FCIAC

Commentary: On The Night Of Danbury’s 3-Peat, A Smith Gets Her Due

Danbury's Allie Smith drives to the basket during Thursday night's FCIAC championship game against Wilton. Smith scored 11 points and was named the most valuable player. (Photo Mark Conrad)

Danbury’s Allie Smith drives to the basket during Thursday night’s FCIAC championship game against Wilton. Smith scored 11 points and was named the most valuable player. (Photo Mark Conrad)

FAIRFIELD — Being a starter without the surname Gartner on the Danbury High School girls basketball team is sort of like being a bass player for The Rolling Stones.

The finished product depends on your contributions, just don’t expect to get much acknowledgement at the end of the show.

So on a night that began replete with storylines, it was refreshing to see another one develop Thursday night, after the Hatters won their third consecutive FCIAC championship with a 41-29 win over Wilton.

As it was time to announce the most valuable player, those remaining in the Fairfield Ludlowe gymnasium were wondering whether the next word heard would be Rachel or Rebecca, the Gartners — The Twins — the guards who have been the Hatters’ version of the Glimmer Twins, Mick and Keith.

When Allie Smith’s name was called, there was surprise from most, but satisfaction from Jackie DiNardo, the Hatters’ coach.

“She hasn’t been recognized when she should have been,” DiNardo said. “Allie was definitely the MVP of this game, no question. I was happy to see it, too.”

In a sloppy contest that was equal portions tenacious defense and errant passes and shots, Smith scored 10 of her 11 points in the first three quarters, including a basket on a pass from Rebecca Gartner that put Danbury up, 27-24.

From there it was the Gartners’ show — Rebecca finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, while Rachel ended with 8 points and 5 assists.

Wilton went 8 1/2 minutes without a field goal, until Erica Meyer’s 3-point play with 1:35 remaining. That ended a 15-2 run that erased any mystery and started a coronation.

Danbury's Rebecca Gartner goes up for a reverse during Thursday night's FCIAC final against Wilton. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Danbury’s Rebecca Gartner goes up for a reverse during Thursday night’s FCIAC final against Wilton. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“It feels really good, just to win the third one with the seniors,” said Smith, a junior, who also grabbed 6 rebounds. “The second half is always our game. We always work hard. We got a good motivational talk at halftime. We wanted to win it for the seniors, and ourselves.”

Watching proudly from the stands was Smith’s older sister, Casey, who had a short walk from the campus at Fairfield University, where she is a member of the school’s women’s basketball team, sitting out this season after transferring from St. Joseph’s.

With all the talk about top-seeded Danbury (22-1) going for a three-peat, No. 2 Wilton (19-4) last winning a title in 1989, the Warriors handing the Hatters their lone loss of the season, 21 games ago, Danbury’s Gartner-led leadership and Wilton not having a senior on the roster, by the end of the evening everyone was keeping up with the Smiths.

Casey was the star center on Danbury’s first championship team during this run, though she never played in the final. Smith tore her ACL in the semifinal game — ironically, against Wilton.

Casey had not been back in the Ludlowe gymnasium since, until Tuesday night’s semifinals.

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Danbury's Rachel Gartner is fouled by Wilton Haley English. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Danbury’s Rachel Gartner is fouled by Wilton Haley English. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“We are really close,” Casey said of her relationship with Allie. “I didn’t talk to her before the game. It’s not our thing to talk basketball. If it comes up, it comes up.”

What do the Smiths discuss?

“Sister stuff,” Casey said with a smile. “Do you want to get ice cream?”

Wilton's Erin Cunningham pulls down a rebound. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Wilton’s Erin Cunningham pulls down a rebound. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Casey, who still hasn’t played her first collegiate game because of her recovery and subsequent transfer, said returning to Ludlowe was a bit surreal.

“I don’t really show my emotions that often, but when I walked in for the first time I shivered a little bit,” she said.

Getting Allie Smith to talk about herself is even more difficult than getting her name on the marquee.

“I don’t think we really feel that as a team,” Allie said. “We’re best friends. We’re family. The twins are just amazing. They are amazing players. You can’t be jealous of them.”

DiNardo said the Smith sisters are not comparable on the court except for one very important similarity.

“They are two different players,” DiNardo said. “Casey dominates the paint, a true post player. Allie is more of a 3-4 player. She hits the 3. They are totally different players but both have got heart. Both have a heart as big as Texas. I don’t want to say Connecticut because it is too small.”

DiNardo said Allie Smith has been making contributions throughout the year, they have just avoided the spotlight.

“She’s done it off and on many times, it just hasn’t been noted, and she did it again tonight when we needed it, which was nice, DiNardo said.”

So on a night when the Gartners cemented their FCIAC legacy, there was also room for a Smith on the pedestal.

Sometimes bass players get their due.