plays is truly contagious. He loves the game, his teammates, and helping his team any way he can.

Jackson is a soon to be fifth grader that really excels in the classroom. When he is not playing baseball, he is definitely playing some other sport like flag football, basketball, and skiing.

As if that wasn’t enough for him, he continues to challenge himself and take on new things like archery, ninja warrior obstacle courses, and chess. He loves rooting for a wide variety of different teams like the New York Yankees, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and Florida Gators.

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Jackson once more for earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for June. His progress in such a short amount of time is truly inspiring, and it is clear that this is just the beginning for Jackson. We are so excited to continue watching him grow and lead by example for everyone that takes the field with him!

The Overlooked Importance of In-Season Training


In-season training has long been a controversial topic for athletes and teams.

Many coaches have long believed that when their athletes are in-season, their sport should be their only focus. But as the season progresses, what happens?

The common issues of production output and injuries rear their head and cause problems to most of the roster. Therefore, in-season training has become a huge focus throughout the industry and can be seen prominently throughout most college and professional athletics.

This is why I have always been confused as to why High School and Youth athletics neglect to keep training throughout the season. Is it fear of being tired or sore from a workout? Fear of cutting into practice time? Or just lack of education?

At BVT LAB, we have made it a focus to educate our clients on the importance of keeping a consistent training schedule once the season starts.

Now, this schedule does look very different from our off-season programs. Our protocols are vastly different because we have to tailor our program to the stress and demands of the season. But, we make sure that our athletes train throughout the season to maintain and elevate their performance.

What are the main goals with in-season training?


1. Injury Prevention/ Maintain Mobility and Flexibility:

While all of our programming throughout the whole training process is always centered around injury prevention, our in-season protocols ask for even more attention to injury prevention. We do this with a multitude of exercises that help increase flexibility and mobility. We also pay extra attention to our CNS activation and corrective exercises so that athletes perform to their optimal performance levels on game day.


2. Maintain power and performance (maximal strength):

Skipping out on the weight room for the entirety of the season can have significant detrimental effects on an athlete’s strength levels. The stronger an athlete is, the more force they can produce. The more force they can produce, the faster they’ll run, the higher they’ll jump, and the harder they’ll hit.

The residual effects of a power phase (which most coaches should be putting their athletes through before the season ) are sometimes only 6-8 weeks after the athletes stop performing the phase. So it’s vital for athletes to continue training in order to maintain their power throughout the season.

Consider this: In the week leading up to Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots were squatting 80% of their max. They were 20-plus weeks into their season by that point, but they knew how important their weight room work was to their continued success. For what it’s worth, the Patriots went on to win that game after overcoming a 25-point deficit.


3. Manage fatigue, limit muscle soreness, and improve recovery from games:

The main goal for all athletes during the season is day-to-day game performance. One major way to help with this is to manage the volume of both practice and training.

Most coaches are not going to move their practice times around to help manage athletes’ fatigue. This means it’s pivotal to limit the amount of fatigue that occurs in the weight room, while still trying to achieve the ultimate goal of keeping power production with the athletes. Focusing on strength and power rep ranges for the proper amount of sets will give athletes just the right amount of stimulus without creating fatigue or injuries.

Another problem that occurs during the season is muscle soreness and decreased range of motion. Two surefire ways to elicit soreness for athletes are excessive eccentric loading and introducing too many new exercises during the season.

We still want to control the weight, but focus should be more on the concentric strength component rather than attempting to overload the eccentric contraction. Too much volume can cause micro-traumas in the muscle that can result in additional soreness. New exercises can also bring about DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) as athletes’ bodies trying to adapt to new stimuli.


Although all in-season programs depend on a multitude of factors such as scheduling, time commitment, sport, athletes needs, etc., we typically suggest that athletes still train 2-3 days a week to accomplish all the goals we have listed above.

In conclusion, if an athlete or team wants to be able to accomplish their ultimate goals of winning a championship and playing to the best of their abilities, it’s imperative that they train throughout the season

Kevin Bruggeman – First County Bank Athlete of the Month

Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for May is Hofstra University’s starting catcher, Kevin Bruggeman.

“The kid has always been obsessed with putting in the work. The sacrifices and growth we’ve seen him make over the years combined with his instincts, natural talent and genuine love for the game are infectious. He’s constantly raising the bar for everyone around him. It’s no surprise that he just put himself in the NCAA and Hofstra baseball record books. Can’t wait to see what he does next!” – Anthony Conte, BVSA Director

What Anthony is referring to is the latest NCAA D1 Regional round of the 2022 College Baseball World Series. Hofstra made its way into the postseason for the first time ever after winning the 2022 CAA Championship, and faced off against the tenth nationally ranked team in the country, the University of North Carolina.

Bruggeman batted third and came up to hit in the top of the first with two outs and nobody on base. He took two close pitches just off the plate to put himself in a favorable 2-0 count. The next pitch made Hofstra history. Bruggeman’s home run was the first hit, run, RBI, and home run in Hofstra postseason history.

“It’s UNC, they weren’t going to do anything fancy 2-0, so I was just looking for a fastball.” – Bruggeman


Bruggeman’s hard work and dedication were already being recognized leading up to this moment. He was named to the All-American D1 Baseball Strength & Conditioning team. On the season, he hit .330 in conference play with 4 HR and 21 RBI, and finished tied for second on the team in hits (33).

To take it a step further, Bruggeman was named captain during his junior and senior years at Trumbull High School. He was the first junior captain in Trumbull High School history!

