MADISON >> It’s a whole new world for Hand going into the 2016-17 girls’ basketball season.
For the first time, Hand will go into the season as the defending Southern Connecticut Conference champion. The Tigers beat Mercy 48-46 on Feb. 24 for the title when Colleen Caruth hit a jumper from the corner with 19 seconds left. In 2015, Mercy downed Hand 57-52 in the SCC final.
“We can’t focus on what other teams are going to do to stop us or what they are thinking about us,” said Hand coach Tim Tredwell, who has amassed a 104-62 record in his seven years with the Tigers, but is 61-16 in the last three seasons. “It’s fun if people are shooting for you because it means you’re doing something right. If people aren’t shooting for you, they don’t expect you to do anything.”
But as Tredwell insisted, it’s time to move on from last winter.
“We like to look at the game ball and the trophy in the trophy case, but it’s this year now,” he said. “We’re more focused on what we’re going to do this year than what we’ve done.”
“It was nice to sneak under the radar last year,” All-Hammonasset point guard Gabby Martin. “This year, all these teams are gunning for us puts a lot of pressure on us, forces us to work twice as hard. We’ll put the same effort in, if not more than last year.”
Caruth, Gabby Martin and Kaitlyn Martin will serve as senior captains for the Tigers. That trio has played together since fourth grade, through middle school and now at Hand.
“It’s been really nice to play with them and we know each other so well,” Kaitlyn Martin said. “We’ve seen each other grow up and have seen each other improve. Going into the season, it’s a nice way to finish it off together.”
Interestingly enough, they’ll take the court for the first time as seniors when the Tigers travel to, of all places, Mercy for their season opener on Friday.
“It’s an interesting situation,” said Caruth, who is undecided about her college choice, but plans on studying business. “We’re playing them first and we need to show them it wasn’t just a one-time thing and that we can do it again. They don’t want to lose to us again.”
“It’s always a good game and will set the tone for the season,” Kaitlyn Martin said. “It is ironic to get them in the first game.”
Caruth will start at center for the Tigers, but she is capable of hitting outside jumpers and battles inside even against opposing centers that outweigh her by 20-30 pounds.
“She only had the biggest shot in our whole season last year,” Hand coach Tim Tredwell said. “She had the game winner (in the SCC final).”
Gabby Martin is a tough chore for other teams. She’s athletic and has a lot of speed.
“I’m biased, but she can dominate from she can go 84 feet, dominate on defense and score,” Tredwell said. “I’m thankful every day she’s in the black and gold uniform.”
Martin is also an accomplished golfer and hopes to play both sports in college. She plans on studying either nursing or pre-med.
“Division I, II or III, just within three hours of home,” said Martin, who hasn’t made a college choice yet.
Kaitlyn Martin will play at one of the forward spot and is deceivingly quick.
“She just works endlessly and has a great attitude,” Tredwell said. “She never will be somebody other coaches say they have to stop, but the next thing you know she has 17 points and 10 rebounds.”
Kaitlyn Martin plans on studying physical therapy in college, but like the other two seniors, she hasn’t heard back from schools yet.
“I might play club basketball in college,” she said.
All three captains agreed that their time playing at Hand has flown by.
“Honestly, sometimes when I go out on the court I feel like a freshman,” Gabby Martin said. “Things don’t change when you’re starting a game. You still get that rush.”
Juniors Gabby Egidio and Emma Sullivan will complete the starting five.
“Gabby is the energizer bunny,” Tredwell said. “Her motor is incredible.”
Also starting will be another junior in Emma Sullivan.
“Take a look at her and she’s an unassuming tiny little thing, but she’s sneaky,” Tredwell said. “She’s super slick and make cuts. She hides behind people and makes back door steals and is just stone cold.”
Coming off the bench in the middle will be junior Hallie Freund.
“She’s worked hard on her game,” Tredwell said. “Her post game looks good and she’s a smart player. She could easily be a starter for a lot of teams.”
One new piece that Tredwell feels will contribute right away will be freshman guard Sara Wohlgemuth.
“This kid is going to be good,” Tredwell said. “She’s fun to watch and her basketball IQ is off the charts.”