If you talked to many FCIAC girls basketball coaches the last two weeks, there was a noticeable lilt in their voices. This was excitement. Not the excitement of a new season, but an optimism that right now the league could have more talent than at any other time in recent memory. For a conference that has rarely been accorded a great deal of state-wide respect in the sport, this might be its time to shine.
Wilton laid the foundation last winter with its remarkable run to the Class LL championship. St. Joseph took home the Class M title.
Right now the FCIAC has two teams with legitimate state title aspirations, two more that should be strong factors in the postseason and a pack of schools that won’t be seeded highly in the playoffs but could make deep and satisfying runs.
Just looking over the lineups, it is possible that the teams that play in the No. 4-5 league tournament quarterfinal would be championship contenders in normal years.
So the big question for us in offering our preseason preview and predictions: who is going to win the conference title: Ridgefield or Warde? It has been one of the most discussed early December predictions (in the first state writers’ poll, Ridgefield is 3rd and Warde 4th; they are that close). Will one of two other very talented teams follow in the path blazed a year ago by the Tigers, who were the third seeds and peaked at the right time?
Lets go out on the limb as The Ruden Report ranks its preseason top five teams, the additional three that will qualify for the league tournament and our individual player awards.
The ones that matter most, of course, come in three months. But until the regular season starts Tuesday night, lets get a little buzz going.
Top 5 Teams
1. Ridgefield (21-4 last season)
If you have to knock out the champion to take the title, the Tigers get the nod as the favorite until proved otherwise. Six-foot-3 center Rebecca Lawrence is the best player in the league not named Tiana England, and her ability to score, rebound, play defense and find open teammates when opponents collapse into double-teams make her a multiple threat. Jess Camarda is the kind of scrappy point guard you love to have on your team and hate to play against. Ridgefield has a strong junior class and the only question at this point is depth. How many teams can graduate one of three sisters and still have three sisters back contributing (i.e. expect to see the name Middlebrook a lot on the scoreboard)? We learn a lot about the Tigers next week when they travel to Trumbull and then host Stamford.
2. Fairfield Warde (21-4)
The Mustangs look like your classic team that paid its dues a year ago and is now ready to break out. Coach Dave Danko has four starters worthy of first- or second-team all-league consideration and one of the state’s deepest and most productive benches. Leila Markovic is the guard who runs the attack, while Shania Osborne and Iliana Krasniqi provide the inside muscle few teams can match up against. Sarah Cotto and Daja Polk are perfect backcourt complements to Markovic. The Mustangs get the chance to trumpet their arrival Tuesday night when they face Norwich Free Academy, which ended their season in the state quarterfinals a year ago.
3. Stamford (19-5)
Prepare for the return of the Tiana England Show. The magnificent point guard has another year of seasoning under her belt, a scholarship to St. John’s to look forward to, the hunger to make the Black Knights this year’s Ridgefield and a supporting cast who will follow her lead. England averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists a year ago. Stamford goes seven deep, with Alexa Kellner and Camille Martinez both 10-point scorers a year ago. When England is hot, she can carry a team on her back.
4. Greenwich (21-5)
The Cardinals lost a lot after falling to Ridgefield in the FCIAC championship game, but they will build against 6-4, Northwestern-bound center Abbie Wolf, who creates matchup problems for most teams. Caroline Beneville is ready to step up and play an even bigger role this season. If one or two consistent scorers emerge around Wolf then Greenwich will be in the postseason hunt.
5. Trumbull (19-8)
The Eagles lost most of their starting lineup, don’t have a go-to star and appear to have the sign “Rebuilding” atop their marquee. But apparent weaknesses are a strength: led by Alysssa Breunig, the Eagles will have five starters on the court capable of averaging 8-10 points per game. Add in Steve Tobitsch’s fine coaching and Trumbull should instead be hyped as “Sleeper” this year.
