Russell Back on Bellringers Bench
After what amounted to a 54-day suspension, Shaun Russell has been reinstated as the head coach of the girls basketball team at East Hampton High School.
Russell was on leave for shoving one of his players during an away game at Valley Regional High School on Dec. 20.
“The investigation of Shaun Russell has been completed and on Monday, February 13, Shaun was reinstated as coach of the girls’ basketball team at East Hampton High School after being on administrative leave since December 21,” East Hampton superintendent of schools Paul Smith said in a statement. “The investigation included interviews with team members, parents, others who wished to go on record, and Mr. Russell. The finding of our investigation indicates that the push from the sidelines, while unwise (and for which he was disciplined), was not done maliciously,”
Russell has been coaching the Bellringers for 25 years and has been the school’s Athletic Director for nearly two decades.
During his coaching tenure he has won over 400 games and led the team to multiple conference titles.
He was suspended the day following the incident in Deep River and missed the team’s next 15 games.
Russell’s reinstatement allowed him to return in time for the team’s Senior Night on Tuesday, Feb. 14—a game the Bellringers would win 78-46.
Interim head coach Allyson Smith led the team in Russell’s absence. Smith was a former all-state player at the high school, finishing as the program’s all-time leader scorer, before going on to be a standout player at Southern Connecticut State University.
Despite the coaching uncertainty, the Bellringers didn’t miss a beat on the court and finished the regular season with a record of 19-1, winning their final 14 games. Their .950 winning percentage was the best in both the Shoreline Conference (SLC) and Class M division, and tied for the second best record in the state.
The team is currently aiming for a fourth straight SLC title and will play Cromwell in the conference title game tonight (Friday, Feb. 24) at Morgan High School in Clinton at 7 p.m.
Following the conference finals, the Bellringers will turn their attention to the Class M state tournament as they seek their first state title since 1980.
Here is a ‘double dip’ version of the Rivereast Standouts of the Week. There were so many terrific performances over the last couple of weeks that each school has two representatives.
Spencer Rosado - Portland High School (Wrestling): Rosado was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler as the Highlanders made history by winning back-to-back conference titles, winning the North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC) for the second straight season. Rosado, a senior captain who wrestles at 138 lbs., then placed 3rd at the Class S state championship on Feb. 18, defeating John Maroney of St. Joseph in the 3rd-place match at Killingly High School.
Joe Ruszcyk - Portland High School (Basketball): Ruszcyk scored 24 points as the Highlanders wrapped up the regular season with a 67-40 victory over Hale Ray, earning the top-seed in the Shoreline Conference (SLC). Harrison Collins added 18 points in the victory and junior Tyler Wydo drained five 3-pointers, adding 15 points. The Highlanders will host Old Lyme in the opening round of the SLC tourney this Saturday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.
Jackie Russell - East Hampton High School (Basketball): Russell scored a game-high 20 points, canning a handful of three-pointers, as the Bellringers avenged their only loss of the season and beat Cromwell 44-37 on Feb. 10. The Bellringers finished the regular season with a record of 19-1, winning the final 14 games following a loss to their conference rivals from Cromwell on Jan. 3.
Alexis Pettine - East Hampton High School (Cheerleading): Pettine was named first-team All-Shoreline Conference (SLC) for a second straight season. Pettine, a senior, was joined on the all-conference first-team by three fellow Bellringers in senior Isabella Bafumi, sophomore Samantha Yorker and freshman Madelyn Daniels. Freshman Sydney Vicino was named to the all-conference second-team.
Isabella Mondo - RHAM High School (Track & Field): Mondo won both the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) and Class M championship in the 3,200 meters. Mondo, a senior, broke a 25-year old school record by running an 11:47.02 at the conference championships and then defeated runner-up Laura Funderburk by over eight seconds to win a state championship on Feb. 11.
Sarah West - RHAM High School (Basketball): West had back-to-back monster games last week, scoring 28 points in a 55-54 overtime victory at South Windsor and then dumping in 22 points in the team’s regular season home finale, a 66-39 victory over East Catholic. West, a senior captain, helped the Raptors win 13 of 20 regular season games and now the team is prepping for the Class MM state tournament, starting Monday, Feb 27.
