The FCIAC girls basketball tournament starts in 25 days, and for the fourth straight year there remains a great amount of uncertainty as teams jockey for position. While the boys race likely will come down to the final day of the regular season, the eight girls entrants could be settled much sooner. After that comes a tricky puzzle.
Right now the only difference between Trumbull and Ridgefield is five points, and thus one game in the standings. The Eagles are the lone unbeaten team after their 40-35 win over the Tigers. Behind them, just one-half game separates the current seeds 3 through 6. If the season ended today, preseason favorite Fairfield Warde would be in the No. 8 position. The Mustangs would be quite a prize for the regular-season champion if there is no movement.
As we continue to make our way through the labyrinth, here are some observations:
Five is better than one. Trumbull and Ridgefield have established themselves at this point as the favorites to win the title, though the margin between them and the other top contenders is not great. What the Eagles and Tigers have in common is the absence of a true superstar. Instead, they rely on an ensemble to succeed.
The Eagles’ Claudia Tucci is one of the league’s best players, but she is not the kind who completely takes over a game. There is no one in the league that truly fills that role this year. But while Tucci is going to be the player Trumbull wants taking the shot in a big spot, Taylor Brown, Aisling Maguire and Julie Keckler are capable double-figure scorers, while Victoria Ray is the quarterback.
It would be difficult to pick the Tigers’ most valuable player. Caroline Curnal? Meaghan O’Hara? Grace Goodwin? They have been the leading scorers, while twins Julia and Elizabeth Middlebrook, respectively, take care of the ballhandling and inside duties. They may not always stand out in the box scores, but their roles ultimately are no less important.
Curnal is FCIAC’s most improved player. It will be hard to single out individuals for postseason awards, but coaches I have spoken to agree it is hard to dispute that Curnal is the most improved player. She went from a supporting role a year ago and is now one of the league’s best players, a legitimate All-FCIAC candidate. Having another scorer stretches defenses and has made it easier for both O’Hara and Goodwin. Curnal’s emergence is a big reason for the Tigers’ current position.
So who is the league’s most valuable player? One thing that is common between the boys and girls this winter: there are a lot of similarities between the top players in the league. Tucci? Norwalk’s Asiah Knight? Fairfield Warde’s Daja Polk or Iliana Krasniqi? The pick here is for Stamford’s Alexa Kellner, a Division I talent following, in a different way, the footsteps of Tiana England as her team’s leader. Kellner is going to have to continue to play big for the Black Knights to defend their title.
Marthe Guirand is the wildcard player. This one comes from another league coach but is true. The one player who could have a big role in changing her team’s fortunes is Guirand, the Black Knights’ center. Stamford is still adjusting to the loss of point guard Tiana England, not so much for her scoring but the way she created open looks for her teammates. Guirand has done a lot of damage off the boards, but it would be interesting to see the matchup problems she could cause if she was also used as an option in half-court sets. She could be an ingredient as the Black Knights attempt to defend their title. Stamford lost to both Trumbull and Ridgefield in back to back games, but each was close and it has the goods to repeat.
Can Fairfield Warde get back in the title chase? The Mustangs thought they would win a trophy or two starting three years ago, but have been hurt by injuries to key players. A preseason darling, they lost center Shania Osborne to a knee injury in their second game, igniting a four-game losing streak during a tough non-league schedule coach Dave Danko set up to prepare his players for the playoffs. Osborne is back in a limited role and Warde has won six of its last seven games. With Daja Polk and Iliana Krasniqi, the Mustangs remain strong. We will get a good read on them in two weeks, when they play Stamford and Trumbull.
Danbury is back. After a few off years following a long stretch as a perennial power, the Hatters are back in contention with the third-best record. Right now Jackie DiNardo along with Trumbull’s Steve Tobitsch are the top two candidates here for coach of the year. Danbury still has to play most of the league’s top teams down the stretch.
Watch out for Norwalk. Looking for a sleeper to disrupt the league tournament? Watch out for the Bears, who are getting a strong season out of center Asiah Knight and have veteran leadership from Jackie Harris and Sarah St. Surin. A win two weeks ago over Warde enhanced their credentials. Greenwich, Danbury, Stamford and Ridgefield still await them.