BETHEL—The season was at a crossroads for the Bethel girls basketball team. A disappointing fourth quarter in a loss to Newtown dropped the Wildcats’ record to 4-5, having completed a brutal stretch against the other top teams in the SWC without much success.
That seems like light years ago now.
The Wildcats will enter Friday’s SWC playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams. They wrapped up the regular season with a 42-19 victory over Weston, their 11th straight, and earned the No. 4 seed.
Bethel will play host to No. 5-seeded Pomperaug in the SWC quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m.
Defense has guided Bethel’s surge back up the standings. The Wildcats (15-5) have allowed under 30 points per game during the streak.
“I wasn’t worried but I wasn’t sure how to quite make a connection with this team,” said Bethel coach Anderson Rawlins. “In the past I’ve had seniors and juniors who have been in all those big moments and situations. Experience is one of the biggest tools and getting these kids that in the beginning, and learning from it, was important.”
Junior anchor Maranda Nyborg is once again playing at an All-SWC level to lead the Wildcats. Seniors Gabi Mendonca and Natasha Redmond, and juniors Vicky Gracy and Mia Prazeres have stepped into key roles this year.
“I think they believe, they finally bought in,” said Rawlins. “At the beginning of our season we had tough stretches; we had stretches of greatness and we had times where we went rogue and did our own thing. I think now we’re starting to trust in the system, trust in the process. They’re starting to play for each other.”
Freshmen Brooke Lacey and Ruby Ackerman show the future is bright for a program that’s used to being in the top four of the league.
“I was always confident in them because they work hard, come in every day and play with us,” Mendonca said. “I know they’re capable, they can do anything they put their mind to.”
Bethel’s biggest win among the 10 came Jan. 24 when it traveled to Pomperaug and came away with a 43-37 win. That was the Panthers’ only defeat in 10 games too and the pair might face off again in the first round of the playoffs.
“That was a huge confidence-booster,” Mendonca said. “We knew going into that game that it was going to be tough, but when we pulled out that win and when we play together, we don’t think anyone can stop us now.”
The Wildcats have stressed playing together as a team and for one another, a mentality that Rawlins has preached since taking the helm. Bethel — which has gone 48-11 the last three regular seasons — won the SWC title in 2017 and recent results across the league provide hope it’s anyone’s title to chase beginning Friday.
“It’s the same thing we preach all the time and that’s defense,” Rawlins said. “If we play defense the way we’re capable of and play for each other I think we can matchup well with just about any team. We’ve got great players in Maranda, Gabi, Vicky, Mia and Brooke and I think with those five and our bench we’ll be a tough out for anyone.”