CLINTON >> It’s been a long time since the Old Saybrook girls basketball team traveled to Clinton and defeated perennial Shoreline Conference contender Morgan. So for Rams coach Steve Woods, Friday’s 45-42 victory over the Huskies was a reason to celebrate.
The party, however, had a bittersweet flavor. Woods was coaching against his daughter for the first time.
“I was thinking about her at the buzzer,” Steve Woods said. “It was a tough game to coach because I knew who was on the other side.”
Caitlin Woods, 31, spent eight years as an assistant coach with her father at Old Saybrook. She teaches in Clinton and when legendary Huskies mentor Joe Grippo retired, Woods was ready for her first head coaching job.
“As soon as I knew she was going to take the job I went right to the schedule… Jan. 20,” Steve Woods said. “And we had a lot family here which made it special. It’s tough for anyone to lose a game like this. We’ll be hashing this one out for a while.”
Grippo won over 600 games, two state titles and seven SLC championships at Morgan. But this year’s Huskies probably resemble Grippo’s first team. It’s been a major rebuilding season for Caitlin Woods.
“I’m big on numbers but low on experience,” Woods said. “We’re hoping to get the kids some experience down the line. The kids are improving. I’m happy for our future and the rest of this year.”
Morgan (3-9) enjoyed an early 14-point lead against the Rams. Sophomore Rebecca Shamp, who had a team-high 13 points, junior Brianna Navarra (11 points), and senior Sydney Chomicz (10 points) lifted the Huskies to a 28-18 halftime advantage.
Old Saybrook (8-4) responded in the second half. Sophomore Mandy Beck, who finished with a game-high 16 points, drained a pair of 3-pointers and the Rams trailed just 34-30 after three quarters.
After Morgan sophomore Kylee Clifton stole the ball and made a layup to give the Huskies a 42-36 lead with 3:08 remaining, the Rams finished with a 9-0 run.
Rams senior Kirsten King (12 points) converted a layup, senior Marissa Newell drained a huge 3-pointer and King’s layup off a nice feed from Maggie Smith gave Old Saybrook its first lead at 43-42 with 1:42 left.
“I’m really proud of my kids,” Steve Woods said. “They didn’t give up. They were down and they kept their composure.”
The Huskies squandered some chances with late turnovers. Newell (12 points) came up with a big steal with 24 seconds left and then added two clutch free throws to make it 45-42 with just 14.5 seconds to go.
“My dad always coaches great defense,” Caitlin said. “They had fresh legs and that’s what rattled us at the end. We’re a young team and this is a learning experience for us.”
It was also quite an experience coaching against her father.
“It felt very natural,” Caitlin said. “I knew down the line he’d have something up his sleeve. He’s taught me everything and I feel like even with our scrimmages it was just kind of an easy transition. It was fun to coach against him but not at the end.”
Caitlin’s brother, Kevin, is the head basketball coach at Valley Regional. Kevin Woods also saw a rebuilding process in Deep River. Three years after a 1-19 campaign, the Warriors won the Class S state championship. Woods also guided Valley to a Class M title in 2013.
“I’m incredibly proud of Caitlin,” Steve Woods said. “She’s such a great competitor. She’s doing an awesome job. And it may not look it on paper. These kids play hard for her and that’s really gratifying to see as a father and a former boss. She’s got a great future.”
“It might take me a little while to talk to him,” Caitlin said with a smile. “Give me half an hour.”