Girls Basketball Tournament Preview: Surging Stamford Has Difficult Road To Title Defense

A potential Ridgefield-Stamford semifinal game would be up for grabs. (Photo: Austin Carfi)

I just went back and checked my preseason predictions: I batted six for eight and might have had all four top seeds picked correctly if Fairfield Warde, my preseason choice, had not lost center Shania Osborne to a knee injury for a good portion of the season. She is back, but not anywhere near 100 percent.

The teams most thought would do well have all cleared the first hurdle.

There must be something in the water in Trumbull this winter: like the school’s boys team, the girls have found ways to win despite not having a considerable talent edge. There is something to be said for chemistry and good coaching.

Trumbull, Ridgefield and Stamford, the defending champion, possess different attributes and have to be considered the best bets in a fairly open field. Norwalk and Fairfield Warde are hot and cannot be discounted — one will endure a long layoff until the state playoffs.

Here is a look at the four quarterfinals, and my picks, more instinctive than usual.

Bracket Breakdown

No. 4 Norwalk (16-4) vs. No. 5 Fairfield Warde (14-6); noon at Norwalk. With the Trumbull gymnasium unavailable, the Bears are the beneficiaries, getting to host the most evenly matched game of the day. The Bears have won 13 of their last 14 and ended the regular season on Wednesday with a win over Ridgefield. Norwalk has proved to be more than a sleeper, led by the inside presence of Asiah Knight. Ashley Wilson has provided a strong second option offensively, Jackie Harris is an accomplished playmaker and the Bears have received contributions from a number of players. The Mustangs were slowed when Osborne injured her knee at the start of the season. Osborne has been back in a limited role and Warde has won 10 of its last 11. Daja Polk is an explosive point guard able to create her own shots, while Iliana Krasniqi can score in a variety of ways. A win last week over Trumbull was both a confidence boost and reminder that the winner here is a legitimate threat going forward.

No. 1 Trumbull (19-1) vs. No. 8. Staples (12-7); 1:45 p.m. at Norwalk. The Eagles won the regular-season title but elimination in the semifinals again would be a disappointment. Like a year ago, Trumbull has flourished behind the scoring of Claudia Tucci, strong defense and tremendous team rapport that cannot be overstated. Experience from seniors like Taylor Brown and point guard Victoria Ray provides an added edge in this matchup. The Wreckers return to the tournament for the first time in seven years. Freshman Arianna Gerig has made a huge impact, while Olivia Troy and Elle Fair are two more scoring options. Staples will need to get off to a good start and avoid having to play catchup to pull off the upset.

No. 3 Stamford (16-4) vs. No. 6 Danbury (11-8); 5 p.m. at Ridgefield. Rumors of the impending demise of Stamford, the defending league and Class LL champion, following an early stretch of three losses in four games, were greatly exaggerated. Back to back losses to Trumbull and Ridgefield made the Black Knights appear vulnerable, especially when the guards were having trouble getting penetration and finding open looks on the perimeter. With eight straight wins and 11 against conference opponents, no team in the league is playing better right now. Alexa Kellner is a Player of the Year candidate, and Marthe Guirand is underrated in the middle. No one can match up with the Black Knights’ size. The big difference over the second half of the season has been the emergence of Brooke Kelly as a scoring threat outside. The Hatters rebounded from a three-game losing streak to end the regular season with three straight wins. Sophomores Susana Almeida and Ty’Lynn Ith have led the program’s revival. One concern: Danbury is 2-5 against the rest of the field.

No. 3 Ridgefield (16-4) vs. No. 7 Greenwich (12-7), 6:45 p.m. at Ridgefield. The Tigers are the league’s most athletic team; all five starters will be playing a sport in college, with just point guard Julia Middlebrook and Meaghan O’Hara continuing with basketball. Caroline Curnal has had a breakout season both scoring and rebounding, while Grace Goodwin and O’Hara are the other top scorers. Elizabeth Middlebrook is a force in the paint, and a third sister, Claire Middlebrook, offers depth off the bench. The Tigers come in off a loss to Norwalk and a lackluster win over Westhill, but will benefit from getting to play on their home court. Greenwich is the field’s rollercoaster entrant: winning streaks of eight and four wins bookended a five-game losing streak — all against playoff teams. Kim Kockenmeister is one of the league’s hottest scorers, while Shaye Galletta and Emily Anderson are strong on the frontcourt.

Predictions

Quarterfinal winners: Norwalk, Trumbull, Stamford, Ridgefield
Semifinal winners: Trumbull, Stamford
Champion: Stamford

There is no clear-cut favorite: a strong case can be made for the top three seeds, and even the winner of the 4 vs. 5 game, though it will have a more difficult road. I’m going with Stamford because like last year it is peaking at the right time and has big-game experience. Ridgefield would actually be my No. 2 pick by a slim margin over Trumbull. The Norwalk-Warde game is a toss-up. In weighing postseason experience against homecourt advantage, I went with the latter.

 

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