Two longtime boys basketball coaches reached milestone wins within 24 hours of each other last week.
First Coginchaug’s Todd Salva won his 400th game on Thursday against Old Saybrook. Then Windsor’s Ken Smith won No. 600 on Friday against East Hartford in overtime. They are two men who would rather talk about their players, both past and present, instead of their own accomplishments.
“I don’t think about winning games. I think about the guys who did win state championships. I think about the guys who did everything they could when we won the state championships,” Smith said.
They are two coaches of public school programs with significantly different enrollments. Windsor, a Division I team, has been a powerhouse for years in the Central Connecticut Conference under Smith and the Warriors have also won four state championships and made two other finals’ appearances since Smith took over during the 1989-90 season.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” Smith said. “As a public school guy, it’s an honor.”
Salva is one of only two boys basketball coaches in Coginchaug’s history. The first was Wally Camp, who Salva played for and was his mentor for many years.
“I was fully aware of the basketball tradition. I wanted to continue that. It wasn’t easy early on in my career,” said Salva, who spent three seasons at Vinal Tech before coming to Coginchaug, where he is in season No. 29. “In all honesty, coaching has never felt like work. Once it starts to feel like work, that’s when I would make the decision to get out of it. I love being in the gym. These kids are terrific both on and off the court.”
Salva said his favorite time of year is around the holidays. That’s when the alumni return from college or to visit their families. Sometimes, they stop in to see their former coach. Sometimes, they play in the annual alumni game.
“At our last alumni game, players from the 1990s came back (to play) and players from two years ago came back,” Salva said. “It’s so much fun watching them all interact with each other. I’m almost at the point of coaching kids of former players.”
Coaching the son of one of his former players comes next year for the first time, Salva said.
Coginchaug, a Division V team, has won a pair of Shoreline Conference championship (1995 and 2007) and the Blue Devils have been to one state final under Salva — the 2016 Class S final, where Coginchaug was the No. 11 seed.
Both Salva and Smith heard from former players and colleagues alike, congratulating them for the milestones. It was a chance to smell the roses for the two coaches, so to speak, even if they would prefer not to.
“The bottom line is you can’t control winning and losing. That takes care of itself,” Salva said. “I’m a big believer in preparation. We work very hard at trying to develop chemistry. We’re not always successful, and there are other things factored in. But by developing chemistry and working hard, I believe that equates to wins with those two factors alone.”
Beneski passes away
The name Sheila Beneski may not ring a bell, but if you were a coach, a referee or a fan working or attending a big-time game on a given night, chances are you knew who Sheila Beneski was.
Sheila, who passed away last Friday at age 76, and husband Frank of West Suffield would regularly attend a boys basketball game almost every evening, no matter how long the trip was. The couple regularly attended around 125 games per season. That didn’t include either the freshman or junior varsity games that preceded the varsity game.
That’s because the Beneskis regularly were at the school early enough to sit front row, center court, normally opposite the team’s benches. And they regularly were visited before each game by the coaches, the referees, the fans and the media alike.
The 2020 CIAC boys and girls basketball tournaments will be dedicated to the Beneskis.
Sheila Beneski also helped find and develop the Suffield Athletic Hall of Fame.
Funeral services will be held Friday at The Heritage Funeral Home in West Suffield at 9 a.m., followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at Sacred Heart Church in Suffield at 10 a.m. Friends may call at The Heritage Funeral Home, located at 1240 Mountain Road in West Suffield, on Thursday between 2-4 p.m. and 5-7 p.m.
Visit SuffieldFuneralHome.com to provide condolences to the family.
As the FCIAC turns
First, it was Trinity Catholic coming into the season the preseason favorite in the FCIAC with a spot at No. 8 in the preseason top 10 poll.
Then it was Fairfield Ludlowe that went out and won the Fairfield Holiday Tournament for the first time in a decade. Danbury won its first four games and earned a spot in the poll at No. 9.
Then league play began.
Staples was the lone undefeated team in the league after handing Danbury its first loss and beating Trinity Catholic. Then Trumbull handed Staples its first loss last Friday.
Now its Ridgefield’s turn as the lone unbeaten in league play.
So, after nearly five weeks, who is the best team in the FCIAC? Is it Ridgefield, the defending champion? Is it Staples, which was missing its senior point guard, Jake Thaw, in the loss at Trumbull? Is it Fairfield Warde? Ludlowe? Trumbull? New Canaan? Trinity Catholic?
The truth is, there is no clear-cut choice and will probably remain unclear until some time in February.
East Catholic solidified its hold on the No. 1 spot in the latest Register/GameTimeCT Top 10 poll by defeating Stepinac (N.Y.) 70-52 at the HoopHall Classic Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts. But there are 10 other CIAC teams still undefeated as the regular season closes in on the midway point.
They are: Canton (10-0), Capital Prep (11-0), Fitch (9-0), Montville (8-0), Naugatuck (8-0), Norwich Free Academy (9-0), Notre Dame-West Haven (9-0), Prince Tech (8-0), Sacred Heart (7-0) and SMSA (9-0).
There are three potential matchups of unbeatens down the line: Prince Tech at Capital Prep next Monday (Jan. 27) and at Fitch on Jan. 30, Fitch at NFA on Feb. 11 and Naugatuck at Sacred Heart on Feb. 21.