DANBURY — While most student-athletes from across the region are beginning preparations for their respective fall sports, another set spent the entire summer honing their skills with a colder season in mind.
With the winter still four months away, local high schools completed their summer basketball season at the War Memorial.
Perhaps the two best teams in the FCIAC — who squared off in March’s league final — shared the court again as Ridgefield pulled away in the second half to beat Danbury 56-41 to win the summer league trophy.
CIAC rules prevent coaches from working with their athletes in the offseason, but competition was still high as Ridgefield’s Andrew McClellan and Danbury’s Casey Bock were interested onlookers. Ridgefield previously played in the summer at the Sheehan Center before 2019, but earned a satisfying win against a rival this year.
“It’s great,” said Ridgefield coach Noel Fahey, who graduated from Ridgefield in 2006. “I grew up in Ridgefield, played at Ridgefield and played all the men’s leagues at the War Memorial. It was a blast; it’s great to beat Danbury at the War Memorial. I liked that.”
His coaching opponent — Danbury’s Tim Salem — is the Principal of Scotts Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield. Salem, a Danbury graduate, was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
“I think we showed a lot of improvement, especially from the beginning of the year until now,” Salem said. “Ridgefield is an extremely solid team and they’re going to be a tough team to beat. Overall we showed progress and have grown a lot. We still have a lot of things to work on.”
Ridgefield came on top of the seven-team league, which featured five regular season games and a three-game playoff. Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown and Immaculate (two teams) filled out the league. Ridgefield, Danbury and Immaculate all went 4-1 in round-robin play. The Tigers have been one of the most consistent teams in the state year in and year out, winning a pair of FCIAC titles in the last three seasons.
Balanced shot making and tough defense was there for Ridgefield, which was a mirror of McClellan’s philosophy.
“It’s been great working with (McClellan) because in my opinion he does as good a job as anyone in the state,” said Fahey, who has led the offseason program for seven years. “To have a piece of the program and to be a part of it is great because when I played at Ridgefield it was not how it was now. I appreciate it.”
The Tigers always carry a deep rotation and will have plenty of talent at their disposal when December arrives. Sophomores Justin DiFabio and Matt Knachel are two bright talents for the future, while a host of seniors who had bright summers — Chris Knachel, Charles Mueller and Drew Gordillo — with championship pedigree will lead the squad, Fahey said.
Both teams graduated All-State players in James St. Pierre (Ridgefield) and Denali Burton (Danbury). Two of the standouts for the Hatters are going to be counted on in the winter, too. Jaden Cook and Isaiah Easter scored the majority of Danbury’s points Wednesday.
“Jaden and Isaiah’s leadership — because of the fact they’re seniors — is going to be required,” Salem said. “Those two guys are going to be on the forefront of leading the team.”