TORRINGTON >> Torrington High School’s girls basketball team played through five straight NVL Tournament finals before grabbing the crown for the first time last year.
Can they keep it?
Thirteen other league schools will try to say “no.”
The Red Raiders worked hard to say “yes” Friday night in a long set of scrimmage periods against a Springfield school that went to the Massachusetts large-school semifinals last year.
Torrington graduated the NVL Tournament MVP, center Megan Calabrese, along with Nicole Kozlak, a great scoring threat, and several other important supporting players.
“Megan was a force underneath,” said Coach Mike Fritch, who’s guided Torrington’s girls basketball teams for 21 years. “She didn’t score much, but she was great at the intangibles – she played good D and stopped people from driving to the hoop.”
Friday, the Raiders faced Central’s All-State senior Janea Bunn. She is the best center Torrington is likely to see all season.
Bunn stood out as a great player, but results were also encouraging for Torrington’s Mika Howard, Olivia Morrison, Kendra Covington and Brittany Anderson working underneath.
Covington, especially, giving up several inches to Bunn, showed moves Torrington fans didn’t see in her effective trips off the bench last year as a sophomore.
“She’s a tough, tough player,” smiled Fritch.
Following worrisome scrimmages, Central’s quality was a catalyst for this year’s Raiders.
“Seeing a better team come in made us play hard,” said Fritch. “Paige (Middleton) and Caroline (Teti) played great tonight, too.”
It’s the process every high school team goes through, filling in blanks left by graduating teammates, learning how to click with new ones.
“We’re going to miss the height and leadership, but we’re working hard,” said tri-captain Caroline Teti, Torrington’s senior point guard. “We’ve come a long way in two weeks.”
“We’re getting to know each other. We’re learning to be way more aggressive,” said senior tri-captain Mika Howard, a guard/forward.
“We’re working on the chemistry,” said the third senior captain, forward Olivia Morrison. “Getting back (to the title) is going to take lots and lots of hard work.”
Fritch sees a balanced league this year. Last year’s runner-up, Watertown, brings back key players, along with improving Holy Cross, Sacred Heart and Crosby.
“We’ll make some young early mistakes, but our coaching staff will work through it,” said Fritch, giving credit to assistants Erkia Pratt, Barbara Beebe and Joe Lefkowski for much of last year’s success.
“Last year, it was unexpected,” said Fritch.
Megan Calabrese scored the final two points for Torrington’s NVL Tournament win last year. a scenario every NVL school aims to duplicate for themselves this season.