6. Fairfield Ludlowe
8. St. Joseph
Preseason Honor Roll
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tiana England, Stamford
Jess Camarda, Ridgefield
Iliana Krasniqi, Fairfield Warde
Rebecca Lawrence, Ridgefield
Lejla Markovic, Fairfield Warde
Abbie Wolf, Greenwich
10 TO WATCH
Karen Brosko, Wilton
Alyssa Breunig, Trumbull
Sarah Cotto, Fairfield Warde
Christina Holmgren, Wilton
Jackie Jozefick, St. Joseph
Alexa Kellner, Stamford
Asiah Knight, Norwalk
Alex McKinnon, Fairfield Ludlowe
Shania Osborne, Fairfield Warde
Edona Thaqi, Westhill
(Based on information from coaches who responded to The Ruden Report)
Danbury: Rebecca Kohn, Emily Broggy, Emily Grenier, Zoe Coleman, Andreah Orr, Catrina Sullivan, Davaonna Spruill, Brianna Rosario, Susana Almeida, Sabrina Almeida, Ty’Lynn Ith, Jennifer Garcia, Jamara Myers, Rebecca Kohn, Tiana Myers
Darien: Erin Karczewski, Emily Coyle, Kayleigh Morrill, Katie Ramsay, Casey Ryan, Kate Fiore, Christine Fiore, Emily DeNunzio.
Fairfield Warde: Sarah Cotto, Lejla Markovic, Dana Polk, Shania Osborne, Iliana Krasniqi, Olivia Parisi, Libby McKenna, Jenna Cetta, Allison Whitlock, Maria Miller.
Fairfield Ludlowe: Peyton Brown, Bridget O’Leary, Julia Pangallo, Alex McKinnon, Regan Steed, Julia Colica, Amanda Schramm, Bridget Paulmann.
Greenwich: Jayla Faison, Caroline Beneville, Shaye Galletta, Emily Anderson, Abbie Wolf, Kim Kockenmeister, Emma Banker, Amanda Yu.
Brien McMahon: Sahara Clarke, Jetaya Lawrence, Vanessa Giraldo, Areti Filippidis, Kassandra Scott, Savannah Buzzeo, Sydney Barreno, Michelle Perea, Jocelyn Mullins, Aiyanna Lee-Williams, Aija Andrews.
New Canaan: Campbell Armstrong, Olivia Hunsinger, Kylie Murphy, Leigh Charlton, Ellie Aliapoulios, Sami Stewart, Karlie Bucci.
Norwalk: Asiah Knight, Tatiana Arias, Brianna Fitzgerald, Shayla Thorne, Moriah Ventrella, Chelsey Cerrito, Jackie Harris, Tamoriana Thomas, Sarah St. Surin, Katie Sciglimpaglia.
Ridgefield: Rebecca Lawrence, Jess Camarda, Meaghan O’Hara, Elizabeth Middlebrook, Julia Middlebrook, Grace Goodwin, Courtney Welton, Lizzie Lordi, Rebecca Moroknek, Caroline Curnal, Claire Middlebrook, Cayleigh Tannin, Emma Nelson.
St. Joseph: Jackie Jozefick, Shannon Healey, Ashley Lynch, Megan Robertson, Shannon Grabovski.
Stamford: Tiana England, Alexa Kellner, Marthe Guirand, Mackenzie Brown, Camille Martinez, Brooke Kelly, Andrea O’Connor.
Staples: Alyssa Perry, Gabby Perry, Talia Hendel, Rachel Seideman, Olivia Troy, Sophie Smith, Julia Brower.
Trinity Catholic: Brooke Harrington, Laura Green, Jaz Manolias, Jenna Lefort, Alana Gianokos, Kayla Cheatham, Nefeli Shehaj, Samantha O’Boy, Brittany DeJesus, Sydney Bardsley, Molly Murray.
Trumbull: Alyssa Breunig, Kristina Vetter, Claudia Tucci, Taylor Brown, Victoria Ray, Julie Kecker, Aisling Maguire, Emma Maguire, Ally Szabo.
Westhill: Elizabeth Grosso, Edona Thaqi, Olivia Wise, Gabby Lacuna, Iyanna Lops, Charlotte Kriftcher, Jessica Rubin, Chris Roberts, Kyah Nowlin.
Wilton: Claire Gulbin, Karen Brosko, Sarah Fitzgerald, Taylor Ingerman, Caraline Higgins, Christina Holmgren, Hana Previte, Caylin Cannavino, Meaghan Downey, Emily Tuin, Caroline Sweeny.