Dave Danko Breaks Down FCIAC Girls Basketball Tournament

Trumbull’s Kelly O’Leary and Norwalk’s Ashley Wilson fight for a loose ball during Monday’s game. (Mark Conrad)

It would quite simply be a surprise if someone other than Norwalk or Trumbull won the FCIAC girls basketball title. The Bears are unbeaten and have handled everything thrown at them in soaring to the No. 1 position in the state. That includes a win Monday night against Trumbull. They go eight or nine deep and have the pieces to match any opponent’s strength.

The Eagles are the two-time defending champions and have a good mix of experience in the backcourt and sophomores Allie Palmieri and Cassi Barbato to handle the scoring. They also play punishing defense and have big-game experience.

Is there a sleeper out there? It would be hard to label third-seed Trinity Catholic one, but it has the personnel to play with both Norwalk and Trumbull. Mike Walsh, the veteran boys coach at the school, took over early in the season, and his presence has proved just what the program needed to take the next step.

It is hard to find another team in the field capable of winning three games in five days and this tournament may mostly play out to form.

The FCIAC made a good move to give the ladies the same treatment as the guys: all four quarterfinals will be in one location — Fairfield Ludlowe — on Saturday before moving to Trumbull for the final two rounds.

Veteran Fairfield Warde coach Dave Danko, who is not coaching in the tournament for the first time in eight years, agreed to break down the first-round games for us.

Norwalk’s Sanaa Boyd and Trumbull’s Allie Palmieri go after a rebound during Monday’s game. (Mark Conrad)

Bracket Breakdown

No. 3 Trinity Catholic (15-4) vs. No. 6 Fairfield Ludlowe (14-6), Noon. Trinity is the most skilled team. They have players that can take over a game. They have three really talented players. (Coach) Mike (Walsh) doesn’t go deep into his bench, which could be a problem. But I think they have the best three girls in the league and when they play together, with their athleticism, they take it to another level.

You’re going to get a hard, intense game from Ludlowe. They’re in their gym. They’re going to bring it. It is going to be interesting to see how they respond with the two losses to Staples and us. To see how (Coach) Sara (Kinsley) gets them, and she will, to maintain confidence. They are home, they play very good man fullcourt, they hustle. They go after every ball.

It’s a good game of high intensity. Trinity’s three-headed monster can go off at any time. They feed off each other and if they do that they can definitely go far. They can compete with anybody in the league. And they’ve got the legend as coach.

No. 2 Trumbull (18-2) vs. No. 7 Ridgefield (11-9), 2 p.m. Ridgefield is a young team. They are grooming themselves. I think they are a year away of really being in that elite status. With a young team you are going to get ups and downs. They thrive on their fullcourt transition. I think they can give Trumbull trouble for a while with their pressure. Trumbull, if you play good hard man to man on them, and you get a little trapping going, you can get them out of their rhythm.

Trumbull has young players but they are missing a Julie Keckler. People don’t appreciate what she meant to that team last year. Keeping them together and keeping them a well-oiled machine. Steve (Tobitsch) is a great coach and does a great job with them. I think the fluidness is not there. But they are a well-coached, exceptional team.

I think Ridgefield can hang with them for a little while but the talented sophomores that Trumbull has are going to take over. If Trumbull is going to win this, you know what you are going to get from (Cassi) Barbato, (Allie) Palmieri and the seniors in their roles. A lot is going to come on Krystina Scheuler and how they use her. She is going to have to have double-doubles in the FCIAC Tournament.

No. 4 Danbury (15-5) vs. No. 5 Staples (13-7), 5 p.m. This is like the Stamford-Norwalk game in a different way. Danbury has veteran guards in the twins and big girls down low. They have the outside shooters. (Coach) Jackie (DiNardo) likes to get the ball inside and kick it out. Danbury is going to rely on its halfcourt game and try to get it inside to their bigs, where Staples’ (Coach Paco Fabian) is going to have 2-2-1 fullcourt pressure and he’s going to try and dictate the tempo.

So you’re going to have a team that wants to play the halfcourt and pound it in and a team score off their tempo. It’s an intriguing matchup. Staples needs to hit 3s. They can’t be one and done. And Danbury can’t turn the ball over. Staples thrives off its defensive pressure. When they’re hitting their outside shots that makes them more deadly.

Danbury has the leaders in the guards and we have to see how their big girls step up. How will they handle being in the FCIAC Tournament, the younger kids, for the first time.

No. 1 Norwalk (20-0) vs. No. 8 Stamford (12-8), 7 p.m. I’m very impressed with Norwalk. They are very deep. People don’t realize that (Coach Ricky Fuller) can go to his bench and do different things. He has all the tools in the chest to do a pressure defense, a halfcourt defense, pack it in. He has a a lot of options to go to, which is why they are having a successful year. I see them going far. You really need to play a perfect game to beat them because he can go in so many directions and be successful.

But (Coach) Diane (Burns) will have Stamford ready. They are one of the more aggressive teams in the league. They go after the ball and they are really strong inside. If (Megan) Landsiedel can handle the Norwalk pressure that will be a key. Stamford likes to get physical. Lets see how Norwalk reacts to getting pushed around.

Can that disrupt Norwalk for a time, or beat them? Or can Norwalk handle that? The fun thing is all eight coaches in the tournament like to do different things and Norwalk is like, fine, we can play this way. They proved against Trumbull they can play a halfcourt game. They can run with you too.

It’s all good coaches, good teams. There are going to be times all of these teams have really good runs but ultimately the teams with the talent are going to prevail.

 

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