Mike Walsh was on vacation in Florida in December when he agreed to take over as coach of the Trinity Catholic girls basketball on an interim basis after Mike Martino unexpectedly stepped down. By the time Walsh returned he had just one practice before the Crusaders’ next game.
Those two hours offered Walsh immediate insight into his personnel.
“I was really impressed by how willing they were to learn,” Walsh recalled. “We worked on man-to-man defense, boxing out. Then we went out and beat a good Staples team.”
It has turned out that Walsh was the final piece to the puzzle of a two-year rebuild that have carried the Crusaders to tomorrow’s Class S championship game against Canton.
This will be Trinity’s first appearance in the final since 2006, which ended a run of four in five years.
The Crusaders are 16-4 since Walsh assumed control. They have rebounded since a close loss to Norwalk in the FCIAC championship game.
Trinity won just two games two years ago. Last season Iyanna Lops and Kyah Nowlin transferred from Westhill, joining point guard Caitlyn Scott to form a strong nucleus.
Still, there was a feeling the team underachieved last season. Enter Walsh, who retired as the school’s boys basketball coach last summer and was prepared to be an assistant this season.
“I wasn’t an assistant for long so I didn’t really have to change my mindset,” Walsh said. “I knew there was a lot of talent on the team and I was looking forward to coaching them.”
Walsh served as a compass for his players, who immediately took to the new coach.
Walsh was able to put together a top staff, headlined by Maryann O’Leary, a long-time assistant to former coach Tom Kriz, Ali Palma and Walsh’s daughter Ali, two past players at the school.
“I think a lot of people make it about me, but I really have great assistant coaches,” Walsh said. “They have been very important.”
Trinity’s biggest win last year was against Canton, in the opening round of the state tournament.
The Warriors are led by guard Abigail Charron and 6-3 center Sarah Bowman.
“We have to worry about the big girl inside and Charron is one of the better players in the state,” Walsh said. “She’s a heady player and they like to run. We have to get back on defense and we have to rebound.”
Of course the Crusaders are going to present their own matchup problems. Lops can play outside and close to the basket. Scott is often the key with her ability to dictate tempo. She will need to limit turnovers on a big court.
The Crusaders often use just five or six players, which was often the case when Walsh coached the boys team. Coaching the girls seems to have revitalized Walsh, who again has spent his days collecting detailed scouting reports on future opponents.
Walsh was insistent at the time that he would only coach the girls through this season. Now he has left the door open about the future.
“I’m really having fun right now,” Walsh said. “I wouldn’t rule out coming back.”