Defense has been the biggest constant among the eight girls basketball teams that will try to claim the FCIAC championship a week from tonight. It comes via disguised zones, relentless pressure and a mixed-bag of traps.
This might be the rare postseason when offensive acuity could be the determining factor.
Trumbull is the defending champion, with many new faces but the same gameplan. Darien is one of the two newcomers to the party, along with Wilton.
Here’s a look at the four games and some predictions (and listen to the Stamford Advocate’s Scott Ericson and I offer analysis on a new TRR Podcast).
No. 4 Norwalk (17-3) vs. No. 5 Stamford (14-6); noon at Norwalk. The week started with the Bears considered a co-favorite for the title, which they last won in 2001, the end of a three-year run. Norwalk made its life much more difficult with losses against Trumbull and, more costly, yesterday to Ridgefield. Now it is on the same side of the bracket with the Eagles, setting up a potential semifinal meeting. Ashley Wilson is one of the conference’s most dangerous players, while balance is provided by Asja Vega and freshman Jakara Murray-Lynch. She probably won’t win the honor, but Stamford’s Diane Burns is deserving of consideration for Coach of the Year. She kept the Black Knights together after the loss of Alexa Kellner, the league’s best player. Brooke Kelly has taken on a bigger role with the scoring, while Andrea O’Connor is one of the top interior players. Kelly Jagodzinski and Megan Landsiedel lead the backcourt.
No. 1 Trumbull (19-1) vs. No. 8. Darien (11-9); 2 p.m. at Norwalk. The Eagles look like a younger version of the team that won last year’s title and then made a run to the championship game at Mohegan Sun. There is less experience, but the same defensive intensity and cohesion. The Eagles have flourished without a true star, but a collective body that fits together like puzzle pieces. Julie Keckler is the tempo-setter as playmaker and scorer, with Aisling Maguire and Brady Lynch strong paint presences. The quick maturity of freshmen Allie Palmieri and Cassi Barbato has been invaluable. The Blue Wave were preseason sleepers, got off to a slow start and then gained momentum during the homestretch. They possess one of the best 1-2 punches in the conference with Chrissie Fiore and Katie Ramsey, who create matchup problems. If the duo get support and help spread Trumbull’s defense, perhaps Darien can keep the score close late and put the pressure on the Eagles to make plays.
No. 3 Fairfield Warde (16-4) vs. No. 6 Ridgefield (14-6); noon at Wilton. After defeating the Tigers back in December, Warde coach Dave Danko said he was happy to play them early, before a cast of freshmen and sophomores had the chance to ripen. Now he gets them again two months later and will see a different opponent. Of the eight teams in the field, the Mustangs win the title for finishing higher than predicted. Hit hard by graduation losses, the Mustangs have used a combination of tireless defense with the offensive explosiveness of Olivia Parisi, who can carry the team in spurts and is good at getting to the foul line. Caroline Aufiero, Kristina Krasniqi and Cat Allison are all capable of taking the burden off Parisi. The Tigers’ youth movement has worked out pretty well. There was no choice: Caroline Curnal is their lone upperclassmen, and a very good one as a player and leader. Defense is the team’s cornerstone, and it is hard to predict who will be the second-leading point producer on a given night. That is an asset — as long as it comes from somewhere.
No. 2 Wilton (16-4) vs. No. 7 Staples (14-6), 2 p.m. at Wilton. Indicative of the league’s parity, just two games separated the teams, with the Wreckers’ 17-point win in the previous meeting a statement-maker. Elle Fair sets the pace at point guard for the Wreckers, while Arianna Gerig has demonstrated the capability of controlling the paint. Inside defense is one of the many things Wilton does well, as evidenced by 12 wins in its last 13 games. Claire Gulbin gets much of the publicity and is the top scorer, but when the Warriors are at their best four or five players are putting up between 8 to 12 points. Wilton is also one of the few teams that can win attacking rather than defending.
Quarterfinal winners: Norwalk, Trumbull, Ridgefield, Wilton
Semifinal winners: Trumbull, Wilton
Ironically, three of the four quarterfinal picks here are the same as a year ago. Few would be surprised if a couple of lower seeds won, but Norwalk and Wilton are both at home. Ridgefield is the lowest seed with the best chance of making it to the final. In the end, Trumbull plays defense better than any other team executes in any particular area, and that is going to be good enough for a repeat.