Bruggeman’s ties to BVSA go back to the days of Fury, where he played since 2013. His mother Danielle Simoneau has also been a softball coach at BVSA since its inception in the fall of 2006.

“Kevin exemplifies everything you want a player to be. He plays with passion, energy and a level above most around him. His grit and determination are looked up to by his teammates and opponents. He works at his craft like no other and it shows on the field. His efforts and production helped lead our team to multiple tournament championships and tremendous experiences for all of us. It seemed like whenever we needed a big hit or a big play, Kev delivered. He has a great appreciation for the game and although an intense competitor, there’s always a smile and a joy for the game.” – Frank Ramppen, BVSA Managing Partner

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Kevin once more on earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for May. His drive and commitment to mastering his craft have put him in the Hofstra record books, and the best part of that is this is only the beginning… We cannot wait to see what he does next!

Cooper Gendason – First County Bank Athlete of the Month

Bobby Valentine’s First County Bank Athlete of the Month for April is Cooper Gendason. Cooper is finishing up 7th grade at New Canaan Country School, where he has attended since he was in kindergarten. He has competed in both baseball and soccer since he was four years old, and combine that with having three siblings, safe to say Cooper is used to competition.

“Cooper gets it. He wants to train regardless of the results in his games. He has been doing nothing but hitting home runs these last few weeks, and he is still here at BVSA working on his swing constantly. He is an incredible athlete, and an amazing role model for his little brother, Peyton. He is an absolute joy to have around the facility, and so exciting to watch grow into the ballplayer and leader he is turning into.” – Joe Wanderlingh, Baseball Instructor

Baseball started for Cooper playing through Stamford North Little League, playing for both house teams and all-star teams. He currently is blasting home runs for the New Canaan 12U travel team, and he is really looking forward to upcoming summer trips to Aberdeen, Maryland and Cooperstown, New York. He’s going to be looking to make that place Cooper’s town (sorry, too good not to use).

When he isn’t playing baseball, Cooper is on the soccer field. It started with the New Canaan travel team, and then he joined the Chelsea Piers Shoreline premier team two years ago. He mostly plays midfield.

Cooper roots for New York for the most part, being a fan of the first place New York Yankees and the playoff bound New York Rangers. The one exception is in the NFL, where he is the biggest Denver Broncos fan you will ever meet. As if the Yankees and Rangers weren’t enough excitement for him, he gets to look forward to the Russell Wilson era beginning in a few months.

We here at BVSA want to congratulate Cooper once more on earning this honor of First County Bank Athlete of the Month for April. His work ethic and commitment to the game are amazing to see, and we are so excited to watch him continue to grow both on and off the field!

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure – Injury Prevention at BVT

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin


The benefits of resistance training in both athletics and training within the general public has been well studied and documented for years. Improvements in power and performance, as well as increased muscle size are always things that come to mind when thinking about the benefits of resistance training, but resistance training also has direct correlations to reduction of injuries. 

Studies have reported that the direct effect of resistance training helps physiological adaptations seen consequent to resistance training on bone, connective tissue and muscle to provide enhanced protection against injury for individuals who participate in such training programs. 

Effects on Bone: 

The bone is living tissue. This means it has the ability to remodel and adapt to physical stresses imposed on it. 

Individuals that are physically active have been shown to have greater bone mineral density than those who are sedentary. In general those that are active reduce risk for osteoporosis, fracture, or other ailments related to bone deterioration. 

Studies have found that through resistance training these effects are amplified. Resistance training provides greater osteopenia effects, increasing beneficial bone strength that will help reduce stress fractures. 

Overall this means that as muscular strength improves so does bone strength. 

Effects on Connective Tissue: 

Connective tissue is the framework of the body. It consists of cells and fibers embedded in a gel-like material containing tissue fluids and various metabolites. 

The primary fiber of connective tissue is collagen. Studies have found that resistance training has a direct effect on connective tissue adaptations, in addition to increasing both the size and strength of ligaments and tendons. 

Increasing the size of the connective tissue is thought to be a result of an increase in collagen content within the connective tissues sheaths. One study comparing body builders to untrained individuals suggested that increase in collagen content is proportional to the increase in muscle. 

Body builders seem to have greater absolute collagen content, but relative values are similar to untrained controls. This means that increases in muscle mass are likely met by increases in the size and strength of the connective tissue. 

Effects on Muscle: 

It’s no surprise that as we age, a decrease in muscle mass (sarcopenia) occurs. This means a subsequent reduction in muscle strength results in a loss of functional ability and also an increased risk for falls and fractures. 

When looking at the aging adult population, resistant training programs have benefits for increase in both strength and muscle size just like athletic training programs do. The functional ability to maintain and improve the risk of injury is significantly reduced when resistance training. 

Resistance training has a huge role in reducing the risk for musculoskeletal injuries related to muscle imbalances, expressed as either agonist to antagonist ratios or as bilateral comparisons. Correction of these imbalances through resistance training is pivotal in reducing risk of muscular injury. 

Resistance training also has a positive effect on reducing lower back injuries by increasing strength in the lumbar extensors and lumbar vertebrae. This will shield your body from a multitude of muscular injuries that can occur with aging and sedentary lifestyles. 

In conclusion, resistance training is almost like the fountain of youth. 

As we age we lose the ability to produce power due to the decrease in muscle mass and bone density, which directly correlates to our connective tissue. 

Any individual that is in a properly progressed resistance training program will see drastic benefits in their everyday life performing functional movement patterns and the benefits of injury prevention. This means that.