FAIRFIELD >> The atmosphere at Monday afternoon’s practice was lighthearted and serious at times.
It was the perfect blend for the Notre Dame of Fairfield girls’ basketball team that opens the Class S State Tournament on Thursday evening at home. The fifth-seeded Lancers will host No. 21 Putnum at 5:30 p.m.
“We’ve just been trying to stay even keel,” head coach Eric DeMarco said. “We want to go as far as possible and we’re just trying to take care of all the little things.”
Notre Dame (18-5) will be looking to make it back to the Mohegan Sun for the second time in the last three years.
In 2013, the Lancers advanced to the Class M final, where they lost to Cromwell.
There are only two members from that squad on the roster now, so it’s been basically a new group that have helped assemble a successful season based on a strong foundation of chemistry.
“We really grew,” senior co-captain Kayla Croswell said of the cohesiveness of the team. “We are basically finishing each others sentences at this point. Our team chemistry is right there and that’s why I feel like we can go really far.”
The Lancers feature a dangerous inside-outside game that can highlight nine to 10 players any night. Senior post player Nakia Mabin, junior Taylor Ceballos and freshman Gabrielle Joseph are all listed at 6-foot and provide a good presence in the paint.
Versatile 5-10 junior Raina Ceryak and Croswell lead a fast-paced offense that has a strong transition game.
But the mainstay for the Lancers has been their defense.
“Trapping, man to man, our press, that is our strength,” Mabin said.
Notre Dame’s schedule has also been beneficiary to the development. The Lancers, which play in the South-West Conference, have only lost to schools this season in larger classifications, including a regular season loss to undefeated Shoreline champion Morgan.
The Lancers are also coming off a tough SWC Tournament where they picked up wins against Barlow and Newtown before falling to New Fairfield 58-50 in the championship game.
“We play bigger and faster schools, so we get a different experience,” Ceryak said. “We have a challenging schedule so that helps.”
Added DeMarco: “I think that we were severely tested in the SWC in all three games and I think that will help us tremendously.”
While the team said the philosophy this season has been to approach and focus on one game at a time, the team did admit they are anxious to finally start playing.
“It’s very exciting, I can’t wait to see how far we go,” Croswell said with a smile. “I think we have a strong team this year, and we can really make some noise.”