STAMFORD — Offense is in the hands of the individual. A basketball player can roll out of bed and drain 3-pointers.
Defense is a never-perfected skill. It is a talent that is developed and nuanced over time.
You need an entire unit of five players working together to create successful defense.
Defense has been the critical component this 2018-19 season for the Stamford High School girls basketball team.
The Black Knights held intracity rival Westhill High to one point in the first quarter and six points in the first half on their way to a 49-17 win in the first annual Martin Luther King Classic between the schools Saturday at SHS’ Paul Kuczo gym.
Stamford High was awarded an MLK Classic trophy by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Stamford Chapter president Jack Bryant following the victory.
The Black Knights were paying homage for just how far their team defense has come so far this season.
For Stamford — and its rotation of one senior, four juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen — Saturday marked its fifth triumph in six games in 2019.
In that stretch, SHS (7-5 overall, 5-4 FCIAC) has held opponents to 32 points or less in four of the wins. Stamford beat Darien, 52-48 in overtime.
That’s good defense. Aggressive, pressure defense that creates turnovers and limits baskets in the lane.
“The coaching staff has preached from opening day of practice that defense win games. In the win over Darien, we rallied behind our defense,” said Stamford’s veteran coach Diane Burns. “We started the year with so many new players. Getting people on the same page was the goal because we mix up defenses so much. We were locked in today. The last few weeks have been a huge improvement. But I’d say we’re at 75 percent of where we ultimately want to be.”
The growth of freshmen Charlie Karukas, Madison Lockery, Leonora Lipson and Breanna Jacobs have been exciting to watch.
The development of sophomore Emily Graham, junior Dina Merone and lone senior Claudia Moses on the forward line has been crucial as well.
The jump to high school varsity girls basketball has been eye-opening for former YoungTimers standouts Karukas, Lockery, Lipson and Jacobs.
“At Youngtimers we learned the basics of defense,” Lockery said. “To go to high school varsity defense, it’s like going from regular math to calculus. It’s a lot of hard work. You have to develop a lot of confidence in what you do. You have to compete at practice every day.
“If you’re on the bench watching the game, you have to know the defense. A made basket means one thing. A miss means something else,” Lockery continued. “The first week of practice our heads were exploding. Every word out of the coaches’ mouths are important. You have to know every detail or you’re just confused. Whatever we mess up in practice, we can look at it on film. We can work on it the next day. That’s improvement on details.”
It was trial by fire for the freshmen when Stamford’s leading scorer Megan Landsiedel went out injured and missed 41/2 games (four losses, one win) before returning on Jan. 2 against NFA.
“It was hard without Megan,” Lockery said. “But we were forced to be more confident in ourselves. The pressure was on us to produce. That experience continues to benefit us on the court.”
This year, with eight regular season contests left before the postseason, has been interesting for lone senior Moses, who was part of Stamford High’s 2016 FCIAC and Class LL champion squad.
“It is different. What this group lacks in height we make up in speed. No 6-foot center anymore,” Moses said. “We read steals. We read traps. We have to be in the right place at the right time. Especially in zone press.
“The freshmen have come a long way. They’re each trying to prove themselves,” Moses continued. “We don’t think of them as freshmen anymore. We trust them so much.”
HONORING DR. KING
Each Stamford High player wore pre-game shirts espousing a tenet of Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy. Each player chose the word (Acceptance, Empathy, Compassion, for example) they had on their shirt.
“(Stamford High assistant coach Jeremy) White was watching a Purdue University men’s basketball game and started the idea,” SHS coach Diane Burns said. “We asked the kids ‘What word would make the world a better place?’ ”
Stamford High sophomore starting forward Emily Graham, a member of the Stamford High Madrigal Singers, was outstanding, singing the National Anthem a capella.
“It meant a lot to me to sing today (her fourth time this season),” Graham said. “Considering everything that Dr. Martin Luther King did for us.”
STAMFORD 49, WESTHILL 17
WESTHILL 1 5 7 4 — 17
STAMFORD 14 16 9 10 — 49
WESTHILL (2-10, 1-8 FCIAC)
Peyton Hackett 0 2-4 2 Maddy Bautista 1 1-2 4 Grace Hansen 3 1-2 7 Jaedyn Carty 0 2-2 2 Kandese Osborne 0 0-0 0 Olivia Conte 0 0-2 0 Caroline Kollar 0 0-0 0 Dulce Llanos 0 0-0 0 Audra Hansen 0 0-1 0 Nayeli Juarez 0 0-0 0 Anna Hansen 1 0-0 2 Emma Burston 0 0-0 0 Sophie Blomberg 0 0-0 0. Totals: 5 6-13 17.
STAMFORD (7-5, 5-4 FCIAC)
Megan Landsiedel 4 1-2 10 Jessica Nelson 4 3-5 12 Claudia Moses 1 0-0 2 Dina Merone 1 1-2 3 Emily Graham 2 0-4 4 Charlie Karukas 2 0-0 4 Madison Lockery 1 0-0 3 Leonora Lipson 1 2-4 4 Breanna Jacobs 2 0-0 4 Brianna Montalvo 1 0-0 3 Widline Thomas 0 0-2 0 Carly Diamond 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 7-19 49.
3-Pointers: W—Bautista. S—Landsiedel, Nelson, Lockery, Montalvo.