Ryan Moores - Bacon Academy High School (Track & Field): Moores placed third in the 1,600 meters at the Class S championships, running a personal-best 4:24.99, on Feb. 9. Moores, a senior, qualified and compete at the State Open the following week. Both events were held at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
Marissa Nudd - Bacon Academy High School (Basketball): Nudd became the third all-time scoring leader in the history of the program during the Bobcats’ 52-40 victory over East Lyme in the quarterfinals of Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC) tournament. Nudd finished with a team-high 15 points on a night when she passed 2013-graduate Taylor McLaughlin, who finished her career at Bacon Academy with 1,312 points.
Member of the RHAM wrestling team after the team placed second at the conference championships at Glastonbury High School on Feb. 4. The Raptors would go on to nearly capture a state champion before a controversial call cost them the top spot at the Class M finals.
Championships are supposed to be settled between the lines.
But sometimes those lines get blurred.
That’s what happened during the Class M wrestling state championships last Saturday when RHAM High School thought they had won a state title after senior Michael Marques pinned Jason Toth of East Haven in the 195 pound title bout.
Prior to Marques’ win, the Raptors trailed first-place Avon by 5 ⅕ points and the pin awarded RHAM six points and the victory…or did it.
During the team’s celebration near the wrestling mat, a member of the RHAM wrestling team didn’t have his singlet pulled up over his shoulders and the team was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the referee, costing the team a point and a state title.
The end result was a heartbreaking ½ point loss for the stunned Raptors, who finished as the runner-up to Avon (196.5-196).
It was a shocking ending to an otherwise championship-worthy performance
RHAM head coach Ryan Fitch called the loss “heartbreaking” and said the penalty was a “pretty outrageous call.”
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which is the governing body of high school sports in the state, uses the rule book from the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) to determine guidelines. According to Rule 7, Section 5, Article 2: Unsportsmanlike conduct involves “failure to keep shoulder straps up while on the mat and failure to comply with the end-of-match procedure.”
Lost in the confusing controversy was the outstanding effort from the Raptors, who had seven wrestlers qualify for the State Open during the two-day meet that took place at Jonathan Law High School in Milford on Feb. 17 and 18.
RHAM placed top-six in 50% of the weight classes (7 of 14) and had a pair of wrestlers take home individual state titles.
Along with Marques winning, junior Ben Fournier (106 lbs.) also took home an individual state championship after pinning Cesar Rodriguez of Platt.
Both state champions have roots to the gridiron and in Marques’ case he was an all-conference football player this past
Fitch said Marques continued to wrestle his senior year with just one goal in mind.
“He’s a football guy, but he came back to help us win a state championship,” stated Fitch. “He went out there and pulled it off, but unfortunately it was ripped from us”
In Fournier’s case, Fitch said he “made a big leap” this season after an added emphasis on wrestling in the offseason.
Senior Dylan Devine (152 lbs.) placed as the runner-up in his weight class. Devine is captaining the team along with
Marques and recently won a Central Connecticut Conference title by defeating Jack Janes of Avon on Feb. 4.
Devine also picked up his 100th career high school win in the team’s regular season home finale against Rocky Hill on Feb. 8.
Despite missing his entire sophomore season because of the COVID-19 cancellation in 2021, Devine was still able to achieve the triple-digit win total in just three seasons.
Fitch called Devine the “backbone of the program” and said that falling short of a state title was not for a lack of effort.
“He has been unbelievable. It’s unfortunate because some people that earn it don’t always achieve it and he’s one of those guys. He earned it more than anybody else.” stated Fitch.
After struggling early in the season, junior Kyle Currier (126 lbs.) started to peak late in the season and placed 3rd at states by defeating Tristian Gauvin of Avon.
“He’s a warrior and he is only going to get better,” Fitch said of Currier.
Gavin Ploude (138 lbs.) and Dylan Koller (160 lbs.) had fourth-placed finishes, while Thiago Delacruz (285 lbs.) placed sixth to round out the seven Raptors that are headed to the State Open.
