New coaches, new divisions and more highlight this year’s journey to Mohegan Sun in girls basketball:
5 STORYLINES TO WATCH
For better or worse, the CIAC has added a fifth division to girls basketball. In May, the CIAC Girls Basketball Committee voted to implement a five-division format for the tournament on a one-year trial. There is not a Division-1 similar to the boys, but rather, in addition to the existing LL, L, M and S divisions, there is a newly created MM division. Some teams were moved up due to success in past tournaments. Others moved down, especially from Class L into Class MM, including the defending Class L champion Hillhouse. The new divisions will not come into play until the state tournaments, which will look quite different than in the previous years.
Norwalk went unbeaten last season, capping it off with a comeback win over New London in the Class LL championship game. Coach Ricky Fuller resigned in the offseason, handing the reins to Evan Kelley. Kelley inherits a team which lost three key players to graduation, but brings back a plethora of talent, including junior forward Jakara Murray Leach and seniors Carsyn Langhorn, Belinda Hunte and Anaijah Morgan. Norwalk should contend for both the FCIAC and Class LL championships, once again.
No one conference has dominated the state tournaments in recent years, with champions coming from all over the state. The SCC currently has the longest streak of champions with winners the last three seasons. The Shoreline is next with winners the past two seasons. In the last three seasons, teams from the CCC, ECC, FCIAC, NCCC, SCC, SWC and the Shoreline have won championships. That number is likely to increase with the addition of a fifth division to the state tournament.
Hand’s run to the Class L title game last winter was unexpected after the team went 9-11 in the regular season. Unexpected because the team had so many underclassmen on the roster. Now, the team comes into this season with higher expectations and the Tigers just may have the lineup to back it up. Senior guard Sara Wohlgemuth is one of the top players in the state and she is joined by a talented group, including fellow senior Summer Adams and a slew of juniors and sophomores vying for time.
After five seasons, three state final appearances and one state championship, Holly Misto stepped down as coach of New London this past offseason. New London was an incredible 123-12 in Misto’s time as coach with 25 wins in every season from 2016-19. In 2017 they finished as the No. 1 team in the GametimeCT.com Top 10 Poll. To say the least, those are big shoes for new coach David Kohn to fill. The team lost a ton of quality players to graduation, but does bring back All-State caliber players in sophomore Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick and junior Jayden Burns.
10 GAMES TO WATCH
New London at East Haven, Dec. 17, 6 p.m.: Let’s get the season going in style with a terrific ECC-SCC crossover game between two perennial state-title contenders
Holy Cross at St. Paul, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.: It is kind of a shame this game is the season opener as it might be better played in February. Janessa Gonzalez of St. Paul leads a talented group seeking NVL glory.
Norwalk at Wilbur Cross, Dec. 27, 3 p.m.: FCIAC-SCC matchup made more fun because the father of new Norwalk coach Evan Kelley, was a star player at Wilbur Cross.
Cromwell at Canton, Jan. 4, 5:30 p.m.: With Canton moving up from Class S, these are two of the top contenders in Class M facing off in this Shoreline-NCCC crossover.
Hand at Hillhouse, Jan. 15, 7 p.m.: Rematch of the Class L championship game won by Hillhouse. First of two meetings between the SCC rivals.
Trumbull at Stamford, Jan. 21, 7 p.m.: This game has become one of the best on the FCIAC schedule every season. Both teams are league title contenders once again.
Notre Dame-Fairfield at Newtown, Jan. 23, 7 p.m.: Both teams return a ton of talent and are front-runners not just in the SWC but in the state.
New London at East Lyme, Feb. 4, 7 p.m.: Is East Lyme ready to ascend in the ECC? New London will have something to say about it despite taking hard graduation losses.
Berlin at Bristol Eastern, Feb. 6, 6:45 p.m.: This one features two of the CCC’s best players in Bristol Eastern guard Ciara Collins and Lyzi Litwinko, a guard from Berlin.
Nonnewaug at Northwestern, Feb. 11, 7 p.m.: Two of the favorites in the Berkshire League meet for the second time in the season in a game which could be for the top spot in the league.