Second-Chance Points: Close Races As Boys And Girls Teams Head Into Conference Play

Trinity Catholic’s Rahsen Fisher battles Staples’ Stedman van Arsdale and Ben Pearl battle for a loose ball during a recent game. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Happy New Year. As we flip the calendar to 2018, it is hard to believe the boys basketball season is about 20 percent complete, while the girls are a quarter of the way through as we get ready for the heart of conference play.

Here at Ruden Report Central, we are about to put on our rally cap after taking most of the past two weeks off. So far I have been to just two games: the Trinity Catholic boys’ win over Staples and the Wilton girls’ emotional victory over Stamford, where I sat with four other league coaches, one assistant and one coach from another conference.

While I have been absent from the gymnasiums, I have been following results closely and spoken to a number of coaches who have been out scouting.

As what should be very competitive races commence, here are some initial observations:

• After some lean years in boys play, it was hoped this winter would begin an upward cycle in the overall talent level. So far most agree that will not be the case. Nineteen of the 24 players that earned All-FCIAC honors graduated, and that void is hard to fill. Most of the contenders appear to have one dominant player, and the difference in the end might come down to which team gets the biggest contributions from the supporting cast.

Speaking of contenders, at this point, records aside and looking at strengths of schedules played, the top five teams remain Danbury, Fairfield Warde, Ridgefield, Trinity Catholic and Wilton. Each comes with a question mark attached, but no other team has yet given any indication of breaking into that group. Stamford seems the most likely.

We will learn more about the Black Knights tomorrow when they host Ridgefield. The Tigers are in a difficult stretch: they return to Stamford on Friday to play Trinity Catholic before a home game against the Hatters. The Tigers will be without point guard Luke McGarrity, who has a broken thumb and is out at least until midseason. That is a considerable blow.

• The schools that saw their stock rise the most so far have been Danbury and Wilton. The Hatters are unbeaten and have a non-league win over New London. And the Warriors must have a hidden assembly line that produces a team filled with good shooters that flourish in an up-tempo style.

The leading scorer, male or female, in Wilton history is Erin Cunningham, who is now playing for Trinity College and will forever be remembered for a 33-point, 19-rebound performance in a 2015 state final win against South Windsor. Her brother Scott put up 28 for the Warriors in Friday’s impressive win over Kolbe Cathedral and seems poised to break out from a supporting role. With the transfer of Antonio Brancato and the return, among others, of Kyle Maatallah and Nick Kronenberg, Wilton is considered a hot buy by many.

• Trinity Catholic seems to be in the same position as a year ago. An improved Contavio Dutreil is the favorite right now (over Sean Conway and Brenden McNamara) for Player of the Year, but will the Crusaders get consistent play from their remaining starters and will chemistry be a liability? Trinity has the pieces to win the league title if the answers are positive.

• Stamford was close to a consensus pick to win the league girls basketball title, but the landscape certainly looks different three weeks later. Everyone was buoyed by Wilton’s 18-point home win over the Black Knights on Thursday.

The play of Nicole Dienst is one of the reasons for Staples’ hot start. (Photo: Shelley Burger)

The Warriors looked a lot, well, like the boys team. They moved the ball well and made nine 3-point shots, four each by Claire Gulbin and Caroline Sweeny. Wilton played the game as if it was a championship and Stamford was unable to match its intensity.

Will Wilton be able to sustain that ferocity on a semi-regular basis? If so it is going to be able to create matchup problems for most opponents.

As predicted, new faces but same results at Trumbull, which along with Wilton is the lone remaining unbeaten team. Defense keeps you in games and that has become a trademark for the Eagles under coach Steve Tobitsch. They will get a big test Friday at Stamford.

And lets not write off the Black Knights. The Wilton game may turn out to be a valuable lesson that provides dividends going forward. On a team that can get scoring inside and out, Alexa Kellner is still the surest go-to player in the league.

• The best stories so far have been Staples and Fairfield Warde, which are both 5-1 after the Wreckers rebounded from a halftime deficit to win the teams’ meeting last week.

The Wreckers were considered a sleeper, but have a solid 1-2 scoring punch in Elle Fair and Arianna Gerig, and a number of good athletes to deliver on the defensive end.

The Mustangs were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, but have received strong leadership and scoring from Olivia Parisi and Libby McKenna. They already have a 20-point win over Ridgefield and edged Norwalk, another team to keep an eye on.

 

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