The four seniors on the Trumbull girls basketball team are all thankful to be playing right now after COVID-19 created so much uncertainty about the winter season.
While they are thrilled to be practicing and playing, the senior teammates and longtime friends are missing the off-the-court moments the most.
“For me it’s not being able to stay after practice to talk and hang out,” Trumbull guard Cassi Barbato said. “The protocols that are separating us as a team are the hardest part. We still have the chemistry, but I miss the pasta parties and the team environment that we have had other years. The bonding stuff is what I miss the most.”
Barbato is one of four seniors playing significant minutes on the 3-2 Trumbull girls basketball team currently ranked No. 8 in the GameTimeCT Girls Basketball Top 10 Poll.
The four seniors are the core of a team loaded with upperclassmen, there are seven juniors to go along with the seniors.
“They exemplify what a Trumbull girls basketball player is,” Eagles coach Steve Tobitsch said. “They are tough, gritty, scrappy kids who all have a team-first attitude.
“They’ve all had different experiences in the Trumbull program. Cassi contributed right away as a freshman, Julia (Lindwall), Grace (Lesko) and Amanda (Ruchalski) began making contributions as juniors. We’ve had some larger senior classes, but these haven’t gotten the time these four get. All four are in the rotation and all four are playing a lot of minutes.”
The seniors had been in contact with each other virtually all fall and when they got the word the season was a go, the group text blew up.
“We immediately texted in the group chat we were so happy,” Lesko said. “I thought we were all really excited because we had not played together in almost a year. Once we got cleared we wanted to get everyone together and get the team ready for games and practices.”
The four seniors blend well together with each bringing something different to the table.
You can see how much each one means when looking at the Trumbull box scores and seeing a different player leading the team each night.
“We all really share the ball well. We are all unselfish players,” Lindwall said. “I think we all know our roles and are a team together. There is not one person who stands out every single night. Everyone has their own moments to shine.”
Barbato, a four year starter and one of GameTimeCT’s 25 Players to Watch, is routinely in double-digits scoring and someone Tobitsch calls a “phenomenal leader” who others are drawn to from other high school players to kids at the summer camp Tobitsch runs and Barbato works at.
Lindwall is the daughter of St. Joe’s girls coach Chris Lindwall, and conducts herself in a way you would expect a coach’s daughter would. “She works extremely hard. She’s very smart, very bright and understands the game,” Tobitsch said.
Lesko has made her mark at the defensive end. The Trumbull coaches use Lesko as an example to the younger players of earning playing time through defense.
“That’s how Grace got her minutes,” Tobitsch said. “She started as a sophomore playing like 30 seconds or a minute a game, but you have to start somewhere to get somewhere. Grace was one of those kids that earned her time by playing defense.”
Ruchalski plays point guard and like Lesko, earns her keep through defensive efforts. Tobitsch describes her as being “Such a positive person. She is a point guard, smart and a hard-nosed basketball player. She brings a lot to the table.”
Last season, the Eagles lost in the Class LL Quarterfinals to Greenwich and the FCIAC semifinals to Ridgefield after finishing the regular season at 16-4.
That team only had one senior, pushing the then juniors into prominent roles as players and leaders.
Trumbull would have been among the favorites in Class LL if the CIAC was able to hodl state tournaments this season.
Instead, the seniors are focused on winning the FCIAC title which Trumbull last accomplished in 2018, the seniors’ freshmen season.
Barbato scored 8 points in that FCIAC final against Wilton and her senior teammates want to all get back to the championship together now.
“This season especially now that we are playing, it is really important to us that we get there and get to play for a FCIAC championship,” Ruchalski said. “With no state tournament, that is our goal. I know all of us really want to be able to play for the FCIAC championship.”
Trumbull prides itself on passing down traditions from one class to the next, and while COVID-19 restrictions have limited that, the seniors are looking for new ways to connect with younger players.
“We are trying to get everyone involved and it’s really hard this year to coordinate that stuff,” Lindwall said. “We aren’t supposed to be in contact with them outside of school. It’s such a mess. We are making it work the best we can.”
Tobitsch said he will see next year, how this group of seniors did at building the program.
“I always tell senior captains their impact will be felt more next year. What do you leave behind, what traditions do you start, what will they remember you most for?” Tobitsch said.
“We try to build a family atmosphere. It is tougher this year but we tried to do stuff even in the offseason. We would have virtual meetings, not even about basketball, just to check in with the girls. Now, we are doing virtual film study. We are doing the best we can.”
For Barbato, who is also an All-State softball player and will play in college at Radford, getting to put on the black and gold again was all she wanted.
“Having missed softball, it was more important because I haven’t played any Trumbull High sports in a year,” Barbato said “I missed that going to practice at school and being with the players. It’s just a good environment getting to be close with your teammates and getting to be together all the time. I miss that environment. Having this season was so important.”