Notre Dame-Fairfield girls’ basketball looked to be on the precipice of a dominant run last season with a talented roster consisting mostly of underclassmen and a state title in reach before COVID hit.
The undefeated Lancers won 24 games in state and claimed the SWC championship with a 70-40 victory over Newtown.
With just two games between Notre Dame-Fairfield and the Class L championship, tournaments were canceled and the season abruptly ended.
Now with the CIAC’s announcement to move forward with winter sports, Notre Dame-Fairfield and other teams could take the court once again as early as Feb. 8 for games, the first time in 11 months.
“It is very exciting,” Notre Dame-Fairfield coach Maria Conlon said. “We are just happy to get out there together and for these girls to finally get to play the game they love so much. We had a Zoom call and everybody is in good spirits and pumped to get back out there again.”
The Lancers will return senior captain MacQuairre Stone-Folmar and GameTimeCT All-State selection Aizhanique Mayo after losing captain Yamani McCollough, who transferred to Putnam Science Academy over the summer.
“I think we will look different in a couple ways,” Conlon said. “We have a couple of girls that have transferred in, we have 13 freshmen coming out so we will look different, but our style won’t really change with the bulk of our starters returning.”
Notre Dame-Fairfield will likely remain at the top of the pack, but for the second year in a row, won’t be able to compete for a State Title.
“I think the person I feel most for is Mac,” Conlon said. “She is the one senior that plays a lot of minutes and last year she also lost her spring season. They feel like they should be defending something this year, but we are trying to keep it all in perspective. We’ll get some sort of postseason experience, but it is what it is.”
Shortly after her team’s undefeated run was cut short, MacQuairre Stone-Folmar learned that there would be no softball season as well.
“Last year in those moments when we found out, it was devastating,” Stone-Folmar said. “It was a shock, we didn’t expect that to happen, but in hindsight it was probably smart that they were canceled considering what’s happening now.”
Though Stone-Folmar is primarily a softball player, she will assume a bigger role this winter than in previous basketball seasons.
“Mac was a really good sophomore and arguably was one of our best players in the last year,” Conlon said. “What she had the opportunity to do is really work on individual development. I think she can really emerge as a leader, we need her to be more vocal this year. She traditionally is a softball player but that leadership transfers over very easy in basketball.”
Ten months later, Stone-Folmar and her squad are grateful to have a season at all.
“If there is anything that we have learned in the last year or so, it is that you can’t take anything for granted,” Conlon said. “My philosophy is we are coming to work every day and working on getting better.”
That philosophy began to set in during an offseason in which the Lancers worked to improve team chemistry while holding out for a winter season.
“This offseason was very important to our team, to be able to develop tight bonds so when we get on the court we will know each other and be good to compete,” Stone-Folmar said. “We were staying together and keeping the mindset that we would have a season and to work towards that. Our chemistry is 100% better this year.”
On top of improvements with camaraderie, Conlon expects her team’s skill level to improve as it focuses on getting into game shape.
“From a basketball standpoint I think we are going to see that these kids have gotten a lot better this offseason,” Conlon said. “This obviously looks different from a typical season, but I think in the first three weeks we will probably focus on conditioning, especially with the masks.”
Among the players who are expected to improve is Mayo, who is coming off a phenomenal sophomore campaign.
“I am excited that we are able to play and they didn’t cancel the season,” Mayo said. “Last year was tragic knowing that it all had to come to an end, but now we’re back in business and ready to play.”
Mayo will look to continue her rise as one of the top players in the state.
“It is kind of tough that we won’t be able to fight for a state championship because we have worked hard for it,” Mayo said. “This year the motivation will be that we are playing together and hopefully win the SWC again.”
Despite the disappointments the adjusted schedule brings, even members of arguably the state’s top team are focusing on the positives.
“Coming into this year we are just fortunate to get back on the court again,” Stone-Folmar said. “Even though we won’t have a state tournament, we are going to make the best of our situation. I can’t wait to get out and battle with my team and coaches. This year the model is don’t take anything for granted because nothing is guaranteed.”