Torrington has won two of the last three NVL titles, Holy Cross one.
The Red Raiders won a pair of thrillers over Kennedy and Holy Cross in the NVL Tournament last year, but graduated much of their firepower.
Starters Paige Middleton, Brittany Anderson, Mia Barbieri and Taylor Howe were a huge part of the grit and determination that carried the Raiders through.
But starters are not so much what concerns Coach Mike Fritch, who celebrated his 400th win in his 22nd season last year.
“We lost starters but also bench personnel,” he says. “We can find starters. Last year’s seniors helped us out on the bench. Kendra (Covington) and Shelby (Howe) gave us some huge moments.
“My job this year is to develop the bench.”
It helps that he begins with two talented starters as a core. All-NVL and All-State junior guard/forward Brie Pergola is one of the best and most versatile players in the state. Senior center Caitlyn Cornish averaged 5.2 points per game and four rebounds as a starter last year.
“(Brie) can’t be expected to do everything,” said Fritch. “(Caitlyn is going to have to step up her offense. We have some good juniors, but our real strength is in the sophomore class, so we’ll be young.”
“Nothing is different,” said Pergola. “I think we’ll do fine. We have players stepping up. If we play as hard as we usually do, I think we’ll do fine.”
“We’re going to work really hard,” promises Fritch.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders and Eagles bring back most of their strength.
Holy Cross returns one of the best guards in the state, All-State senior RaShana Siders, along with productive sophomore Century McCartney.
They’re also loaded underneath, with senior forwards Kaitylyn Grimshaw and Caitlin Cipriano, along with sophomore Aiyana Ward.
Kennedy isn’t ready to concede. After two meetings with Torrington in the regular season,the Eagles brought the Red Raiders down with a steadily-improving defense in the Class L second round.
Kennedy lost presence underneath with the graduation of Blessen Chapman and Sydney Delgado, but return the heart of its in-your-face defense.
Guards Lynadia Whiting and Sarah Norwood and forward Latoya Majette are seniors. Guards Raegan Shirling-Davis and Joyce Benton are juniors with plenty of room to grow.
Thomaston has ruled Berkshire League girls basketball for the last four years and Class S for the past two (with a runner-up finish to Capitol Prep the year before).
There’s no reason to believe they’re going to quit now because the core of players who won the latest state championship is still here.
Thomaston, whose most recent state championship came in field hockey last season and softball two years ago, graduated just two seniors from the group partly responsible for making Thomaston the state’s small-school Title Town.
Nicole Schaefer, Danielle Genest, Gabrielle Hurlbert, Morgan Sanson and Charlotte Eberhardt are all seniors with a ton of experience in winning. Guard Julia Quinn and centers Casey Carangelo and Camryn Capaldo are juniors who fit right in, giving Coach Bob McMahon 10 solid players.
“It just starts over every single year,” said All-State forward Morgan Sanson. “We’ve been playing together so long – from the second grade in travel teams and church leagues. And we came to all the high school games.”
“They have a lot invested in it,” said McMahon. “They know what they want the outcome to be. It’s really their mental approach that does it.
“We’re never worried about anything besides what happens in this gym.”
Nonnewaug was the only team with a win over the Golden Bears last year (by one point), but half of their twin towers graduated. With forward Jess Fengler gone, senior center Courtney Carlson will still be a force in the league, but it probably takes two to work magic over Thomaston again.
Otherwise, coaches find the league more balanced than ever under the Thomaston shadow.
Lewis Mills was the third BL power last season, but the Spartans also suffer from graduation. Guard Natalie Ruel was injured for much of the season; when she was healthy, she made Mills dangerous.
Now she’s graduated.
Several other teams are in position to step up.
Gilbert, in the doldrums for several years, responded to Gerry Hicks’ third year back in the coach’s seat with its first state tournament appearance since 2007, with lots more promise this year. Housatonic was a young team last year and still qualified for states. Fred Williams’ teams at
Northwestern can never be counted out.
Litchfield’s new coach, Brian Mongeau, an old hand at getting the most out of Cowgirls soccer teams, expects to do the same on the basketball court.
Shepaug has two senior leaders in All-BL center Caroline Kelly and Honorable Mention Sam Moravsky for a young team.
At Wamogo, Brooke Neller is in her final year, just needing to find more company to make it great.
Constitution State League
After suffering for decades in the Berkshire League, Wolcott Tech is relatively thriving in the Constitution State Conference under sixth-year coach Brian Hurlock.
The Wildcats made it to the state tournament last year, bringing back four seniors from that team – Briana Boucher, Taylor Wheeler, Tanesha Petersen and Shelby Lafferty.
With a crowd of talented sophomores around them, Hurlock expects scoring from as many as eight people a night.
The best news of all?
Perennial league champion Capital Prep, winner of three straight state titles and runner-up in a fourth is not on the Wildcat schedule.