TRUMBULL — It is black vs. gold.
During every Trumbull girls basketball practice the intensity rivals that of some games as the starting unit goes against the reserves.
The gold unit are the starters, but it is the five in black putting them to the test day in and day out.
The players call it “black-team pride.”
It helps when that black team is being led by three seniors in Gianna Ghitsa, Isabella McCain and Jenna DeSabella, who take their role on the squad extremely seriously.
“It’s about being a team and it gets heated out here,” DeSabella said. “When we go one-on-one, game over. It’s competitive.”
No longer allowed to play in JV games by rule, practice becomes the place the three non-starting seniors can most help the team.
“We are so competitive in practice, you don’t even know,” Ghista said. “We lost to Hamden, but I think it was a win in some ways because we showed heart, we all wanted it and we all learned from that game. That’s what we are trying to get across. Everyone has to have a role in that.”
Ghista, McCain and DeSabella do not start for the Eagles, and in tight games may not see many minutes, but what they provide to the team is invaluable.
“They are a very cohesive group and they have had to sacrifice a lot. We have three seniors who get a lot of playing time and three who come off the bench and contribute on certain nights,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said.
“They practice hard and they work together and that’s part of being on a high school team. Some players get more notoriety, but these girls come to practice every day and work as hard as anyone else. They may not be in every single moment of every single game, but the girls on the team value them and value their opinions. When you become a senior, it is the end of the road. I appreciate their efforts a lot. The time the commitment, not just this year but for the four years they have been here.”
The three black team members are joined on the roster by three starting seniors in guards Meghan Lesko and Kelly O’Leary and forward Krystina Schueler.
The six seniors have all played together since middle school with some having been together since elementary school.
It makes for a tight group of not just teammates, but friends.
“The chemistry gets better each year,” McCain said. “It’s not just about the game, it’s about making friendships like we’ve made.”
The seniors all said the goal is to pass that camaraderie down to the underclassmen.
The younger players are important for Trumbull this year with sophomore starters Allie Palmieri and Cassie Barbato leading the team in scoring most nights and three freshmen coming off the bench.
With the younger players filling the stat sheet, it is the seniors embracing other roles while also providing leadership to the underclassmen.
Schueler has shown the ability to score inside and out and is a presence in the paint rebounding and playing defense. O’Leary and Lesko function as ball handlers and distributors, but have also earned their keep crashing the boards for rebounds.
And the other three seniors have fully embraced roles in practice and on the bench and the starters appreciate it.
“My role is not scoring. I just try to get our team the ball. I just try to run the offense and my mindset is not about scoring, I am just going to do what I can for my team and make hustle plays. Everyone wants to win,” O’Leary said. “The three of them are great leaders off the court. They are always cheering on the bench and getting everyone hyped up, talking and communicating with us on the court. They are just as important as the players on the court.”
This senior class is arguably the most successful in school history with a chance for more.
The team is currently 13-1, ranked No. 4 in the GametimeCT poll and second in both Class LL and the FCIAC behind undefeated Norwalk.
As sophomores and juniors, they were part of the first Trumbull teams to win back-to-back FCIAC titles.
They all want to be the first to win three-in-a-row.
They also played at Mohegan Sun in the Class LL state championship game as sophomores and would love nothing more than to return.
One way or another, the seniors want to put their year up on a banner in the school gymnasium.
“There’s a lot of pressure after winning FCIACs the last two years,” Lesko said. “A lot of people doubted us this year. I know a lot of our lineup is younger kids, but we are all trying to work together to help them get comfortable. It’s a different team every year but the chemistry is always there.”
Trumbull is successful year after year for a reason, and part of that is the seniors passing down to the younger players knowledge, experience and a sense of family.
“Three of our coaches are former players here and they help cultivate that. That feeds itself over time. The seniors understand the expectation level and they genuinely get it,” Tobitsch said. “I wish I could play all of them every night but somebody has to play and somebody has to sit. You see the ones who are not playing on the bench, they are in to the games and are all very much team first. The whole group of seniors is team first.”
That all starts with “black team pride.”