The Raptors are still holding out hope that a reversal of decisions is made that will allow them to be crowned Class M state champions, which would be the program’s first team title since 2002.
When reached for comment, the CIAC said there are still ongoing discussions but for now they are following the recommendation of the NFHS, who said that the application of the rule was correct.
An online petition entitled “Justice for RHAM Wrestling” was started on change.org in an effort to get the decision reverse. As of Wednesday morning, the petition had over 3,000 electronic signatures.
For Fitch, who has been coaching at RHAM for 28 years and was an assistant on the 2002 championship team, the entire situation is a tough pill to swallow.
“In 2002 we thought our program would be in the mix for years and years and it’s taken us this long to get back,” added Fitch, who said he has had several coaches reach out to him supporting the team. “It’s a lot of work that goes into it and I told the kids if you win a state championship it’s remembered forever. There’s always a banner on the wall, but we won a state championship and there won’t be one on the wall.”
The seven qualifying wrestlers will now look to pick up the pieces and compete in the State Open at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven this Saturday, Feb 25. The meet starts at 10 a.m.
Fitch, who plans to retire after next season, said that regardless of the outcome he is proud of the way his team has handled the situation and sees a promising future for the program thanks to the strong relationship they have developed with youth wrestling in the area.
“The program has grown and finally gotten to where I’ve been trying to get it for years,” added Fitch. “It’s taken all of us working as one unit and working together on the same goal.”
Emily Sousa - Cromwell High School (Cheerleading): Sousa was named the Shoreline Conference (SLC) Player of the Year for the second straight season. Sousa, a senior, was also named the conference’s best cheerleader as a junior and along with fellow first-team all-conference cheerleaders Bridget Russ and Maya Tomczyk helped the Panthers repeat as SLC champs.
Bella Bonfiglio - Wethersfield High School (Ice Hockey): Bonfiglio scored her 100th career point as the Nighthawks — a co-op team featuring players from Wethersfield, Avon, Southington, Newington, RHAM, Lewis Mills, and Coventry defeated Suffield 5-1 on Feb. 15. Bonfiglio, a senior, is the second WHS athlete to net her 100th point for the Nighthawks this month –– joining Nicole Partridge who achieved the mark earlier in February.
Bela Cucuta - Newington High School: Cucuta scored 25 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists as the Nor’easters eliminated Enfield from the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) tournament with a 68-50 win in the conference quarterfinals on Feb. 18. Selah Prignano added 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists as NHS head coach Marc Tancredi picked up career win #100.
Anthony Parker - Xavier High School (Basketball): Parker scored a game-high 34 points and surpassed the 1,000 point career mark as the Falcons defeated West Haven 62-36 on Feb. Parker, a senior, broke the scoring barrier on a nifty reverse layup in the fourth quarter and becomes the 10th member in program history to join the elite scoring group.
Alex Muniz - Rocky Hill High School (Wrestling): Muniz finished fifth overall at the Class S Championship at Killingly High School on Feb 18. Muniz, a senior captain who wrestles at 170 lbs., defeated Caleb Ives of Stafford in the 5t place match to secure a stop in the State Open. Fellow senior captain Chris Adamczyk (220 lbs.) placed second in his bracket to also earn a spot in the State Open, which will take place this Friday and Saturday (Feb. 24 & 25) at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven.
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Terriers Show Promise in Loss
Rocky Hill’s Tyler Carlstrom, who is defended by Wethersfield’s Thomas Daly, has been a senior leader for the Terriers in the program’s first season under new head coach Ken Borton.
Despite losing at home to rival Wethersfield, Rocky Hill boys’ basketball showed the grit and determination that first-year head coach Ken Borton has wanting to see all season.
The Terriers turned a 20-point second half deficit into a two-point defeat.
For Borton and a young team that is learning on the fly, it’s a step in the right direction.
“We need to play to win. We’ve been playing tentatively this season and the mentality has to be to play to win, and tonight we showed that in the second half,” stated Borton.
