HANOVER — After two hours of bucket-getting, Dedham graduate Avery O’Connor and St. Sebastian’s rising senior Trevor Mullin were crowned the Best Shooters in Massachusetts on Sunday.
The two earned the label at the 10th annual A Shot For Life Challenge at Starland Sportsplex in Hanover, which raised more than $40,000 for cancer research.
O’Connor, who will play basketball at New Hampshire, triumphed in the girls’ challenge, canning 78.5 percent of her shots, while the Yale-bound Mullin drilled 87.1 percent of his attempts.
“It’s a nice feeling to know you’re doing something out there to help, and it’s a part of something you love as well,” O’Connor said. “So it’s a really nice combination.”
While O’Connor was Sunday’s girls’ champion, Nina Minicozzi, a rising senior at Rivers who has committed to Dartmouth, was named co-winner. Because of a scheduling conflict, she took her shots on a different day, draining 79.4 percent.
The challenge features free throws, midrange shots, and 3-pointers. Two hours of near-constant shooting is deceptively exhausting — O’Connor’s right hand was still shaking well after her final jumper. She paced herself with three-minute increments in her final 25-minute leg of threes, holding onto her halftime lead to beat 17 challengers.
“Free throws, I know I’m really good at those,” O’Connor said. “So I got up as many of those as I could, and same with the mid-range. And then [for] threes, I kind of slowed my pace.”
Defending girls’ champion Avery Burns came to the challenge with crutches and a walking boot after undergoing right foot surgery this past week. The former Deerfield Academy and Nauset star didn’t plan to participate, but after warming up and feeling the itch to join, jumped onto the court to finish out her third year with the organization.
“In warm-ups, I just started to shoot a couple, and then was like, ‘I’m doing it,’” Burns said. “I came here to help out or volunteer or somehow be a part of it still, and then I ended up shooting.”
Rising seniors Blake O’Grady of Dexter Southfield (73.7 percent) and Mia Mancini of New Hampton (71.8) finished second and third in the girls’ competition.
On the boys’ side, Mullin faced stiff competition from rising seniors Liam McBride (86.3 percent) of Hingham and Joe Nugent (82.2 percent) of Tabor, who finished second in 2021. Mullin tried to save his legs by shooting near the sidelines whenever possible.
Mullin dedicated the victory to his late grandmother, Helen, who died from lung cancer six years ago.
“Last year, I didn’t place for her and I was a bit tight,” he said. “But now winning it, it was basically — this is for [Helen], right here.”
A Shot For Life began with the boys’ challenge a decade ago and has rapidly expanded, orchestrating a 24-hour basketball “gauntlet” and All-Star games while expanding into baseball, softball, and lacrosse, with future sports in the works. For founder Mike Slonina, reaching 10 yearsis a milestone, but not a surprise.
“I believe that we’re going to be a huge influence in the fight against cancer for the rest of my life and afterwards as well,” he said. “We’re taking very measured steps to continue to scale to make that happen.”
Slonina created A Shot For Life after completing his own 24-hour challenge in 2011 to raise money after his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Since forming the organization, he has brought in more than 150 players representing some of the top talent in the state.
“It’s exciting because it takes so much work to be this consistent. We really had to build up the base of A Shot For Life for three years, to where now, our impact is really jumping exponentially every year. And that’s why we exist,” Slonina said. “Ultimately, we are a cancer research organization that uses sports, not a sports organization that uses cancer.”