WESTPORT — Saturday’s FCIAC girls basketball quarterfinals gave us a repeat performance of top-seeded Staples’ wonderful use of depth to pressure the court and turn turnovers and steals into baskets.
It gave us another look at Trumbull’s exquisite use of multiple defenses and brought a relative unknown, Grace Lesko, into the spotlight.
It gave us Ridgefield’s athleticism executing a well-constructed gameplan to pull off a not-as-big-as-it-appeared upset over Danbury (the Tigers were rightfully a favored lower seed before the pairings were set).
Most of all, for many it was the first chance to get a look at Greenwich’s Young Guns. Boy are they fun.
I can think of few times I’ve been more entertained this winter than watching the Cardinals’ second-half rally to eliminate defending champion Norwalk.
It was my introduction to Mackenzie Nelson, the Cardinals’ heavily hyped freshman guard, and she didn’t disappoint. Talented, poised, creative and mature, she was 8 for 8 from the line in the fourth quarter to leave the Bears with no opening to slip through for a comeback.
Nelson is joined by another terrific freshman, Ava Sollenne, some talented sophomores and a nucleus of veterans like senior Ciara Munnelly to form a combination that works well together.
Nelson is going to be the face not just of Greenwich but perhaps the league for the next three years, and that’s a good thing. Her ceiling appears boundless, and it will be fun to watch coaches like Trumbull’s Steve Tobitsch, a noted defensive strategist, play chess with Greenwich’s Chrys Hernandez.
If there was a subplot to Saturday’s four games, it is get ready to see many become regular title contenders in what is shaping up as a terrific short-term future for the league.
Well, Trumbull is already a regular, the FCIAC’s most consistent program over the past decade. That will not change any time soon, with only one contributing senior, Maeve Hampford. Cassi Barbato has already proved herself a top leading lady, and the Eagles have a particularly strong sophomore class.
The Cardinals will have graduation losses, but down the stretch Saturday they had two sophomores and two freshmen on the court. After a few lean years since Abby Wolf graduated, Greenwich is again poised to become a sustainable force.
And don’t forget Danbury. The Hatters won six straight games to earn the second seed before Saturday’s loss. They will have a strong 1-2 punch with Tianna Rogers and Kianna Perry. They also present matchup nightmares with a stable of 6-footers.
Fairfield Ludlowe, which came on strong over the second half of the season to earn the 8th seed, has just one senior and will be making the climb up the standings. The other teams will be harder hit by graduation but the guess is at least one or two have players coming up the pipeline.
As for tomorrow’s semifinals, it is unfortunate for Trumbull and Ridgefield that they face off in the second game. It is a great matchup that would play out better before Staples and Greenwich put on their sprint-a-thon.
Slowing the Eagles will present a different challenge for Ridgefield. They are a better 3-point shooting team and running an offense against them is a Rubik’s Cube. And there are few players in the league in the class of Barbato, whose 9 points against Stamford were misleading considering all the shots she passed up that turned into assists. Emi Roberto is the flashiest of Trumbull’s sophomores.
Ridgefield has a solid guard in Kate Wagner and a steadily improving forward in Cali Stietzel. On any given night there are four to five other players who can help with the scoring or contribute in other tangible ways.
The guess here is Greenwich won’t feel pressure against Staples. Handling the Wreckers’ press is another matter. The Cardinals need to get the ball past halfcourt and in a position to run their offense. Nelson will of course be a focus on defense. She handles the ball a lot.
Staples is the league’s deepest team and has in Arianna Gerig arguably the best player. Gerig left Saturday’s game with a knee injury of unknown significance. Hopefully she is on the court to provide the multi-dimensional presence to a team already deep in riches.
Ridgefield and Greenwich have the goods to get to the final, but most last week were predicting a Staples-Trumbull title game and right now that still seems like the safest bet.
However it plays out, enjoy these teams, these players. You will be seeing a lot more from them in the future.