Veteran Derby girls basketball coach Dave Cheverella, now in his 20th year, has been to the state tournament before. But none of the current players on the Red Raiders roster have been to the postseason — in any sport.
Reaching the playoffs is something well within Derby’s grasp this year. The Red Raiders are 5-4 and need to win three more games to qualify in Class S.
“We all talk about how they never reached the tournament in any of the sports,” Cheverella said. “We have girls who also play soccer, softball, and they’ve never been. It’s something I’ve experienced before, but it’s something we would like for them to experience.”
Derby has been close recently, finishing 7-13 in both 2015 and 2014. The Red Raiders are in search of their first postseason bid since 2010. Cheverella didn’t exactly know how his club would fare this year after going just 5-15 last season.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Cheverella said. “I thought maybe 2 or 3 wins to 8, 9, 10 if things went our way.”
Derby has won three in a row since losing three straight. During the current winning streak, the Red Raiders earned hard-fought victories over Ansonia and Oxford by a combined six points. The Ansonia game went into overtime. Earlier in the year, Derby held off Waterbury Career 48-47.
“We won three close games, something that we haven’t always done in the past,” Cheverella said. “I don’t know if we’re getting more confident, but we’re making better decisions. I’m hoping down the road, if we have more close games, we can do a good job of closing those games out.”
The Red Raiders returned three starters in seniors Anna Cheverella, Dave’s daughter, Amelia Carloni and Lacey DeMartino, but little else from last season.
“We’re happy with that experience coming back,” Dave Cheverella said. “But, the rest of the team is young and has little experience. We’re improving as we go along.”
Anna Cheverella, the team’s leading scorer, rolled an ankle in a loss to Watertown on Dec. 27 but has stayed in the lineup.
“She’s finally starting to feel better,” Dave Cheverella said. “She’s 80-90 percent. We need her to be, she’s been the point guard the last few seasons.”
Carloni has also played well and is the team’s second scoring option.
“It’s nice to have another threat,” Dave Cheverella said. “Our three seniors have been good to us.”
Freshman Madison Koval has been a pleasant surprise.
“She was a cheerleader who joined the basketball team,” Dave Cheverella said. “She’s a very athletic kid. She’s been a big help for us.”
Although Anna Cheverella has been the main scoring threat, Dave Cheverella preaches a team game and runs the offense to get everyone involved.
“I’m a firm believer in getting the highest percentage shot possible,” Dave Cheverella said. “We want to move the ball around. I’ll tell them to be patient and try to get a layup or a six-footer. We want every possession to count. It’s been a work in progress.”