After the Terriers managed only three points in the second quarter and allowed the first six points of the third quarter, the home team began to turn the tide.
Borton said the scoring drought dug the Terriers a deep hole, adding, “When you have a ten minute stretch where you only scored three points, you can’t expect to win a game at any level.”
Sophomore Jaden Veal sparked the team off the bench offensively, scoring a game-high 19 points.
Veal almost single handedly stole the game late, scoring eight of the game’s final 13 points, including a pair of three-pointers.
Veal and freshman Rathan Tejeda — who hit eight three-pointers and scored 30 points in the junior varsity game before also playing a reserve role in the varsity game — provided a glimpse into what the future could hold for the program.
“Those two are a big part of the future,” stated Borton. “It is good for them to be in games like this. They can feel that energy and they are not running away from it.”
Junior Casey Robinson also provided a lift to the team in the fourth, scoring all six of his points over the final eight minutes after playing a majority of the game in foul trouble.
Borton entered his first season in Rocky Hill knowing it was going to be a rebuilding season for a program that was coming off a one-win season and had only won eight games total the previous three seasons.
The team has already surpassed the win total from a season ago, winning games over Wright Tech and Plainville.
Bridging the gap between the players and the coaching staff is a pair of mature seniors in Tyler Carlstrom and Yazdan Aftab.
Both are multi-sport standouts with Carlstrom starring as all-conference baseball player in the spring and Aftab as an all-conference football player in the fall.
“I cannot sing their praises enough.” Borton said of his senior captains. “They have not quit one bit. I know it’s been hard on them, but they have been here every single day busting their butts. It doesn’t always show up on the score box, but they keep these guys together.”
Both senior leaders made plays in the loss to Wethersfield. Carlstrom scored six points and ignited an 8-0 scoring run in the third quarter by knocking down a three-pointer. Aftab also netted six points and had a pair of steals late in regulation that allowed the Terriers to claw back into the game.
Borton, who was previously an assistant coach in Cromwell for five years and served as an assistant in New Britain the prior seven years, believes the team has slowly built the confidence needed on the court and the loss to Wethersfield was yet another stepping stone.
“You can’t be afraid and you have to be able to put yourself out there to make a play, and they started to do that tonight,” stated Borton. “The silver lining is that we were trying to take the game and they weren't waiting for it.”
The Terriers close out the season tonight (Thursday, Feb. 23), welcoming Bulkeley to Rocky Hill High School at 6:45 p.m.
Borton said — win or lose — he expects his team to play with passion.
“We’ve got to go all out,” added Borton. “Until the last buzzer goes off, we’ll be out there fighting.”
Wethersfield senior captain Tate Barnett and Rocky Hill’s Alexander Kastner battle for position during the Eagles 47-45 win on Feb. 14
Wethersfield High School boys’ basketball built a large lead in the second half before having to hold on to defeat a resilient Rocky Hill team 47-45 on Valentine’s Day, securing the Eagles a state tourney berth.
Senior captain Tate Barnett led the Eagles with 16 points, also grabbing eight rebounds and blocking four shots.
Head coach Brian Fanelli praised Barnett for his work this season, on and off the court.
“He does all the little things that kids don’t like to do,” added Fanelli. “He’s a good basketball player and is an unbelievable human being, [and] that’s why he is a good leader on the floor.”
Playing on the road in front of a packed house at Rocky Hill High School, Wethersfield used a 20-3 scoring run to take a commanding second half lead.
A floater by junior Kobe Chapman provided Wethersfield a 34-14 lead midway through the third before the Terriers stormed back to narrow the deficit to a single possession in the closing minutes.
Fanelli said that he can use the situation as a learning tool, credited the team for closing out the game despite the Terriers scoring 21 of the final 28 points.
“We hung in there; we could have folded,” added Fanelli. “With teams that are struggling to get wins, they could have easily closed shop.”
Following a 9-1 scoring run by Rocky Hill early in the fourth, Barnett temporarily halted the scoring surge by stealing a pass and converting an old-fashioned three-point play.
