The New Canaan girls basketball team was in need of a new leader, so a former coach has answered the call.
Kim Palmer, who coached the Rams for eight years before stepping down in 2017, has taken over as head coach for the 2021 season. She will be assisted by Chris Silvestri, the defensive coordinator of the New Canaan football team, and Raquel Harrison, who has also returned to the staff for this year.
Palmer, a physical education teacher at NCHS, is replacing John Winchester, who had coached the Rams the past three seasons, but had to step down due to a job conflict a few days before the start of practice in January.
“It says a lot about Kim because she has a family and she’s making sacrifices to do this for the girls,” New Canaan athletic director Jay Egan said. “You’re getting someone who’s a two-time FCIAC Coach of the Year, so she’s an accomplished and very competent coach and educator.
“She and Chris both did it for the girls, to give them the best possible experience given everything that’s going on now.”
Palmer said the players welcomed her with open arms.
“I really had no idea how this would go, but it’s been smooth,” Palmer said. “Jay mentioned it to me and I said I’d definitely step back into the ring and help for the season. It’s been an unexpected turn, but certainly one that I’m enjoying. It’s great to be back in the gym working with such great girls. They welcomed me with open arms.”
The coach added that working with Silvestri “brings a whole new dynamic to the team being a football coach. No matter what sport it is, he’s just a great teacher, and we’re lucky to have him.”
During Palmer’s eight previous seasons with New Canaan, the Rams were 70-99, winning at least seven games five times and qualifying postseason four times. That included campaigns of 16 and 17 victories, both of which led to FCIAC and state playoff berths.
Palmer also coached the Rams’ volleyball team from 2014-16.
Under Winchester the past three seasons, New Canaan girls basketball was 21-41, which included a 10-11 record last winter.
“John brought his love for basketball to the girls and he’s a very charismatic person,” Egan said. “And he already had a connection with the youth (teams). When you put those things together, he gave the program a shot in the arm and built the interest in basketball in New Canaan.”
The Rams are hoping to build off of last season’s state playoff team with the return of its four senior co-captains: Cameron Murphy, Quinn McKeirnan, Emma Gibbens and Olivia West.
They also have a pair of young guards who are coming off strong seasons with sophomore Natalie Plosker and junior Meghan Driscoll, either of whom could run the point, Palmer said.
Throw in the return of sophomore Lucia Crovatto, a center who saw court time as a freshman, and the additions of senior Abby Van Dussen and juniors Faith Hibbert and Anna Barnard, and New Canaan has some depth to work with.
“I’m really excited about the talent the program has all the way from the freshman team up,” Palmer said. “We now have a lot of players that this is their first sport, so they’re playing AAU and doing things outside the season to improve. That goes in waves in basketball, and we’re at a really good point now.”
Dealing with COVID protocols has added to the challenge this season, but Palmer said the girls are used to the situation.
“I’m actually pleasantly surprised with how well they’re doing with the masks on while they’re playing,” Palmer said. “They’ve persevered through it. They’re doing the necessary things so they can play. We have the mentality that we’ll do everything we can to limit the spread and try not to take any day for granted.”
Beyond any wins and losses this season, Egan said he was happy to have found new coaches so quickly.
“It makes me feel good that they would do it for our program and our kids,” Egan said. “It’s not a small sacrifice. They both have young families. It says a lot about the kind of people that they are that they would give their time to ensure that there’s a really good experience for the girls.”