FAIRFIELD >> The Notre Dame-Fairfield girls’ basketball team would have rather played a few more games this February. But sometimes the best-laid plans fall short.
After not qualifying for the South-West Conference Tournament, the Lancers (9-11) have turned their attention to the Class S State Tournament, practicing and getting better.
It will be senior Briana Mann’s last post-season run with the Lancers. Mann, who was the only returning starter from last year’s Class M runner-up team, and the rest of this year’s squad, are hoping to put together a good tournament run. They aren’t sure how far the season will extend but are hoping for the best.
It’s a rather fitting ending for Mann who came to Notre Dame four years ago not knowing what to expect.
“I came in the first day and oh, my gosh, I died,” Mann said with a laugh. “But it’s a good thing. He’s (head coach Eric DeMarco) always hard on me, from that first day that he met me to now. It’s good because he’s always pushing me to be better; I’m happy that I came here.”
Mann, who is from Norwalk, has been playing the game of basketball since the fifth grade. She said before focusing solely on basketball she spent her time between the pool and the court.
“My mom was driving me to swim meets, basketball games, and she said decide on one; I chose basketball,” Mann said with a smile.
It was a good decision by Mann who comes from an athletic family. Her older brother, Adam played football at Brien McMahon.
“She had some athletic ability when she came in, and again it’s a blessing and curse, to do everything a little bit,” DeMarco said of Mann’s skills. “It was evident the first day when I saw her in the gym.”
Mann, who stands at 5-foot-11, has the ability to play inside and out with her height. She can drive, shoot and post up when need be.
But she’s faced an up and down four-year ride that has taken time to develop each facet of her game. She didn’t start on varsity till her junior year.
“My freshman year I didn’t really believe in myself,” she explained.
“My coaches really believed in me. Coach Rich (Lindberg) he pulled me aside and told me to start having fun. I look at it as business but ever since then I’ve had fun. It’s putting both together.”
It’s been a fun and unexpected journey for Mann. Last season she played a large role in the Lancers’ success as they made a Cinderella-like run to the Class M state final. They won double digit games and also played in the SWC title game.
“I never thought that with the girls we had last year would make it that far,” Mann said. “No one thought we could do that. It was a great feeling.”
This year has been a testament to the veterans, including Mann, as it’s been completely different team with new faces and a learning curve.
But they’ve adjusted.
After starting the season losing four of the five first games, the Lancers rallied. At the end of January and beginning of February, Notre Dame put together a nice streak, winning five of six games, including a 63-62 win over Pomperaug where Mann scored a critical basket and converted on a free throw to help seal the victory.
“On game day she has brought a very strong level of play as much as any kid could,” DeMarco said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who wants to win more than her.”
Mann, who is averaging 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists a game, said she’s definitely deciding still to play at the next level, but right now the focus is on Notre Dame.
“Our goals (before the state tournament) are to get our free throws better,” Mann explained.
“We have to get better on offense and defense. But I’m confident in the girls that we can get something going.”