The No. 1 girls basketball team in the state was upset Thursday night.
The circumstances around the loss were not so cut and dry.
In the record books, Masuk defeated No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield 36-33.
As it turned out, the entire varsity team for Notre Dame had been suspended prior to the game, forcing the Lancers to start a team exclusively made up of freshmen.
Needless to say, the score caught the attention of many across the state girls basketball world.
No offense to Masuk, but the unbeaten No. 1 team in the state which just beat No. 10 Kolbe Cathedral 78-46 two days before going down to a very young 1-4 Masuk team was more than a little surprising to those following the sport.
“As the head coach and a member of the Notre Dame Fairfield family the administration and I take all of our protocols and school rules very seriously,” Notre Dame coach Maria Conlon said. “A few players were in breach of a school rule/protocol and the administration enforced this breach by benching our varsity team for the game vs. Masuk.”
All the varsity players are expected to be in uniform Friday when the Lancers host Brookfield.
Conlon declined to provide further information. Emails seeking comment to Notre Dame Athletic Director Rob Bleggi and Principal Christopher Cipriano were not returned Friday.
The loss snapped several streaks for Notre Dame:
The Lancers last loss to a SWC opponent was to Bethel in the 2019 SWC semifinals.
Since losing to Bethel, the Lancers had won 24-straight games against SWC opponents in regular and post-season contests combined.
Its last SWC regular-season loss was to Newtown on Feb. 13, 2018.
Notre Dame’s last regular-season loss to an in-state team was Dec. 29, 2018 to New London.
Masuk’s last win over Notre Dame came on Feb. 4, 2011 in a 41-31 victory. Notre Dame beat Masuk 88-35 last year.
For a Masuk team trying to rebuild with a young roster, a win over a team like Notre Dame is an accomplishment no matter the lineup.
“It was clear when they walked in the gym it was not the kids we had scouted. I don’t know why they didn’t have all their players, but they were missing key players,” Masuk fifth-year coach Michael Collins said. “Notre Dame has been on a very good run for a long time. I am excited for our young kids. Something like this shows the kids that we can win games and I hope it gets the team going in the right direction. They have a strong competitive spirit. You never know when your next win will come. Our kids believe they will be good and they keep working to make that come true.”
Masuk has one of the youngest teams in the state, starting two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors.
The one senior on the roster has not yet been cleared to play this season.
Thursday night, Masuk was led by two freshmen with Hannah Fagan scoring 13 points and Natalie Lieto adding 12.
“We are extremely young, but they come to practice every day working on getting better. We played seven kids last night, no seniors and we started two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors,” Collins said. “We think we are building something special here and we have a lot of talent coming up through the younger grades. We want Masuk to get back to the winning tradition it had in the past. We have a lot of work that needs to be done in order to get this program back up to where we think it should be. I am proud of these kids.”
It was not long ago that Masuk was perennially one of the best programs in the state, playing for SWC and state championships.
Masuk won three CIAC Class L State Championships in the 1990s, but has not reached a state championship game since 2001.
The Panthers last won the SWC Tournament in 2004, which culminated a three-year-run as champion.
Notre Dame’sleading scorer on Thursday was freshman Madison Gibbs, who is the sister of junior starting forward Taylor Gibbs, with nine points.
“It is unfortunate our freshmen could not pull off the win against Masuk’s varsity team, but I could not be more proud of the effort and resilience they showed being thrown into that position,” Conlon said. “We will be a better team moving forward because of that experience. Our girls understand how serious these issues are. Tonight it is back to business and realigning our focus on being the best team in the state.”