Look at last year’s overall record and you would guess it would be one to forget for Cheshire Academy. The ’Cats went 2-23 in head coach Jim McCarthy’s first season as head coach.
“It’s hard to go through a losing season, but you still need to focus on competing and focus on smaller victories within the game,” McCarthy said. “As frustrating as it may be for players to have gone through that, for us, you learn from it and that has helped this year.”
You’d think getting kids to come play there might be a problem after enduring such a season. Truth is, it wasn’t: McCarthy has 11 new players on the roster. And Cheshire Academy has turned it around at 9-7 and in the hunt for a postseason berth.
Among them were two players from the area: Aidan Godfrey, a 6-foot-8 center from Cheshire, and Cole Wissink, who as a freshman helped lead Amity to the 2018 CIAC Division II state championship final.
Godfrey was an All-Area selection for the Register last season. He is averaging 11.3 points for the ‘Cats.
“Our talent level has certainly increased, which is always the first step,” McCarthy said. “This is their first experience, so they don’t know 2-23. They are trying to have a good season and help their college opportunities.”
Godfrey, who reclassified as a junior and will also play baseball in the spring, had shoulder surgery last August. McCarthy said he is garnering interest from both Patriot and Ivy League schools for basketball.
“He is skilled, tough around the basket and can rebound,” McCarthy said. “The first game he played, the starting front line for Hotchkiss were all going to Division I schools. That’s why he came here, to put himself in that position to play against those type of guys on a regular basis.”
North Haven’s Ethan Okwuosa, also a junior, is one of the holdovers from last year. He is averaging 12.5 ppg. and has offers from Quinnipiac and Mount St. Mary’s, according to McCarthy.
“He’s a great kid and a great student. He’s very talented, wants to be coached and get better,” McCarthy said. “Last year was a big adjustment for him. This year, he has kind of flourished and has some Division I offers. The ceiling is high for him.”
Much like he did at Amity, Wissink, a reclassified sophomore, is impacting the ’Cats on both ends. “He’s playing against post-grads and 18-year-old kids. He defends multiple positions and with both his shooting and offensive skills, he has made a significant strides,” McCarthy said.
Cheshire Academy is in the Class AA division in the NEPSAC. That includes Cushing Academy and Worcester Academy, along with South Kent and Masters. There are 14 teams. The top eight qualify for the playoffs.
Most of this month’s games will be against division competition. The top eight seeds will be announced on March 1.
“Every game we play in the month of February will have to do with making the playoffs. That’s why I wanted to coach here and why, hopefully, kids want to come here,” McCarthy said.
ST. JOSEPH BACK IN THICK OF FCIAC RACE
Kevin Wielk knew what he wanted to do when he took over at St. Joseph in the summer of 2018 — return the program to prominence.
That takes time, but last season was a good first step as the Cadets won 11 games during the regular season and reached the CIAC Division IV state semifinals. St. Joseph has already won nine of its first 11 games this season.
“I wanted to get these guys to play hard and buy into our system. Good things will happen if they believe in themselves and trust in each other,” Wielk said. “We want to build off of last year and use that as motivation that we almost got there (to the final).”
Wielk is a St. Joseph alum, having played for former longtime coach Vito Montelli, graduating in 1995. He was an assistant coach at several places, the last at Albertus Magnus College, a Division III powerhouse the last decade under coach Mitch Oliver.
The Cadets returned two starters, Paul Fabbri and Jason James, along with some key reserves, which has provided the depth the Cadets need to contend.
“Coach (Montelli) has been by (practice) usually once a week. I also stay in touch with Mitch. He comes to our games,” Wielk said.
The Cadets are one of several teams in contention for the FCIAC regular-season championship. And they will have a say in it with the likes of Fairfield Ludlowe, Ridgefield, Staples, Trumbull and Fairfield Warde still left to play. They have moved up to Division III for the state tournament this season.
“It’s going to be a grind,” Wielk said.
MAKING SOME POSTSEASON ‘NOISE’
With a 57-54 win last Tuesday at East Hampton, Hale-Ray qualified for the Division V state tournament. It’s the first postseason berth for the Little Noises since the 2010-11 season.
“Obviously, getting the eighth win, they knew how important that was for this program. Some of the kids have been talking about it since middle of last year. They put in the offseason work to make this happen. The kids wanted to be a playoff team and they deserved to have that happen for them,” Hale-Ray coach Corey Zdunczyk told middlesexcountysports.com.
Seven of Hale-Ray’s victories have come on the road. That includes wins over North Branford and Haddam-Killingworth.