A pair of late free throws by junior point guard Thomas Daly sealed the win.
Daly is part of a solid backcourt in Wethersfield that also includes senior captains Ali Abdulkadir and A.J. Karanian.
The win was the Eagles eighth this season and cemented a spot in the upcoming state tournament.
It’s a far cry from a year ago when the team only won three games and missed out on postseason play.
Fanelli stated that his players are starting to figure out how to adjust to in-game situations, which has led to some impressive wins this winter.
After losing seven of the first ten games this season, the win over Rocky Hill was the Eagles fifth in the last seven games.
During that stretch, they won consecutive conference games over Hartford Public, Plainville, and South Windsor.
Fanelli added that many of his players have had to learn the rigors of the varsity game this winter and wins like the one of Rocky Hill can go a long way to building confidence.
“We try and teach our guys to be in those situations, not just for this year but also next year,” added Fanelli. “Kids play sports because it is one of those situations where they are criticized on the spot. How you respond will make or break you.”
With the state tourney looming, Fanelli said the team’s need to take advantage of the easy opportunities and tighten up the decision making.
“I would like them to be more consistent,” added Fanelli. “We’ve been a little inconsistent at taking care of the ball and we can’t have that when it comes to playoff time.”
GHS senior Brianna Miclette finished fifth overall at a multi-school invitational on Feb. 10. Photo: Glastonbury Sports Photography.
Brianna Miclette, a senior gymnast from Glastonbury High School, finished in 5th place overall at the Winter/Valentine Invitational on Feb. 10 at Whiting Lane Elementary in West Hartford.
Miclette had an all-around score of 32.45, finishing ahead of nearly 50 other gymnasts at the local invite that featured GHS and six other schools.
Finishing in the top-five was a bit of a surprise for Miclette, who was familiar with the stiff competition at the local invite.
“I wasn’t really expecting it because the other teams have really good kids and really good skills. A lot of them are really talented,” added Miclette, “It was really cool, but it was really unexpected.”
Along with her top-five finish overall, Miclette also placed fifth individually in the balance beam, scoring 8.40. She also posted an 8.30 in the floor routine, 8.05 in the vault, and 7.70 in the bars.
Coming into her final season at GHS, Miclette said she felt more comfortable in most of the events but has expanded her skills under new head coach Dana Jackson.
She is familiar with the coaching style of Jackson, who also coaches at Gymnastics Express Too where Miclette’s does club gymnastics.
Jackson said that Miclette has delivered in and out of competition this winter.
“Bri is a very powerful and clean gymnast,” stated Jackson. “She has really shown improvement and consistency on all events, especially floor. She is great at being a team leader and helping keep things organized off the floor.”
Jackson is in her first year leading the program, taking over for longtime coach Yvette Sima.
Miclette said that both coaches have been “amazing” with helping in her development during her time at GHS.
The Guardians placed third overall as a team at the invite and Miclette was one of four GHS gymnasts to place in the top-25.
Macey Burns (31.90) placed 9th, Sydney Salazar (31.20) placed 12th, and Anna Edwards (28.00) placed 23rd.
Miclette said the team is talented in all the events this year and said she has enjoyed being a senior leader this winter.
She is one of three seniors, joining Olivia Aselton and Veronica Thomas, who have mentored the next generation of gymnasts and have helped program during the coaching transition.
“It feels like everyone is friends,” Miclette said of the team. “It’s been cool. Overall it’s been nice and l like that we are all close.”
Three days after the invite, the team defeated Wethersfield 128.45-115.15.
Miclette scored the best overall floor routine, posting an 8.45. Salazar posted a high score of 8.5 on the beam, Thomas posted a high score of 8.02 on the bars, and Edwards posted a high score of 8.4 in the vault.
Jackson said the team has done a good job of embracing the “next girl up mentality” this season as the team has overcome both illnesses and injuries.
“We’ve really found our groove. We work really well together,” added Jackson. “The girls have done a great job of helping each other out.”
