The most important decision by an FCIAC girls basketball coach this season took place in early January, during a week off in Stamford’s schedule. The Black Knights had just dropped consecutive games to Ridgefield and Trumbull.
There was no panic: the defeats were by a combined seven points to the teams that would finish as the top two seeds in the conference tournament. But Black Knights coach Diane Burns recognized what many others had: the absence of a true point guard was hindering the defending league and Class LL champions against elite teams.
So Burns inserted freshman Megan Landsiedel into the starting lineup, essentially giving her the keys to the car.
Stamford has not lost a conference game since, and will head into tomorrow’s semifinal game with Ridgefield riding a 12-game in-state winning streak, including Saturday’s 66-42 quarterfinal win over Danbury.
Landsiedel has played like a seasoned veteran. More importantly, her presence has allowed several of her teammates to return to more comfortable roles. It is one reason many people feel the third-seeded Black Knights have become the favorites in an evenly balanced Final Four.
“Megan makes excellent decisions with the basketball and she has an excellent basketball IQ, so she’s looking to move the ball first,” Burns said.
Landsiedel is averaging 8 points and 5 assists per game. More importantly, she has filled the biggest void left by the graduation of star Tiana England, the need for a reliable playmaker.
“We wanted to see how she did without putting pressure on her right away,” Burns said of the reason Landsiedel opened the season coming off the bench. “It wasn’t necessary to start her right away. We had a bunch of kids returning with a lot of experience.”
But Brooke Kelly was out of position at the point and it neutralized her strengths.
“It gives Brooke the opportunity to look to score first, and that’s more her mentality,” Burns said.
Camille Martinez, the 3-point threat, again started getting the open shots she had a year ago, and selflessly volunteered to come off the bench as the sixth man, providing instant offense. The move has also accentuated the Black Knights’ height advantage, with leading scorer Alexa Kellner and 6-footers Marthe Guirand and Andrea O’Connor.
Stamford’s depth was perhaps best evident against the Hatters. With Kellner sidelined with the flu, Kelly Jagodzinski stepped up and scored a career-high 17 points.
“Kelly was left wide open and everyone knew get her the ball and she just knocked down her shots,” Burns said.
While Kellner is the most dangerous player, six Black Knights are averaging at least 7 points.
Landsiedel will now have to continue her strong play as the Black Knights (17-4) take on second-seeded Ridgefield (17-4) in the first game of tomorrow’s doubleheader. The Tigers ended Stamford’s 17-game winning streak on Jan. 4, 43-39. Junior Caroline Curnal has emerged as one of the league’s best players, and usually shares top scoring honors with Grace Goodwin and Meaghan O’Hara. Twins Julia and Elizabeth Middlebrook take care of the ballhandling and inside responsibilities, respectively.
“The playoffs are fun,” Burns said. “As much pressure as there is if you lose, they are also fun. Now you’re playing for something rather than just the 20 games of the regular season. And everyone does embrace their role.”
In the second game, top-seeded Trumbull takes on No. 4 Fairfield Warde. The Eagles’ only loss came to Warde 10 days ago, 54-53. They rely on stingy defense, the scoring of Claudia Tucci and joint contributions. No team is better at taking away an opponent’s strengths.
In tomorrow’s case, that means containing the speed of Warde point guard Daja Polk, the open looks by Iliana Krasniqi and the second-chance opportunities from Shania Osborne.
Burns said now that her players have solved their internal puzzle, the focus is back on defending a title, which could mean avenging their lone two league losses.
“We were trying to figure out who was best at what and what role they were going to be filling,” Burns said. “It got messy at times but now everyone is focused and seeing what we’re capable of. Last year we had no idea what to expect. This team has great chemistry. They are a lot of fun to be around and care about each other just like last year.”