Girls Basketball

Norwalk Uses Balanced Effort To Reach Class LL Final For First Time In 19 Years

Norwalk’s Ashley Wilson goes up for a shot. (Mark Conrad)

FAIRFIELD — The Norwalk girls basketball team has operated like disparate machine parts humming in unison to produce victories as the finished product.

The operation was very much on display for tonight’s Class LL semifinal against Hamden. There was Belinda Hunte running the offense and setting up her teammates for easy baskets. Sanaa Boyd playing smothering defense. Naeva Rene owning the boards. And Ashley Wilson hitting long rainbow shots that can bring rain.

It all led the Bears to the Sun.

Riding the myriad contributions, top-seeded Norwalk held off Hamden, 62-54, at Fairfield Warde to reach the championship for the first time since winning the title in 2000. All of the state final games will be held this weekend at Mohegan Sun.

Norwalk’s Naeva Rene battles Hamden’s Rebecca Oberman-Levine and Yariliz Santiago for a loose ball. (Mark Conrad)

The Bears, now 27-0, will face No. 2 New London, which defeated Wilbur Cross in tonight’s other semifinal.

“Every game it’s somebody doing something different and that’s the definition of a team,” Norwalk coach Ricky Fuller said. “They’ve been building that way all year. Undefeated? No coach ever thinks they’re going undefeated. It’s just a blessing and these girls work hard and they get the results in the end.”

Hunte led a balanced attack with 18 points and set up her teammates for a number of easy baskets. Rene scored 16 points and put forth a monstrous effort on the boards.

Norwalk’s Jakara Murray-Leach takes a shot over Hamden’s Rebecca Oberman-Levine. (Mark Conrad)

“I had a lot. I just had to jump higher than the girl next to me to get all the rebounds,” Rene said with a smile.

Wilson scored eight of her 14 points in the final quarter.

“We just all came together and played as a team to win and go to Mohegan Sun,” Rene said. “It feels great to finally know that our team can make it and get there and try to win.”

Norwalk led the entire game, but its one shortcoming, foul shooting, made for a few late anxious moments. The Bears, who led by 17 points less than 30 seconds into the fourth quarter, made just nine of 21 free throws in the period.

Fourth-seeded Hamden (24-3) mounted a furious comeback and got within 59-54 on a layup by Taniyah Thompson with 27 seconds left.

The Bears’ Anaijah Morgan puts pressure on Hamden’s Rebecca Oberman-Levine. (Mark Conrad)


Hunte was fouled and missed both shots. But Rene scored on a putback, was fouled and completed a three-point play to secure the win.

“I was thinking we just had to win this game and I don’t care how but I ended up putting it in the basket,” Rene said.

Norwalk ended up 14 of 32 from the line.

“It makes me nervous sometimes when we get a lead,” Fuller said. “It’s like we want to give a team the chance to come back. As long as we win in the end that’s all that matters.”

Ashley Wilson grabs a loose ball for Norwalk. (Mark Conrad)

Asya Brandon scored 21 points — 12 in the fourth quarter — for the Green Dragons. Makaela Johnson, who suffered a cut finger in the opening minute and did not return until midway through the second quarter, added 11 points.

But with Boyd shadowing her, Thompson was held to 10 points.

“She’s the best defender in the state,” Fuller said about Boyd. I’ve been telling people all year. People are always looking at offense, offense, offense, but if you have a good lockdown defender like we have you can go against anybody in the state. She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t going to back down. She did a good job today.”

Norwalk’s Serenity Mayhew takes a shot in the paint. (Mark Conrad)

Hunte said containing Thompson was a point of emphasis.

“We knew they were a good team,” Hunte said. “We knew their best player, Taniyah Thompson, we had to shut her down. We did great at that. Sanaa’s our best defender.”

And now the Bears are a win away from perfection.

“It has been a really good season and hopefully it ends on a positive note,” Fuller said.

Norwalk’s Jakara Murray-Leach tries to steal the ball from Hamden’s Sarah Streete. (Mark Conrad)