The next step for the GHS gymnasts is the Connecticut Interscholastic Association Conference (CIAC) Divisional Championships this Saturday, Feb. 25 at Jonathan Law High School
The State Open Championships are the following weekend, Saturday, March 4, in New Milford.
Three-Peat for GHS Indoor Track
GHS girls indoor track and field captains (from left) Ava Gattinella, Annika Paluska, Kelley MacElhiney, and Anna Hilary helped lead the Guardians to a third straight Class LL championship on Feb. 11.
The championships keep rolling in for the girls indoor track and field team Glastonbury High School.
A third straight Class LL championship on Feb. 11 was the latest title for a Guardians squad that recently captured a fifth straight conference crown earlier in the month.
In the Class LL triumph, the Guardians cruised to victory by leaving second-place Greenwich in the dust (89-61) and finishing 37 points ahead of third-place Conard.
Head coach Brian Collins said the three straight championships are a combination of talent and hard work.
“We get a lot of great kids and they put the time and effort in and the coaches put the time and effort in,” stated Collins. “They’re all different pieces of the puzzles and they all fit well together.”
Collins added that the program’s prolonged success can be attributed to strong leaders, in and out of competition.
This year the Guardians have four team captains that embody what the program is all about.
Senior Kelley MacElhiney, along with juniors Anna Hilary, Annika Paluska, and Ava Gattinella have assumed the captain’s chairs this winter.
“I feel like we all come together and work so hard through the years,” stated MacElhiney. “We have great coaches and great support around us. We just show up to every practice and know what the goal is at the end of the day.”
Hilary said there is a “sense of family” within the team, adding, “We all just want everyone to do their best.”
The captains each played pivotal roles in the latest state championship.
Paluska won the 600 meters, breaking a school record in the process, running a 1:35.99. Her time topped the previous record set by Molly Harding, a 2022-graduate who is currently running for Yale University.
Paluska said that the competition and comradery in practice allows the team to thrive at the meets.
“There is such positive energy from the team and support from everyone. We can feed off of that and it helps us work hard and have success in the big meets,” said Paluska, who also joined a pair of champion relay teams.
The 4x400 team of Paluska, Gattinella, Jackie Dudus, and Riley Carroll breezed to victory, finishing over a second ahead of the team from Greenwich.
Paluska then joined forces with Gattinella, Carroll, and Jenna Fradin to break the Class LL record in the Sprint Medley — running a 4:17.05 and topping the previous mark of 4:17.55 held by the another GHS foursome that stood since 2011.
The 4x800 relay team of MacElhiney, Dudus, Jackie Caron and Lila Garbett also won handily.
Gattinella said the relays are the most fun, but noted that the athletes are solely focused on how they can best support the team
“We just do whatever we can do collectively to maximize our points,” stated Gattinella, who placed fourth overall in the 600 meters with a time of 1:37.48.
Sophomore sensation Brooke Strauss again led the team in the distance departments, winning the 1,000 meters and the 1,600 meters, along with placing 2nd in the 3,200 meters.
MacElhiney finished moments behind Strauss in the 3,200 meters, placing third overall.
After battling injuries a season ago, MacElhiney has taken her running to another level as a senior.
“I feel like I am at my strongest right now,” stated MacElhiney, who is entering the back nine of her high school track and field career. “It is definitely a little nostalgic. I’m trying to soak in every moment and not take anything for granted.”
As always, the team also did damage in the field.
Hilary placed fourth in the pole vault, while Anna Morris finished fourth in the shot put.
Sophomore Eloise Mulready took fifth in the high jump.
Hilary admitted the team does think about keeping the championship traditions alive, yet also said the team uses the past championships as fuel.
“We do feel the pressure, but we want it for ourselves and want our hard work to pay off,” added Hilary. “It’s about keeping up the legacy.”
Over the last 18 years, the program has either won or finished as the runner-up in 13 seasons and has never gone more than two consecutive years without a title.
“You don’t want to be the team to break the streak and we know we are good enough to keep it going,” stated Gattinella.
The team closed the local winter season with a runner-up finish at the State Open, placing behind only Bloomfield on Feb. 18.
