Take a look through the box scores for the Norwalk girls basketball team and one thing stands out.
Almost every night, a different player is leading the team in scoring.
In the CIAC Class LL semifinals it was junior Belinda Hunte with 18 points and senior center Naeva Rene with 16. In the quarterfinals, freshman Serenity Mayhew led the way with 12 with senior Ashley Wilson scoring 11.
Sophomore Jakara Murray-Leach was the MVP of the FCIAC tournament after leading in scoring in the semis and finals.
The point is, Norwalk does not have one superstar it turns to when it needs points but rather a collection of talented players willing to do their jobs on any given night, and if the points fall to them, so be it.
“That’s the essence of a team, is to get something out of every class and mix them together. We’re even throwing the freshman (Mayhew) in there and she’s giving us good minutes,” Norwalk coach Ricky Fuller said. “I give credit to the girls for working in the offseason, playing AAU and wanting to do something special this year. When the current seniors were juniors and the current juniors were sophomores and we saw how they could mix it up and get into the varsity games, we knew we had a good supporting cast around the core.”
That balance has the No. 1-seeded Bears on the cusp of completing an unbeaten regular season.
Norwalk will face No. 2 New London in the CIAC Class LL championship game Saturday at 3 p.m. at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.
The team is anchored by the senior trio of Wilson, Rene and Sanaa Boyd, with underclassmen filling in around them.
Having talent among the younger players has made the seniors’ jobs easier this season.
“It helps a lot,” Wilson said. “They’re very talented and most of our team are younger girls. They’ve stepped up in games and practices.”
The team spreads around the ball but also put forth a tremendous team effort defensively with all the players buying in to the program on that side of the ball.
In the semifinals that meant holding in check Hamden’s D-I duo of Taniyah Thompson and Makaela Johnson, which the Bears did with aplomb.
The heart of the defense is Boyd, who checked Thompson, holding her to 10 points.
“Defense has become a major part of our game,” Boyd said. “I know people say I’m the best defender but if it wasn’t for (my teammates) I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I’ve done.”
While Fuller knows the team is succeeding because of the depth across grades, it is the seniors making the most difference.
“The senior class we have now have always been a good class and the three starters we have now are the core,” Fuller said. “In Ashley (Wilson) and Sanaa (Boyd), you have two basketball players and in Naeva (Rene) just a great athlete who developed over the years. Every year at our banquet, (Rene) gets most improved player. She is a very coachable kid and wants to learn and wants to get better.”
Being named most improved player every year is an acknowledgment of the hard work Rene has put in during the season and in the summer with her AAU coaches.
“It means I’m doing my job,” Rene said. “I’m doing something to get things done to get better every day.”
If all the Bears do their job for one more game, the team will bring home the first state title in 19 years.
Who will win the 2019 Class LL Girls Basketball Championship?
No. 1 Norwalk (27-0)
No. 2 New London (25-2)
Total Response: 469 Votes