By Dave Ruden
With the loss of Megan D’Alessandro, his star player, Westhill girls basketball coach Mike King knew he still had the talent to keep his program at a high level but had to reinvent the team.
“I told the girls at the beginning of the season we’d be as good as our defense was,” King said.
Six games into the season the numbers tell the story: the Vikings have allowed just 30 points a game. And are undefeated heading into their toughest week.
“We worked hard in the offseason,” said Tyler Evans, one of the Vikings’ leaders, whose average of over 6 steals a game is a testament to their grind-it-out style. “We play defense 100 percent. If you don’t play defense, you won’t do well.”
The Vikings don’t have a lot of experience back after finishing 18-4, but their two leaders, Evans and Steph Roones, have set the tone.
“They are clearly the leaders of the team, and both are incredibly unselfish players,” King said. “They look to pass first and shoot second, and that helps the team buy into not being about individual stats or worrying about who gets the most points.”
Evans and Roones are four-year starters. The rest of the lineup includes Edona Thaqui, Krystal Dixon and Liz Grasso, who saw limited playing time a year ago. Coming off the bench are Sam Corsello and two talented freshmen, Olivia Wise and Gabby Laccona.
With few exceptions, the Vikings usually have five players scoring between 6-15 points each night.
“We’ve been very balanced, which is good to see,” King said.
Evans said the loss of D’Alessandro, and the talk that they would take a dip in the standings, has inspired the Vikings.
“It was kind of a motivator,” Evans said. “It made it seem like Meg was the only reason we won. We have a deep bench and we all want to win. Our defense has been awesome. That’s the best part of our game.”
So how good is Westhill? We will find out over the next week. On Monday it travels to face Wilton, which is 6-0, has a win over two-time defending league champion Danbury, and will be getting back star center Erica Meyer from injury. Next Friday the Vikings host the Hatters.
“Those are two great teams,” King said. “We are going to have a big challenge.”
Don’t Write Off Ridgefield
A look at the standings at the start of the new calendar year would lead one to believe that you can pencil in the eight teams that will qualify for the conference playoffs — Wilton, Westhill, Stamford, Fairfield Ludlowe, Danbury, Trumbull, Fairfield Warde and Greenwich — and all that remains are the seedings. Each of the teams are either unbeaten or have just one loss.
But this could end up being a game of musical chairs; don’t count out Ridgefield just yet. The Tigers opened the season 0-4 and were considered an early disappointment.
Each defeat came against one of the aforementioned teams, which were undefeated at the time.
Ridgefield has since rebounded with a victory over Masuk and an impressive 13-point win over Trumbull.
There are still some tough games left, but the Tigers have the personnel to make a strong run and qualify for the playoffs which, given the balance at the top of the league this year, would be an incredible accomplishment.
The Starting 5
1. Wilton (6-0). The Warriors have the best resume of the four — that’s right, four — remaining unbeaten teams. And Erica Meyer comes back.
2. Danbury (5-1). With only a loss to the Warriors, the two-time defending league champion is still sporting a bull’s-eye.
3. Westhill (6-0). With a week that starts with Wilton and ends with Danbury, we will know a lot more about the Vikings at about 7:30 next Friday.
4. Stamford (6-0). The Black Knights have kept winning without their star, Kelsey Santagata, who is about to return.
5. Fairfield Ludlowe (6-0). A quality win over crosstown rival Fairfield Warde in a battle of unbeatens.