SOUTHINGTON — Cromwell has dominated the Shoreline with 49-straight conference wins in the regular season.
Knowing the team would be competing for a Class M state title, coach Kelly Maher loaded the non-conference schedule with the best teams around.
“From the beginning of the year, we thought they had the talent to get there,” Maher said. “The question was about the mental toughness. As we went throughout the season and with some of the losses we experienced, they really dedicated themselves to getting better at the weaknesses we found. That’s when we thought this group was tougher than we thought.”
The Panthers played both Class LL finalists, losing 57-46 to New London and 67-47 to Norwalk, and also took on Class LL quarterfinalist Newtown, losing 44-36.
Those were the team’s only three losses, but what was gained in those losses was more valuable than any win.
“They were really important. We had to see how we matched up against the better teams in the state,” Maher said. “They were athletic, they were quick, they rebounded and you just can’t take a play off against any of those teams.”
The Panthers face Sheehan from the SCC in the Class M championship and there is no doubt they will be calling on the experience of the three non-conference games when they get there.
GOTTA BE THE SHOES
It started with one pair, then another and another.
Before too long, the locker couldn’t contain them anymore and they spilled onto the floor.
By the end of the season, Trinity Catholic’s Iyanna Lops had a collection of over 20 pair of basketball sneakers.
When she takes the court Saturday for the Class S state championship, she has one more pair to bust out.
Lops said she likes expressing herself with some flair on her feet.
“It just brings out the flavor,” Lops said. “I have to credit to coach Steve (Basquiat) he’s the one who helped me get my swagger up. It started after the third game this season and kept going.”
The shoes range from the green and gold of Trinity to the hot pink Kevin Durant Nike’s she wore in the FCIAC championship game.
But her favorite sneakers are the ones she scored her 1,000th point in as well as a career-high 33 points.
“The Lucky Charms,” Lops calls them. “They’re just lucky. I scored my 1,000th point in them.”
THE WHALER WAY
New London was the No. 1 team in the GametimeCT state poll when Norwalk came to town Jan. 26.
The Bears got out of New London with a 49-47 win but since that game, the Whalers have transformed.
“I was watching the film of the Norwalk game and we are such a different team now than when we played them the first time,” New London coach Holly Misto said.
“We were in the middle of broken bones and flu and all that other stuff. It was such a different team back then. Players have developed and the younger players have learned the New London way and how we approach things.”
Seniors like KD Spencer Roman, Taina Pagan and Xaryia Melendez were on the 2017 Class LL championship team and have been working all season to teach the younger players the path to success.
“Once the younger kids and the transfers figured out how things work, we started to be more successful. It takes time to teach kids how we do things here. In the last month, things have finally clicked,” Misto said. “The seniors have been here before and know what it takes to get here. They are a confident group and they believe in each other. Now the younger kids are learning what it takes to get here and hopefully they can pass that on in the future.”
New London gets its rematch with Norwalk in Saturday’s Class LL championship at Mohegan Sun Arena.
BEST SERVED COLD
The sting is still there for Canton.
In the opening round of last season’s Class S tournament, the No. 2 seeded Warriors were upset on a buzzer-beater by Caitlyn Scott of No. 31 Trinity Catholic.
Now the No. 1 seed in Class S, Canton will get its chance for revenge Saturday at Mohegan Sun when it faces No. 7 Trinity in the Class S championship.
“This is the best possible ending we could have for our season,” Canton senior center Sarah Bowman said. “That was a loss that motivated us to this point. Being able to get to play them is awesome and we are going to give it our best effort.”
There was no guarantee the two would meet, but it is appropriate it happens in a final.
The Canton players are also proud to show what the NCCC is made of on the big stage at Mohegan Sun.
“We have a really strong conference. We are excited to be here and represent the NCCC,” Canton junior Abby Charron said. “We are excited to play a hard game on Saturday and hopefully win.”