By JON BAKER
LINCOLN – Anna Vygoder likes to arrive early to every event she attends. She doesn’t know why; it’s just the way it is.
That’s why the 2020 Lincoln High graduate and standout athlete decided to show up at 2:45 for the annual Lions’ swim team banquet held at Albion Park on Wednesday afternoon, despite the fact it was slated for 3.
She had anticipated receiving the usual honors at such a fete – her letter or pin, perhaps a plaque with a team photo of the Division II champions, some nice words from head coach Tom DiIorio and share a few laughs with her teammates. Nothing more.
The ceremony started a bit late, due to some very untimely downpours, though they didn’t dampen the enthusiasm her “swim family” showed her when R.I. Interscholastic League representative Carolyn Thornton Iannuccilli shocked her.
It came in the form of the prestigious RIIL Female Student-Athlete of the Year Award, not to mention a bonus that happened to be a $1,000 scholarship.
Her parents, Leo and Olga, and younger brother Sam, were all on hand to witness it, not to mention other parents. Naturally, all were ecstatic.
Apparently, DiIorio and athletic director Greg O’Connor had kept it a secret from Vygoder since finding out Tuesday afternoon about her selection, which is based on academics as well as her intense involvement with the school’s athletic program.
Vygoder represented the girls’ varsity volleyball and swimming and, yes, boys’ spring tennis team, the latter of which unfortunately was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I found at about noon, after Greg called me,” DiIorio smiled later. “He asked, ‘When is your swim awards ceremony?’ and I told him. He immediately said he had to get a hold of a woman at the Interscholastic League offices and ask her if she could present the award (Wednesday). I said, ‘What award?’ and then he told me.
“I was floored,” he added. “I couldn’t stop saying, ‘Wow! Wow!’ even though I wasn’t surprised at all. Anna’s got a great personality, she’s always smiling, always laughing, though sometimes needs to be pushed, especially this year. She had a mild case of senioritis, but the good news is she listened to us. She pushed herself, and you could really see how much the last three or four weeks of the season.
“She came on like gangbusters,” he continued. “I also wasn’t surprised because she’s a brilliant kid. I know she finished top 20 in her class, and she wants to be an FBI agent someday. I have no doubt she will reach that.”
As for Vygoder, her patented blush (not makeup) was a constant on this occasion.
“I thought I was getting the award for being the (RIIL) Student-Athlete of the Month for March, and when she gave me that, I thought, ‘That’s great!’ but then she gave me the one for the whole year. I never expected that. I’m shocked. I’m stunned.
“I had to do that video for the Interscholastic League, and I was so nervous,” she added. “I thought I was going to mess it up. The whole thing is mind-blowing to me.”
To be honest, it really shouldn’t be.
Last fall, in only her first year playing volleyball, she earned all-division status, and also captained the swim team to the D-II title, a thrilling one-point victory over favored Classical at the Roger Williams University natatorium last February.
She took part on the Lions’ fourth-place 200-yard medley relay and runner-up 200-yard freestyle relay teams, then helped Lincoln snag fourth in the team standings in the state meet at Brown.
Prior to the cancellation of the spring sports campaign, she had been slated to contribute to the varsity boystennis team, perhaps even at No. 4 singles, which was her goal. She admitted being disappointment with the fact she couldn’t compete, but did muster a career doubles record of 24-3.
There’s more: She’s also a member of the Rhode Island, National and Business honor societies, and finished 16th overall in her Class of 2020. She did that while studying what has become her passion: Criminal justice and law enforcement. She admitted her goal one day is to work for the FBI.
“I took three courses – Criminal Justice, Law & Order and Forensics – at Lincoln, and after those, I knew exactly what I wanted to go into, study in college,” she noted of her next higher institute of learning, Rhode Island College. (She also has already received word she will be a member of both the Anchormen’s varsity swim and tennis squads).
“After I decided, I talked to some teachers, and I told them I wanted to do an internship with the (Lincoln) police department. Once I did that with Capt. (Phil) Gould, it only solidified my decision. I love all the things I learned.”
According to Gould, who wouldn’t have missed Wednesday’s ceremony, he said, “for the world,” Vygoder proved a most capable listener/learner.
“I had heard that Anna had attended a law academy at the high school and wanted to do the internship with us, so a liaison at the school came to me and asked,” Gould recalled of that day last October. “I told him I wanted to interview the student before I took on that kind of obligation.
“As soon as I met her, I knew she was a superstar – she was so impressive, so mature for her age, so smart, so focused on her goals in life. One of the things I thought was really cool was her expressing her desire to work in the FBI, and I graduated from the FBI National Academy several years ago. We were able to talk about what she could expect.
“In fact, I used to take her to the FBI Academy in Cranston; she already had told me that she had moved her from Russia when she was nine, and didn’t know a word of English,” he continued. “It’s funny, because I introduced her to one of the recruits I had who had a very similar background; he was from Russia and also didn’t know English when he moved here.
“One afternoon, I walked up to them, and they were sitting there conversing in fluent Russian about where they were from and what they had gone through after moving here to the United States. It was fascinating.
“Her winning this award doesn’t surprise me a bit. She works very hard and her quality of character is amazing. I know anything she wants to do in life, she’ll succeed; she will achieve it. I remember people meeting her in the police station and say, ‘She’s very smart and energetic. Where does she go to college?’ I’ll tell them, ‘She’s a senior in high school,’ and they’re blown away.”
This accolade is only the most recent for the decorated Lion; she also captured Duke Gennittes Memorial Police Award, the RIC Book Award and the Richard Szumita Memorial Scholarship, among others.
“Anna is most deserving of everything she receives,” DiIorio said.
As for the LHS swimming awards DiIorio handed out Wednesday afternoon under the Albion Park concession stand canopy, he admitted he couldn’t choose only one girl for the Most Outstanding Female Swimmer Award, so he served up co-honors to junior-to-be Sadie Brown and future sophomore Olivia Nault.
Of course, Brown’s brother, McGovern, earned the male MOS laurel.
Other winners included Most Spirited Award (Ben Goho and Caroline Bucacci); Best Newcomers (frosh Luke Abrahamson and Nault); and Most Improved (Nathaniel Whiting and Jewelle Arruda).
Brown and Goho served as the 2019-20 male captains, while Vygoder and Amanda Allen commanded the girls squad. DiIorio, however, announced their replacements for the 2020-21 season. Amoing them; senior-to-be Charlie London will be the lone boys captain, while future seniors Bucacci, Melissa Pierce and Mini DaCosta and junior-to-be Sadie Brown will be the captains of the girls team.
Toward the end of the ceremony, which lasted about 75 minutes, DiIorio asked his seniors if they wanted to give their “So-long” speeches. All obliged, including Jakob Potemri, Giorgio Nunez, Goho, Allen, McGovern Brown and Vygoder.