MacElhiney, Caron, Dudus, and Garbett combined to capture a State Open championship in the 4x800 relay.
Portland High School basketball seniors (from left) Rowan Bell, Isabelle McClelland, and Natalie Przestrzelski have helped lead the Highlanders through a rebuilding season.
Portland High School girls’ basketball first-year head coach Kelly Coleman is back to her old stomping ground.
Coleman, a 2011 graduate of PHS, is the program’s all-time leading scorer and was an all-state player on the Highlanders first and only state championship team.
After finishing her high school career with 1,639 points, Coleman went on to star on the courts at the University of New England in Maine and has now returned to for the second chapter in Portland.
“This has been my dream,” Coleman said of her returning to PHS. “Back then it was ‘someday’ and now that day is finally here.”
Coleman had a familiar face joining her on the sideline in her mother, Diane Coleman, who is in her third stint as an assistant with the program.
The mother-daughter team took over a program shortly before the season tipped, inheriting a team that lost eight seniors to graduation a season ago.
After starting this season with 13 consecutive losses, the Highlanders have rebounded with a couple of impressive wins late in the season.
“There were some big shoes to fill after losing so many seniors, but the kids have stepped up and everyone is working together and making everyone better,” said Coleman. “We’ve had some tough losses, but no one has ever given up and that is one thing that I really admire about all of these girls, they have never hung their heads and they are always looking towards the next game.”
Coleman has leaned on the team’s three seniors — Isabelle McClelland, Rowan Bell, and Natalie Przestrzelski —- to bridge the gap between the players and the new coaching staff.
“My mom and I are new faces and we’re just trying to build the trust with the kids and get them behind what our vision of the program will be,” Coleman stated.
McClelland said that coach staff’s optimistic outlook has helped create a positive “chemistry” in and out of competition.
“It’s been fun. We know that everyone is happy on the court,” added McClelland. “We lost a lot of really good players last year, but it’s been fun building up the team.”
Rowan agreed that seeing the development of the younger players has been rewarding.
“It feels really good to see the girls grow and have more confidence on the court,” added Rowan. “As a freshman I was definitely scared because it was my first year playing basketball, so we’ve made it welcoming and I think that they’ve enjoyed it.”
One of the highlights of the year was a 56-36 victory over Old Lyme on Jan. 30. The Highlanders had lost to the Wildcats by three points at PHS in the second game of the season, but rebounded to post their best scoring output of the season in the rematch at Old Lyme.
“Going into the season we knew we might not have the best record, but we made it a goal to get better each game and have those building blocks for each game,” stated Coleman. “Old Lyme was a good example of how we did that. We are getting better and the kids have never given up.”
Sophomore guard Morganne Pineda led the way in the win over Old Lyme, scoring a career-high 31 points.
Coleman said that Pineda and junior Jamie Lasky have given the team a great inside-out combination with Pineda providing a threat on the perimeter and Lasky doing damage down low.
“Morganne is doing a great job at reading the court. She has always been a scorer and now she is doing a good job at getting the kids involved,” stated Coleman. “Jaime has been a consistent player all season. She is a natural in the post and she is a hustler.”
The team earned their second win of the season on a memorable Senior Night, defeating Hale Ray 36-26 on Feb. 7.
Pineda netted 16 points and Lasky added a dozen, yet it was the hoopla surrounding the game that made it extra special for the entire program.
The coaching staff reimplemented a tradition of the past in “Girls Night Out”, which invites all the local youth basketball programs — from grade school through middle school — to the team’s Senior Night for a celebration and to recognize the trio of seniors.
It was a perfect send off for the seniors and a chance for the next generation of Highlanders to experience what it’s like at the high school level.
“It was so cool, there were so many people around,” said McClellan, “Those are all the girls that will be playing here in a few years, so it was awesome to see them come out and have the whole town supporting us.”
Rowan added that the Senior Night triumph was a reflection on the season and how the team had improved from the first day until now.
“We are a mentally strong team now and we weren't as much in the beginning,” added Rowan. “We’re always supporting each other and I don't think many other teams have the connection that we do. “
For the Colemans, combining on the courts again is an opportunity they have waited over a decade for.
