By Dave Ruden
It has been overstated, but if the FCIAC preseason outlook was condensed into a single sentence, it would be: There is Bridgeport Central and a close pack of everyone else.
The first three days did little to change things. As we begin the second week of the season, just five of 19 teams remain unbeaten. Eight are sitting with 1-1 marks and six are still winless; two of those teams, Norwalk and Brien McMahon, have played just once because of byes.
A lot of what happened opening night got debunked two days later. Westhill traveled and won a big game at St. Joseph, then looked sluggish in a home loss to Ridgefield. The Tigers beat Trumbull, which then handed Trinity Catholic its second loss. The Cadets followed their defeat by struggling to defeat Fairfield Warde.
Even the Hilltoppers had to survive a furious fourth-quarter rally on Friday to win at Brien McMahon.
A lot of pronouncements are already being made by fans, but this season is going to closely resemble football, where the storylines are fluid and change from week to week.
Even coaches seem to have differing opinions on the landscape. That is bound to happen when parity abounds.
As we head into holiday tournament play, here are some personal reactions to the comments I’ve heard most often.
— Several coaches have talked about how the FCIAC is loaded this year. Loaded implies teams stacked with great talent. I think the overall skill level will prove to be rather pedestrian, an opinion shared by many other coaches.
Balance so far is being confused for greatness. This will prove as good a season as I can recall for more unpredictable outcomes exactly because there are fewer highly skilled teams. And I am betting most fans will gladly settle for the tradeoff, because there are going to be a paucity of games where teams feel they have no chance of winning.
— Perhaps the two teams that caused the most polarizing views during the preseason were Norwalk and Darien. The Bears had a lot of talent last year, but were hurt by a lack of a reliable point guard. There were too many times the players looked like they were working together for the first time.
One loss to a much-improved Stamford team doesn’t mean the issues haven’t been solved, but the Bears are going to need someone to step up and make it easy for Roy Kane Jr. and Steve Enoch, their two main weapons.
Of greater debate was the state of the Blue Wave, a team optimistic of making a rare FCIAC Tournament appearance. Many coaches have been much more skeptical.
The conference season is just 11 percent over, but losses to Wilton and Fairfield Ludlowe both don’t bode well and could come back to haunt the team by the end of the year. There is greater urgency this weekend for the Blue Wave’s two games in the LaVista Tournament, against Staples and New Canaan, even though they don’t count in the league standings, to prevent a start-of-the-season free fall.
— How many people had the Crusaders 0-2 at this point? Life after Schadrac Casimir is proving even more difficult than expected. A big issue thus far has been one of the team’s long-term strengths: defense.
Of all these points mentioned above, many if not all could be viewed differently by the start of the new calendar year. It is going to be that kind of season.
Strong Start For Fairfield Girls’ Teams
The girls basketball season is an extra week old, and in contrast to the boys right now we are looking at a conference of haves and have-nots. Six teams are 4-0. Six are winless.
Three of the unbeaten —Wilton, Stamford and Westhill — were considered preseason favorites. The Warriors have the most impressive resume so far, with a huge win over Danbury, and they have done it all without Providence-bound center Erica Meyer, who is recovering from an injury.
Stamford has continued to win without its best player, Kelsey Santagata, who is almost ready to return after turning her ankle opening night. Westhill could be the league’s most athletic team.
Trumbull, which was supposed to be a small step behind the leaders, has played well thus far to remain unbeaten and has to be considered in the mix.
The biggest surprises so far have come from the two Fairfield schools. Ludlowe and Warde are both unbeaten. Each has relied so far on balanced play. Neither has yet to defeat an upper echelon opponent, but right now there is cause for cautious optimism.
Warde coach Dave Danko was particularly high on his team as a sleeper during the preseason.
And we haven’t even mentioned the Hatters, the two-time defending champions and a preseason favorite. The margin between them and the top of the league may be thinner than believed.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ridgefield, which was considered a contender but has started the season 0-4. Granted, all the defeats have come against teams currently unbeaten, so the Tigers may be poised for a run, but they have a hole to extricate themselves from.
The Starting 5
Bridgeport Central (2-0). No reason to get caught up in that fourth quarter against McMahon on Friday.
Ridgefield (2-0). I’m not sure the Tigers are the second best team in the league, but they were the most impressive of the four teams I’ve seen so far, and with their fundamentals I don’t expect many bad losses.
Greenwich (2-0). The CJ Byrd-Alex Wolf connection has worked well.
St. Joseph (1-1). Would have liked to seen a better showing by the Cadets against Warde, but there is still a lot of talent here.
Westhill (1-1). If the Vikings are going to be an elite team, they are going to have to show more maturity handling success. They could not have been flatter against Ridgefield coming off the St. Joseph win.
Wilton (4-0). Big win over Danbury. Imagine what happens when Meyer returns. Playing well without her may actually prove beneficial down the road
Danbury (3-1). Hard to move the Hatters far down based on a close loss to the league’s hottest team.
Westhill (4-0). Athleticism and defense abound, and Tyler Evans is off to a great start.
Trumbull (4-0). Maybe it is best not to write off so quickly a team that has been to three straight league finals.
Stamford (4-0). The Black Knights? Warde? Ludlowe? They are all really 5A, 5B, 5C. We will keep the peace in Fairfield for now. Besides, Stamford has been winning without Santagata.