In the second half of the 2019-20 girls basketball season, Stamford lost two seniors, Widline Thomas and Jessica Nelson, to injuries.
That forced coach Diane Burns to turn to a collection of sophomores and freshmen on the court along with the two remaining seniors down the stretch and in the FCIAC and CIAC Class LL State Tournaments.
The Black Knights struggled, losing three of their final five regular season games, the FCIAC quarterfinals to Trumbull in the First Round of the Class LL Tournament to Amity.
The benefit? The young players on the roster got valuable minutes they never would have had the injuries not occurred.
It was not very pretty at the time, but the experience cannot be understated.
Stamford is now starting the youngest lineup Burns has ever rolled out and one of the youngest lineups in the FCIAC along with Norwalk which has no seniors on its roster.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Burns said. “We have one senior on the roster. We start a freshman and sophomore and three juniors. I have never had this young of a team and this many underclassmen who are playing this many minutes.”
There are times this season where the Black Knights have multiple freshmen on the court and they have been blending in well with the returning players.
The results thus far have been positive with the team jumping out to a 4-1 record with the only loss coming on the road against the defending FCIAC champions Ridgefield.
“We have been coming together really well. Especially the freshmen coming in and interacting with the upperclassmen, they have flowed with us through this whole process,” Stamford junior captain Madison Lockery said. “With COVID, everything was different and the freshmen just jumped right in. It has worked really well so far. The freshmen and sophomores are talking to the upperclassmen and working really well together.”
With a disjointed preseason due to COVID-19, it was not immediate but the younger players and returning players got on the same page in no time.
“The first practice was a little iffy and awkward,” Stamford junior captain Charlie Karukas said. “Within a week it was super quick we were working well together and all got to know each other really well.”
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Burns said Lockery and Karukas, both of whom have played on the varsity since they were freshmen, have been instrumental in bringing along the younger players.
“Charlie and Maddie are doing great for us as our returning players who played the most,” Burns said. “Breanna Jacobs is doing well. I have been really impressed with sophomore Sam Albert. She had 12 points in the first half up at Ridgefield. Chloe Sotell has been so steady. She’s a freshman but she has 5-6 assists every game, she had 7 steals (against Westhill), she is always double figures scoring. She’s not playing like a freshman at all. The way she played in the second half of the Westhill game is how she’s looked in all of our games and practices. She’s going to be tough the next few years.”
The biggest key for Stamford has been a commitment to team defense.
Against Westhill last weekend, the Black Knights were all over the Vikings ball handlers, creating turnovers and scoring transition baskets, led by a stellar effort defensively by Sotell.
“Our defensive end has definitely gotten better with the talking and communication,” Lockery said. “Like anything, the more we work together the better we will get on defense. In the beginning of the season it wasn’t there and I see it progressing and getting better. The more we play together, the better we keep getting.”
Burns will be the first to tell you that the team has a long way to go and many ways it can improve but is pleased with the progress.
“As they get more comfortable being together on the floor that poise and composure no matter what the scenario is going to come and be big for this group. They grow up a little bit every game,” Burns said. “It’s been nice. They all like each other and all get along. Sometimes they are too nice and they pass too much. They have to figure out when that extra pass should be made and when it shouldn’t. We have a lot of things that need work. The good thing is, they all get along, they are having fun and it’s a lot of fun to coach them.”