Mackenzie Nelson and Ava Sollenne won’t be members of the Greenwich High School girls basketball team this winter, but the duo, who have been on the same squad since they were fourth-graders, will still be teammates.
After starring in starting roles as freshmen for Greenwich, Nelson and Sollenne are transfering to St. Luke’s School. On Twitter, the Storm recently announced Nelson and Sollenne’s decision to attend the school, whose girls basketball team has won the FAA championship five straight seasons.
Nelson, a 5-foot-8 guard/forward produced a standout freshman season for the Cardinals, helping them reach the 2020 FCIAC Tournament finals and Class LL semifinals. Greenwich’s impressive run in the state tournament was stopped, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a hard decision,” said Nelson, a First Team selection on the GameTimeCT All-State Girls Basketball Team. “It was something that me and my family went back and forth with, because Greenwich High School is a great school. I made great friends, the athletic program was impressive, I enjoyed playing for coach (Chrys) Hernandez and my teammates. It was definitely hard to leave them, but St. Luke’s is giving me an opportunity that I never had before. It’s a much smaller school than Greenwich, but the decision came down to the basketball aspect.”
Nelson, who scored 463 points in 23 games for the Cardinals for an average of just over 20 points per game, is looking forward to competing on the same team as St. Luke’s star guard Caroline Lau and the Storm’s other players. Lau is recognized as one of the premier players in the nation at her position.
“I have things to work on as a basketball player,” said Nelson, who was a CHSCA First Team Class LL All-State and All-FCIAC First Team selection as a freshman. “Caroline Lau is a great shooter and she will be able to push me in practice. St. Luke’s always plays great defense, so competing with them will help me step up my game. I know I’ll have to work harder and improve.”
Said Sollenne: “She is a really good player, when we would go watch the games we would point out how good it would be to play with her.”
Sollenne and Nelson’s first year as teammates came when they were fourth-graders playing for the Greenwich Stars travel basketball team. They joined the Empire Blue Stars travel team as fifth-graders and have played together on the squad since.
“Since we have played together on the court for so long, our chemistry on the court is so good,” said Sollenne, a 5-5 guard, who possesses outstanding shooting range. “We usually know where each other is going to be and know where to pass. Off the court, we are best friends.”
Added Nelson: “The bond we have is strong. We have been teammates for a long time and we are very different players, which in my opinion, is great. I have great trust in her and I know she will have my back on the court.”
Coached by Matthew Ward, St. Luke’s registered a record of 21-7 this past season and continued its dominance in the FAA. The Storm lost in the championship game of the NEPSAC Class B tournament to Brooks School.
Ward eagerly anticipates what Nelson and Sollenne will bring to his squad.
“I feel extremely lucky, they are great, super talented kids,” Ward said. “They are really different in terms of skill set and what they bring to the table.”
Nelson has been on St. Luke’s radar for several years.
“We started recruiting Mackenzie a couple of years ago, when she was in middle school,” Ward said. “After she went to Greenwich, we stayed in touch.”
During her freshman season for the Cardinals, Nelson also grabbed 136 rebounds in 23 games and had 89 steals.
“Mackenzie does so many things well,” Ward said. “She can get to the rim so fast and I believe, she is a very underrated 3-point shooter. I feel like that’s something that gets lost in her game. She has great explosiveness and I thought she was the best defensive player in the FCIAC.
“We lost a lot of those seniors from last year’s team, so to bring a player like Mackenze in helps us make sure we don’t miss a beat, but take it to he next level. Caroline (Lau) and Mackenzie are going to go up against each other in practice every single day, so they will help each other improve.”
Sollenne showed plenty of poise in her freshman season for Greenwich. Her consistent 3-point shooting and aggressive play helped spark the Cardinals throughout their 2019-2020 campaign.
“At Greenwich it was tough the way our season ended, but we made so many memories on and off the court,” Sollenne said. “I will be in contact with that team for a while. I improved as a player this past season and I learned a lot.”
Nelson made the decision to transfer to St. Luke’s first, then Sollenne made her choice.
“Throughout the process, we were talking about it,” Sollenne said of the decision. “She made the decision first and I followed a week or two after. We both really wanted to go and explore this opportunity. It was the hardest decision of my life, I was torn between each school, but I’m excited about exploring this opportunity at St. Luke’s.”
Ward was impressed with Sollenne’s game the first time he saw her play.
“I saw Greenwich play Darien and what I noticed about her right away was what a great shooter she was,” Ward said. “Shooters in our offense do very well. Ava also has fun playing, which is contagious and she has this toughness about her that goes unnoticed.”
Nelson and Sollenne quickly got used to playing in the spotlight, competing in postseason games as freshmen at GHS.
“These kids are fearless and tough,” Ward said. To be a freshman in that spot and winning those types of games, is very impressive.”
Over the summer, Nelson said she’s met some of her new St. Luke’s teammates.
“They have definitely helped me with getting to know the basketball side of St. Luke’s and they have given me great perspective of the teachers and the community of St. Luke’s,” Nelson said. “Getting to know them has been a great experience.”
Indeed, the Storm’s two new players from Greenwich are aiming to make a significant impact.
“They are a great team and they have been on a roll,” Nelson said. “Losing five seniors will have an impact, but me and Ava hopefully, can fill those gaps.”