Commentary: A Great Girls Basketball Final Seems Like A Lock — In 2021

Jakara Murray-Leach figures to play a big role for Norwalk in tomorrow night’s FCIAC final. (Mark Conrad)

Trumbull, with the strong 1-2 punch of seniors Allie Palmieri and Cassi Barbato leading the way and three strong juniors, are the favorites heading into the FCIAC girls basketball tournament. Palmieri, a starter as a freshman, has emerged as one of the league’s most dominant players.

But the Eagles will have a difficult path, starting with Ridgefield, paced by the three-headed monster of Faith Arnold, Katie Flynn and Norah McNeece, who saw valuable time as sophomores, with Cali Stietzel and Kate Garson completing a talented veteran starting five.

Fairfield Ludlowe is also very much in the mix. Coach Sara Kinsley has done a masterful job of building a team around seniors Anna Paulmann and Juliet Bucher, with a gifted group of sophomores.

Norwalk has remained solid behind Jakara Murray-Leach, who two years ago was a key part of a deep rotation that played in the FCIAC final. And Staples has a strong senior class led by Marley Lopez-Paul, Alva Nordin and Lexie Moskovit, who all got playing time in the playoffs as sophomores. And Danbury’s Tianna Rogers continues to give opponents fits in the paint.

A little confused? Excuse me, but I am just getting a little practice for my FCIAC girls basketball tournament preview two years from now.

Hopefully we get a good girls final tomorrow night when Norwalk faces Trinity Catholic. It would make up for what everyone agrees has been one of the least memorable tournaments in recent memory, with few close games and, save for the end of Ridgefield’s upset of Trumbull, no drama.

But two years from now? This current sophomore class is loaded with talent. Palmieri and Barbato earned All-FCIAC honors this season, and if Barbato did not contract mononucleosis that caused her to be hospitalized for three nights, the Eagles might be going for a three-peat tomorrow.

In assessing the short-term future of FCIAC basketball, the ladies are much more interesting than the gents. Boys basketball has been on a slide for a few years, and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. There are fewer top players and what beauty there has been this season, if you dig beneath the struggle to score points and the decisions at times to play not to score, is watching balanced lineups like Wilton’s and New Canaan’s flourish with cohesion.

Contrast that with girls basketball. There is still a good group of juniors returning to lead the way. Norwalk and Trumbull will open again as favorites next year, while Ridgefield has everyone coming back and Ludlowe and Stamford return strong cores.

The sophomore class should be sending a number of players to the college game, a few possibly to Division I. Some of them offered coming attractions the past week, with Palmieri trying to carry the Eagles against Ridgefield, which featured the feistiness of Flynn and the inside presence of McNeece. Paulmann stepped up to try and rally the Falcons against Trinity Catholic. Murray-Leach led the Bears in the semifinals against Danbury, which got a strong performance from Rogers.

Eight players get named to the All-FCIAC team, and often it is difficult filling the last few spots. In two years the question will be who gets omitted.

For now we have tomorrow’s final to look forward to. And it is an intriguing matchup. Norwalk is 22-0, the No. 1 team in the state and has a deep lineup. Teams have been focusing on Ashley Wilson, which would normally be a sound strategy if there were not so many other offensive weapons and a deep rotation that can play any style.

“It’s hard to gameplan for us,” Norwalk coach Ricky Fuller said. “A lot of teams have one or two players that can score but on every night we have four or five. We have some good kids who are good scorers who haven’t really scored. It’s a nice problem to have.”

In Iyanna Lops, who finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks in a semifinal win over Ridgefield, the Crusaders will have the best player on the court. Caitlyn Scott is a terrific point guard and Kyah Nowlin is a versatile presence.

But Trinity seldom goes to its bench and is at a big disadvantage in the depth department. Can the Crusaders dictate tempo?

“We have to get good shots and I think we have to try and slow them down with our defense,” said Trinity coach Mike Walsh, who will try and get his first girls title to go with the six he has won with the school’s boys team. “We play them man to man. Maybe we have to try some different things but we’re in it and we’re in it to win it so let’s see what happens.”

Tomorrow has the ingredients for a great final.

Two years from now? The sky is the limit.

 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*