WESTPORT — There was a hint of irony when the FCIAC girls basketball schedule was released, with Staples and Greenwich paired to open the season. The teams were supposed to meet in the Class LL semifinals last March until the remainder of the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus.
With schools around the state postponing games yesterday because of a forecast for snow, the Wreckers and the Cardinals finally had the floor to themselves, this time just appreciative at having the opportunity to play following a six-week delay.
Both teams were without several key players from last season’s run. Staples lost Arianna Gerig to graduation while the Cardinals were without Mackenzie Nelson, who transferred to St. Luke’s.
The Wreckers were armed with more returning talent tonight, and that ultimately was the difference in a 61-40 victory. There were no fans and a facemask break at the middle of each quarter, but there were more familiar sights, like Staples’ defensive pressure and ability to work the ball to open players.
“It took us a little bit to get the cobwebs out because we’re all nervous coming into the first game of our senior season,” said Marley Lopez-Paul, the most credentialed of the Wreckers’ nine upperclassmen. “We weren’t even sure we were going to have a season. And then we just really started playing as a team. Knowing the defense, knowing the offense and staying together, and that’s what really got us going in the second quarter.”
Trailing by 16-13 with six and one half minutes left in the first half, due in large part to sloppy ball handling, the Wreckers went on a 16-2 run, led by Lexie Moskovit and Alva Nordin, each elevated into more significant roles this season.
An 11-0 run at the start of the final quarter allowed the Wreckers to put the final stamp on their first win in nearly 11 months.
“I think we’re a very well rounded team and that’s why I told everybody I’m very excited about this season,” Staples coach Paco Fabian said. “We’ve got some people who can score and it’s going to come from different people every night. We’re an older team this year.”
Moskovit, who hit a pair of 3-pointers, scored a career-high 16 points to lead Staples, while Nordin, who also made a pair of 3s, and Lopez-Paul each finished with 14 points.
Lopez-Paul did all her scoring in the second half, dominating inside and hitting midrange jumpers.
“We’re just going to play team basketball,” Lopez-Paul said. “We don’t have a standout star like with Ari last year. We’re just going to pass it around, everyone is going to touch the ball, everyone is going to get their shots up and get their rebounds. That’s what’s going to be the difference. I really trust every single girl on this court to be able to score.”
Both coaches agreed too much has happened since they were last supposed to meet to have that lingering as an unspoken storyline.
“There’s too much turnover for both teams,” Fabian said. “We were just so excited to be back playing basketball that once the whistle started you forgot about that stuff. It was just really exciting to feel normal for an hour and a half.”
The Cardinals were hit hard both by graduation and the loss of Nelson, which was rumored throughout the second half of last season. Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez now finds herself in a rebuilding mode, but was able to take away some positives.
Sophia Sergio hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points, while Kristin Riggs had a strong second half, when she put up 10 of her 12 points. Camilla Jablonski did a little bit of everything.
“I was overall very proud of our team and the way they handled the pressure from essentially a veteran team,” Hernandez said. “They were a semifinalist team and they have a lot of returners. For the most part we handled that pressure but there were those times there were young mistakes, inexperienced mistakes. And we just got flustered. Despite the loss I feel good about what we were able to take away from this game.”
Staples returns home Friday for a key game against Danbury. Another slow start could prove more costly.
“The same thing happened in a scrimmage the other day,” Fabian said. “The same thing happened in the first quarter and then our second quarter was great. Sometimes you have slow starting teams and we just have to figure out in practice the way to turn that around so it doesn’t keep happening this season.”