The last time they were together on the local courts in 2011, the season ended with a state championship. Now, they hope to build the program back into championship-contenders.
“Kelly and I make a great team, we play off each other’s strengths,” stated Diane Coleman. “Kelly has a phenomenal way of connecting with people. Her personality, knowledge of the game and strong desire to succeed is second to none.”
Kelly Coleman added, “From the beginning of the season until now we are a completely different team. The wins will come, but as long as we can keep improving on the little things, then I think they will come sooner than later.”
The team closes the regular season tonight (Friday, Feb. 17) at Hale Ray. Tip-off is 6 p.m.
Andover’s Sequoia Turcotte Briggs, a basketball star at Classical Magnet School in Hartford, scored her 1,000th career point earlier this month. Turcotte Briggs is pictured with her mother, Heather Turcotte, and father, Brian Briggs.
Andover resident Sequoia Turcotte Briggs, a junior at Classical Magnet High School, joined an elite group on the hardwood by scoring her 1,000th career point on Feb. 8
Turcotte Briggs surpassed the four-digit mark by draining a three-point shot at the top of the arc with seven seconds left in the second quarter. She finished the game with 20 points and 11 assists as the Classical defeated Prince Tech 60-43, earning their 12th win of the season.
“It was really cool, but it was a little embarrassing because once it happened we stopped the game instantly to do all the celebration stuff,” recalled Turcotte Briggs. “We had our whole fan section there because it was our Senior Night, so everyone was super pumped.”
Turcotte Briggs, who first started playing basketball at the age of four, has made an impact on the high school courts from day one.
She earned all-conference recognition as both a freshman and sophomore, and is well on her way to earning that honor again this year. She has also been a team captain since her first high school season, showcasing an early ability to both play and lead.
Classical head coach Catherine Bernoski said that Turcotte Briggs is the total package on both ends of the court and is much more than a scorer, saying she has “anchored the team” thanks to her supreme court vision after moving from shooting guard to point guard this winter.
“Sequoia’s energy dictates everyone else’s on our team,” added Bernoski. “Having a high basketball IQ, Sequoia is able to garner many steals by anticipating her opponents’ moves and potential passes.”
Heading into the record-breaking game, Turcotte Briggs needed nine points and said she was pretty relaxed until the game first tipped.
“It was a little nerve-wracking because everyone was filming my every move, but once I hit [the shot] it was kind of relieving,” stated Turcotte Briggs, who added that members of the boy’s team offered advice prior to the game. “[They] were joking that I better not get it a cheesy layup and they were trying to get me to shoot a half-court shot or something, so to get it on a three-pointer was pretty cool.”
Hitting the record-breaking triple on the team’s home court during Senior Night gave the entire evening more meaning.
Turcotte Briggs’ co-captain, Jasmine Charlery was one of three seniors honored on the night.
“I am glad that she was able to reach the 1,000 point mark at home in front of family and friends who came out to support her,” said Bernoski. “Many of her points that night were beautiful drives to the basket in traffic with strong finishes, which all the fans loved to see.”
Earlier this year, Turcotte Briggs also scored a career-high in points in one game, netting 36 in a home victory over Enfield’s Comp Sci on Jan. 17.
With each passing year her role as both a player and a leader has expanded, which she has embraced.
“I have always had that leadership, role but this year I’ve been able to have a lot more fun because all my teammates are older too,” added Turcotte Briggs. “We’ve all grown together and we all know how each other play.”
Along with the individual accolades, it has also been a successful year for the team, who won 14 of 20 games in the regular
season and now prepping for postseason play. The Gladiators are currently the third-ranked team in the Capitol Region
Athletic League (CRAL) conference and seventh-rank team in Class M.
Turcotte Briggs believes the team’s bond has gone a long way to their overall success.
“We have a great way of just sticking together,” Turcotte Briggs stated. “The best thing for us is we’ve growing together since we are such a young team and now that we are older we are continuing to develop and have a super close knit bond, which is awesome.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin