Girls Basketball

Preview: Norwalk Must Overcome Balanced League To Repeat

Belinda Hunte is one of the returning leaders for Norwalk. (Gregory Vasil)

Norwalk defeated Trinity Catholic for the FCIAC girls basketball title last season, then both went on to win state championships. The Bears finished a perfect season on Naeva Rene’s basket at the buzzer.

Both schools have new coaches and lost top scorers. The Bears have enough returning talent to repeat, but parity rules at the top of the league and there are as many as five teams that open with realistic hopes of displacing Norwalk.

The Favorite

Norwalk. The Bears were hit hard both by graduation and the loss of coach Ricky Fuller in the offseason. Fortunately the transition should go smoothly with the elevation of assistant Evan Kelley.

More problematic will be replacing the depth that allowed Fuller the luxury of making situational substitutions, with a player to fill every role. Jakara Murray-Leach should flourish with more responsibility, while Belinda Hunte is a master of many trades. Carsyn Langhorne stepped up in several big games and will be expected to do more.

After winning league and state titles, the Bears will have a limited margin for error. But they have the personnel that know how to step up in big games.

Trumbull will again count on Cassi Barbato for big baskets.

The Contenders

Staples. The Wreckers have been on the periphery of championship contention and this could be the year they finally break through. They get a big boost with the return of Arianna Gerig, who sat out last year with a torn ACL. She will be one of the league’s top scorers.

Staples’ greatest strength will be numbers. Coach Paco Fabian will be able to rotate players in and out of the lineup, often without a discernible drop in talent. Marley Lopez-Paul had some strong moments a year ago and Marisa Shorrock is coming off a memorable fall for the school’s girls soccer team.

Replacing guard Elle Fair will be the greatest challenge.

Stamford. The Black Knights will be an interesting team to follow. They have one of the best 1-2 punches in guards Megan Landsiedel (12.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 steals) and Jessica Nelson (9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.9 steals). They will create matchup nightmares.

The rest of the lineup is uncertain and will likely dictate how far Stamford goes. On the plus side: coach Diane Burns has a number of returning players. Few will be surprised if she leads the team to its second league title in four years.

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Trumbull. The Eagles have been the most consistent program in the FCIAC the past few years. Their run at a third straight title was derailed by a late-season injury to Cassi Barbato and a first-round conference tournament loss to Ridgefield.

Trumbull recently lost forward Allie Palmeiri, who transferred to Greens Farms Academy. It is a huge talent loss, but team chemistry should be one of the Eagles’ biggest strengths, and has been a hallmark of coach Steve Tobitsch’s best teams.

Barbato is back to lead the way, while the Eagles have seven players returning with varsity experience, including a very strong sophomore class.

The return of Arianna Gerig elevates Staples’ title hopes. (Gregory Vasil)

Ridgefield. The Tigers could finish anywhere in the top five. This looks a lot like their recent teams: a few gym rats surrounded by a number of extremely talented athletes.

Katie Flynn had a strong sophomore season and will be complemented by Kate Wagner. Former Wilton coach Rob Coloney moved back into the area and was hired for a plumb job. He will be able to go deep into his bench. Megan Klosowski and Kelly Chittenden just helped lead the girls soccer team to another big year.

Ridgefield won the league title five years ago and it has the parts to make another strong run.

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Kate Wagner will try and help Ridgefield win its first league title in five years. (Gregory Vasil)

Predicted Order Of Finish

1. Norwalk
2. Staples
3. Stamford
4. Trumbull
5. Ridgefield
6. Danbury
7. Fairfield Ludlowe
8. St. Joseph

Preseason All-FCIAC

First Team

  • Cassi Barbato, Trumbull
  • Arianna Gerig, Staples
  • Megan Landsiedel, Stamford
  • Jakara Murray-Leach, Norwalk
  • Caitlyn Scott, Trinity Catholic

Second Team

  • Katie Flynn, Ridgefield
  • Belinda Hunte, Norwalk
  • Jessica Nelson, Stamford
  • Anna Paulmann, Fairfield Ludlowe
  • Tianna Rogers, Danbury
  • Kate Wagner, Ridgefield

The Lineups

Danbury: Tanisha Cunningham, Tianna Rogers, Kianna Perry, Azriya Baptiste, Chloe Perreault, Vivian Flores, Tenley Wallin, Iyanna Neal.

Darien: Kelly Richter, Gwen Dolce, Lindsay Dimonekas, Aerin Bowman, Hassana Arbubakrr, Shea Dolce, Maggie Ramsay.

Fairfield Ludlowe:  Anna Paulmann, Juliet Bucher, Emma Torello, Laura Herron, Ira Boci, Sophie Lemley.

Fairfield Warde: Carolyn Mills, Aleysha Henry, Teagan Tully, Maya Henry, Toni Lamparski, Grace Conway, Emily Johnson, Julianna Caruso, Riley Kenney, Nhyira Asante.

Brien McMahon: Isabella Dejesus, Quenetta Fearon, Christina Surace, Queanisha McNeill, Kiarra Fortier, Nahla Jenkins, Natasha Guzman, Jacklyn Zerrusen, Alicia Aguilar, Jade Marin, Chloe Mattus.

New Canaan: Riana Afshar, Natalie Plosker, Quinn McKiernan, Jane Charlton, Liz DeMarino, Katie Dunn, Katherine Lisecky, Keaerney McKiernan, Meghan Driscoll.

Norwalk: Carsyn Langhorne, Belinda Hunte, Jakara Murray-Leach.

Ridgefield: Kate Garson, Katie Flynn, Faith Arnold, Megan Klosowski, Kate Wagner, Laura Jennings, Nora McNeece C  Sabrina Grizzaffi  G/F  Rachel Tomasetti G  Cali Steitzl G Cam McClellan F  Claire Tannian F  Bella Giordano C/F  Kelly Chittenden

St. Joseph: Rahmia Johnston, Veronica Lubas, Elizabeth Adzima, McKenna Hedman, Kate Rudini, Kirsten Rodriguez, Erika Stephens, Kayleigh Carson

Stamford: Megan Landsiedel, Jessica Nelson, Dina Merone, Emily Graham, Charlie Karukas, Breanna Jacobs, Madison Lockery, Leonora Lipson, Carly Diamond, Samantha Albert.

Staples: Arianna Gerig, Abby Carter, Kathleen Cozzi, Nicole Holmes, Marisa Shorrock, Alva Nordin, Marley Lopez-Paul, Lexie Moskovit, Sydelle Bernstein.

Ridgefield: Sabrina Grizzaffi, Megan Klosowski, Cameron McClellan, Claire Tannian, Kate Wagner, Kelly Chittenden, Katie Flynn, Kate Garson, Cali Stietzel, Sydney Katz, Cara Sheafe.

Trumbull: Maeve Hampford, Cassie Barbato, Amanda Ruchalski, Grace Lesko, Julia Lindwall, Emi Roberto, Sarah Stolze, Emma Gentry.

Wilton: Molly McLaughlin, Catherine Dineen, Zoe Rappaport, Katie Umphred, Fran Goncalves, Leah Martins, Brooke Bohacs, Caitlin Greeff, Riley Eaton, Ellie Copley, Callie Judelson, Isabella Andjelkovic.

(Teams not listed or with incomplete player lists did not reply to repeated requests for preview information)