As Wilton and Greenwich battled through an FCIAC Tournament semifinal game last February, more than one opposing coach in attendance expressed the same sentiment: this is going to be the championship next year.
With so many returning players on both sides, it would be hardly surprising if that turns into reality. Both teams are loaded and coming off of good seasons. Plus, the Gartner twins, who ended storied careers at Danbury that only seemed to last seven years because of their sustained level of excellence, have moved on after leading the Hatters to three straight championships.
But it would be most premature to ink in a Wilton-Greenwich rematch in the final. Both teams will have a maze of difficult opponents to get through.
In fact, the top of the league could be as tough as at any time in recent memory, with a number of teams capable of making title runs.
All of which means the next three months should provide both unpredictability and excitement.
Wilton. The Warriors have a veteran lineup with no weaknesses, plus are seasoned after last year’s run. Providence-bound center Erica Meyer starts the season healthy, unlike a year ago. She will be one of the league’s dominant post players. Her inside-outside partner is Erin Cunningham, one of the most underrated players last season and a clutch shooter. Hayley English returns to run the offense, while Makenna Pearsall is an outstanding workhorse who provides all the intangibles a winning team needs. Karen Brosko and Hannah Maatallah, who sat out last year, provide quality depth, and the bench will be productive. Wilton has all the pieces in place to win its first title since 1989.
Greenwich. The Cardinals’ last FCIAC titles came in the two years prior to Wilton’s, so there is a good chance a long absence could be coming to an end. Greenwich went stretches last year without a senior on the court. It will again be led by center Abbie Wolf, an inside presence few teams can match up against. Jamie Kockenmeister is coming off of a good year, and Leigh Galletta, Caroline Beneville and Alexa Moses round out the starting lineup. Chrys Hernandez has done an outstanding job coaching the Cardinals back up the top of the standings. This year she may just lead the team to the brass ring.
Ridgefield. The Tigers were considered by many last season to have the capability to be among the leaders down the homestretch. Facing almost all of the teams that eventually made the conference tournament to open the season, they started 2-6 and, despite a strong late run, could not extricate themselves from the hole. Ridgefield has few seniors but a lot of talent, led by junior Rebecca Lawrence. Few are expecting a late break from the gate out of the Tigers this winter.
Fairfield Warde. The Mustangs have a new addition and a key loss. Transfer Shania Osborne, a sophomore center, will provide an element that can take the team to the next level. But the loss of another key sophomore, Jenna Cetta, to an ACL injury, will be a mitigating factor. A third sophomore, Iliana Krasniqi, plus a strong eight-player rotation should keep Warde in the title hunt.
Trumbull. Senior guard Amanda Pfohl, a four-year starter, will be one of the go-to players in the league. The Eagles’ fortunes will depend on the contributions of a number of solid veterans, like Kate O’Leary and Dani McGillicuddy.
St. Joseph. The Cadets have all five starters back and one of the league’s most balanced attacks. Bridget Sharnick averaged nearly 15 points a game. Caitlin Sharnick, Shannon O’Meara and Jackie Jozefick will ensure this is not a one-dimensional team.
Fairfield Ludlowe. The Falcons were the anti-Ridgefield: opening 13-1 and then crashing with a 2-6 finish and first round postseason exits. Caroline Pangallo is back to lead the offense. She will form a nice 1-2 punch with Charlotte Blatt.
Stamford. Few players can take over a game like guard Tiana England (14.3 points, 4.1 assists, 2.2 steals). Will she get the needed support to avoid double and triple teams? Trinity transfer Anne Margaret Eilertson will provide a big presence inside.
Preseason Baker’s Dozen
Erin Cunningham, Wilton
Tiana England, Stamford
Hayley English, Wilton
Iliana Krasniqi, Warde
Rebecca Lawrence, Ridgefield
Erica Meyer, Wilton
Shania Osborne, Warde
Caroline Pangallo, Ludlowe
Amanda Pfohl, Trumbull
Bridget Sharnick, St. Joseph
Allie Smith, Danbury
Edona Thaqi, Westhill
Abbie Wolf, Greenwich
Players To Watch
(Based on information provided by coaches to The Ruden Report)
Bridgeport Central: Alexia Myers, Unique Langston, Jessica Clarke, Jasmine Clarke.
Danbury: Allie Smith, Shannon Geary, Chloe Hennig, Jannine Kerr, Andreah Orr, Lauren Guiry, Michelle Leppla, Jamara Myers, Jen Garcia, Zoe Coleman, Emily Broggy.
Fairfield Ludlowe: Caroline Pangallo, Charlotte Blatt, Meg Curran, Trish Auray, Carey Yates, Regan Steed, Alex McKinnon, Julia Pangallo.
Fairfield Warde: Jacqui Lanese, Lejla Markovic, Sarah Cotto, Maria Miller, Allison Whitlock, Daja Polk, Iliana Krasniqi, Shania Osborne, Jenna Cetta.
Greenwich: Leigh Galletta, Caroline Beneville, Jamie Kockenmeister, Alexa Moses, Abbie Wolf, Colleen Bennett, Jayla Faison, Emily Anderson.
Harding: Lauderly Francois, Shanise Davidson, Zsa’Queena Edwards, Janasia Perkins, Nina Gill, Rashay Swift, Destiny Martinez, Alyssa David, Qualah Johnson, Roze Calderon, Armoni Hudson, Victoria Draper, Davine Edwards, Alasia Boxter, Raegan Dawkins, Janazha Davis, Kiana Cardona.
Brien McMahon: Danielle Civil, Kyle Courtney, Kim Duhart, Taylor Duhart, Lizzy Floyd, Kyla Roberson, Jeteya Lawrence, Areti Filippidis, Tatiana Arias, Ashaunti Hodrick, Shaniya Francis.
New Canaan: Elizabeth Miller, Marina Braccio, Erica Smith, Olivia Hunsinger, Campbell Armstrong, Katie DeManiro, Meaghan Selvaggi.
Norwalk: Mallory Rochefort, Asiah Knight, Shaela Thorne, Jaqueline Harris, Mariah Ventrella, Briana Fitzgerald, Tamoriana Thomas, Ajsa Vega, Katie Sciglimpaglia.
St. Joseph: Ana DoCarmo, Shannon O’Meara, Caitlin Sharnick, Bridget Sharnick, Jackie Jozefick, Maite Gritsko.
Stamford: Tiana England, Oriana Merone, Anne Margaret Eilertson, Maxine Fodiman, Mackenzie Brown, Alexa Kellner, Britney Moise.
Trinity Catholic: Amy Hurd, Erin Frederick, Anne Peltier, Kayla Cheatham, Cheyenne Antoine, Maya Job, Nefeli Shehaj.
Trumbull: Dani McGillicuddy, Amanda Pfohl, Kate O’Leary, Alyssa Breunig, Kalisse Eldridge, Nina Vetter, Claudia Tucci, Taylor Brown, Victoria Ray.
Westhill: Samantha Corsello, Elizabeth Grosso, Edona Thaqi, Olivia Wise, Diana Pierre, Gabby Laccona, Courtney Xu.
Wilton: Erica Meyer, Haley English, Erin Cunningham, Makenna Pearsall, Hannah Maatallah, Karen Brosko, Christina Holmgren, Caraline Higgins, Caylin Cannavino, Sarah Fitzgerald, Hana Previte, Emily Tuin.