In his first week on the job, Evan Kelley looked right at home leading the defending CIAC Class LL champion Norwalk girls basketball team through practice Thursday afternoon.
It is not often a state championship team has a new coach the next season.
That is exactly the case in girls basketball with two of the four CIAC state champions having new leaders.
Class LL Champions Norwalk and Class S Champions Trinity Catholic both have new head coaches a season after winning it all.
Class LL runner-up New London also had a changing of the guard.
With practice and tryouts beginning this week, the new coaches are jumping into their new roles, preparing for the start of the season in less than two weeks.
Kelley is the new head coach at Norwalk after being an assistant coach under Ricky Fuller for last season’s championship run.
Fuller resigned from the team and his teaching position in Norwalk last spring.
Kelley’s pedigree with the Bears runs deep as his mother, Robin Peoples, played for the girls team, winning a state championship as part of the 1981 squad.
Kelley’s connection to the school continued as a player at Norwalk, graduating in 2010 as one of the team’s all-time leading scorers.
At practice Thursday, Kelley was settling in with the team in his first week as head coach.
“It has been a pretty smooth transition, for the most part,” Kelley said of going from assistant to head coach. “I did a lot behind the scenes last year and the girls are really comfortable with me. The off the court stuff has been more of a challenge than anything on the court, so far. I am taking all of that in stride. This is a great learning experience for me.”
Making the transition a bit easier is a plethora of returning talent on the Bears roster.
Back are seniors Carsyn Langhorn, Belinda Hunte, Grace Potochney and Belinda Hunte along with a crop of juniors and sophomores who saw time on the state championship team.
“Their confidence is through the roof,” Kelley said. “They walk around with a different type of aura and swagger around school now. It is great to see. They have been working all offseason. A lot of the girls played high-level AAU all summer. We have some seniors and a junior (Jakara Murray-Leach) have been getting some interest. A lot of girls have taken major leaps forward from last year.”
The Bears open the season at Newtown Dec. 18.
Charlie Miller is the new girls basketball head coach at Trinity Catholic.
Longtime boys coach Mike Walsh took over the Trinity girls team midseason last year, guiding them to the Class S championship.
Walsh is now back as an assistant coach for the boys team at Trinity and Miller will lead the girls.
“This opportunity is an excellent place for me to start,” Miller said after being hired in October. “I’m ecstatic to take over a historic program like Trinity Catholic girls basketball.”
Trinity has been moved up to Class M in girls basketball for the 2019-20 season after the CIAC added a fifth division.
The Crusaders kick off their schedule Friday, Dec. 20 at home against Greenwich.
Class LL runner-up New London also has a new coach after Holly Misto stepped down as coach after five seasons and three state championship appearances.
David Kohn has taken over at the helm for the Whalers, who finished second in the GametimeCT state poll last season.
“Who wouldn’t be?” Kohn told the New London Day about being excited to take over the Whalers. “Absolutely. I love it. That’s what attracted me to New London … the challenging schedule, it’s one of the toughest in the state. It’s especially challenging to have lost three superstars that were a big part of the program.”
New London will once again be playing in Class LL but will not be traveling south for a rematch with Norwalk.
Norwalk beat New London twice last season. Once in the regular season, 49-47 in New London, and 55-53 in the Class LL final. Norwalk rallied from down 12 points in the second half, winning the title.
Norwalk was hoping to have New London pay a visit to Fairfield County, this year, but it never came to be.
New London opens at East Haven Tuesday, Dec. 17.