For the first time since 2000, the Norwalk girls basketball team is the No. 1-ranked team in the final Top 10 poll of the season.
Head coach Ricky Fuller does not think his 2019 undefeated state champions could beat the Norwalk team which finished unbeaten in 2000. But Fuller, who was an assistant coach on that 2000 team, says that is part of what makes the 2019 team so remarkable.
There are no superstars, he said, but rather a team in every sense of the word.
Every night a different player stepped up, be it one of the starting five or the fourth girl off the bench.
“Twenty-eight and Oh. I was lucky enough to be a part of the last 28-0 as an assistant coach. Now here, this team could not beat that team, but this team is very special,” Fuller said. “It is very difficult to have the target on your back all year and still win a state championship. I have to give all the credit to them.”
The Bears rallied from an 11-point deficit to tie New London in the Class LL final at Mohegan Sun. On the final play of the championship game, it was reserve guard junior Anaijah Morgan dribble-penetrating and dishing to senior center Naeva Rene, who scored the winning basket for a 55-53 victory.
In the semifinals against Hamden, it was Belinda Hunte leading the team in scoring, and in the quarterfinals it was sophomore Jakara Murray-Leach sinking two free throws with .5 seconds left, winning the game over Mercy.
“All year we relied on different players on our team to do different things and come through. It’s a special group of kids,” Fuller said. “Night in and night out it could have been any of them and tonight was (Rene’s) night to make that basket.
Ashley Wilson and Sanaa Boyd will graduate as state champions after four years playing varsity basketball.
“I’ve been waiting for this for four years and now that it’s happened, I’m super happy,” Wilson said. “We were lacking the energy and not playing as well as I’d like. We knew in the second half, we had to pick everything up. When Naeva (Rene) got that ball in, I just ran to my teammates and we all hugged.”
The Bears were truly a team deserving of the championship and a team in every sense of the word.
Final GameTimeCT Top 10 Girls Basketball Poll
|TEAM (1st place votes)||Rec||PTS||LAST||CLASS|
|1. NORWALK (20)||28-0||630||1||LL|
|Last Week: def. New London 55-53 in LL final
Bottom Line: Unbeaten and No. 1 for first time since 2000.
|2. NEW LONDON||25-3||584||2||LL|
|Last Week: lost Norwalk 55-53 in LL final.
Bottom Line: Led by 11 heading into the fourth quarter of the LL final, lost just before the buzzer. The Whalers were that close.
|Last Week: def. Hand 39-34 in L final
Bottom Line: The Academics didn't get much hype during the regular season. Yet, they won a state-record 10th state championship and first since 2011.
|Last Week: lost Norwalk 62-54 in LL semifinal
Bottom Line: Best season in school history ends with SCC title and LL semifinal appearance.
|Last Week: def. Sheehan 58-51 in M final
Bottom Line: The Shoreline champs went on to win their third state title in six years. With talent returning, the Panthers should start next season in top 10.
|6. NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD||23-3||353||5||L|
|Last Week: lost to Hillhouse 55-43 in L semifinal.
Bottom Line: Speaking of returning talent, the Lancers should be loaded next season.
|7. TRINITY CATHOLIC||22-5||344||NR||S|
|Last Week: def. Canton 52-45 in S final.
Bottom Line: Lost their coach just after the New Year. Brought in retired boys championship coach Mike Walsh for what became an unexpected title run, led by Iyanna Lops. She was the leading scorer in all the girls state finals with 26 points.
|Last Week: lost to Hand 33-27 in L semifinal.
Bottom Line: Windsor’s lowest scoring output of the season came in the L semis against upstart Hand.
|Last Week: lost 39-34 to Hillhouse in L final.
Bottom Line: The Tigers grew up as the season went along and came of age at the perfect moment to make another state title run. Hand is another young team with plenty of returning talent for next year.
|10. EAST HAVEN||20-6||225||6||L|
|Last Week: lost Hillhouse 63-49 in L quarterfinal
Bottom Line: Despite another strong season, a follow-up Class L title to last year's Class M championship was not to be. The Hillhouse train was rolling and even Nebraska-bound Makenzie Helms couldn’t stop it.
|Dropped out: Trumbull (7), Newtown (8), Mercy (9), Kolbe Cathedral (10).
First-place votes in parentheses and points tabulated on a 30-28-26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10-9-8-7 basis.
|Others receiving votes: Wilbur Cross (20-7), 206; Mercy (17-7), 199; Kolbe Cathedral (21-5), 162; Canton (26-2), 159; Newtown (22-4), 131; Trumbull (19-4), 125; Sheehan (19-8), 117; St. Paul (24-3), 40; Berlin (20-6), 36; Newington (22-5), 19; E.O. Smith (22-4), 19.|
|The following voted: Ryan Lacey, Danbury News-Times; Lori Riley, Hartford Courant; Erik Dobratz, WTNH/Sportzedge.com; Scott Ericson, Stamford Advocate; Mike Madera, Walter Camp Foundation/New Haven Register; Pete Paguaga, GametimeCT; Dave Phillips, Shoreline Newspapers; Dave Ruden, The Ruden Report; Jimmy Zanor, Norwich Bulletin; Tim Jensen, Patch; Scotty Nails RCDS; Brian Medeiros, Canton; Vickie Fulkerson, The New London Day; Fred Williams, Northwestern; Erik Dobratz, WTNH; Rick Wilson, Waterbury Republican; Eric DeMarco ND-Fairfield; Kevin Roberts, Southington Observer; Noah Finz, Frontier Cable/Vantage Sports Network; Rich Zalusky, The Chronicle; Dave Danko, Fairfield Warde; Adam Betz, Journal Inquirer.|