Wethersfield's Nicole Gwynn broke the program's all-time scoring record during the Eagles 63-55 win over Newington on Feb 18
Senior Nicole Gwynn became the all-time leading scorer in the history of Wethersfield girls’ basketball on the same night that the Eagles outlasted neighboring Newington, 63-55, at NHS to close out the regular season.
A fourth-quarter free throw from Gwynn increased her career point total to 1,459, surpassing the scoring mark previously held by 2010 graduate Abigail Corning.
“If I got it during the regular season then I got it, but I wasn’t like I had to get it,” said Gwynn, who also surpassed the 1,000-career-point plateau against rival Newington last season, “But it feels nice to get it out of the way before the tournament.”
Wethersfield head coach Jeff Russell said that Gwynn wasn’t concerned about the record, “She didn’t talk about it and that’s the type of player that she is. When she’s on the court, she’s dialed in.”
Russell was minus two key pieces in senior guard Isabella Samse (flu) and sophomore forward Alexa Grenier (injury), yet that didn’t stop the Eagles from executing a nearly flawless first half of basketball.
Wethersfield hit their first four shots, jumping out to a 16-3 lead before increasing the margin to 25-9 after the first quarter.
“Nicole’s job tonight early on was to get our team involved, get players hot, take advantage of mismatches, and she did that,” added Russell.
The offensive fireworks continued, and the lead ballooned to 43-20 at the half.
Freshman Vanessa Venditti picked up the scoring load, scoring all 14 of her points over the first 16 minutes.
“Vanessa got going. She stepped up and hit some big shots,” stated Russell, who was Venditti’s Physical Education teacher in middle school, “She came in 7th grade with as much swagger and as much moxie as any kid that I’ve ever met. Confidence just kind of melts out of her. She’s a kid who knows the next shot is going in no matter what and because of that she always plays with confidence, always plays with rhythm, and she’s a big stage kid. It showed tonight.”
Newington came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the third quarter, scoring 15 of the first 17 points, including a dozen straight.
Ashanti Frazier, who led all scorers with a season-high 28 points, fueled the ferocious comeback on both ends of the court and sophomore guard Adriana Romano found creases in Wethersfield’s defense, scoring 9 of her 14 points in the third quarter.
“I told them that it was a matter of want and a matter of heart,” Newington head coach Marc Tancredi said of his halftime speech, “We didn’t show that in the first half and then we did in the second half. It was a mix of emotions for me. I was disappointed in our first half effort and extremely proud of the effort in the second half, but you have to put 32 minutes together.”
Russell knew the Indians were capable of making a second-half rally, “We talked about basketball being a game of runs and no team makes more runs than Newington. They have too many good basketball players, high basketball IQs, and a great coaching staff. We knew we weren’t just going to walk out of here”
After trailing by as many as 24 points, Newington narrowed the gap to as little as six (59-53) on Karissa Zocco’s long range three late in regulation.
But it was Gwynn and Alice Kelly who sealed the deal with tough buckets and clutch free throws in the closing minutes.
“We knew we really needed this one,” said Kelly, who led the team with 25 points--including 8 in the fourth, “We’ve had our ups and downs the past couple of weeks, so we were ready for this one.”
Gwynn and Kelly scored all 20 of Wethersfield’s points in the second half and combined for 21 rebounds in the win. The two, who are half of the team’s seniors along with Samse and Grace Conneely, both said that games like this can help prepare them for the upcoming state tournament.
“It lets us know that we can play in any situation, like playing under pressure. We like playing like that,” said Kelly.
Gwynn added, “We needed this going into the tournament because you can get down in the tournament. We can practice what we did wrong in the third quarter so we can go further in the state tournament.”
Despite now feeling well, Samse had a Willis Reed-moment in the third quarter when she entered the game to provide the Eagles a much-needed spark. Shortly after Samse stepped on the court, Kelly broke Newington’s 12-point scoring run with a three-point play, increasing the lead to 45-33.
It epitomized the toughness and determination which has defined this current group of seniors at Wethersfield.
“They started this program as much as I did. Their first year was my first year so we’ve all grown together and now we have four years under our belts,” said Russell, who became the coach in 2016, “We joke about how we don’t feel like they’re seniors yet, but the way they speak to the team, the way they speak in meetings, the way they practice---you can tell they’re seniors.”
Under Russell, the current senior class has increased their win total every season (13 to 14 to 15 to 16), which includes a trip to the state semifinals two years ago.
Kelly and her senior mates recognize this March is a final shot at a title, “It’s been very special. The four on us have been together since fifth or sixth grade and we know that it’s now or never.”
For Newington, it was only their third loss of the season but the second to Wethersfield, also falling 56-40 at WHS on Jan 24.
“Wethersfield is a tough matchup for us. We’ve struggled with them and that showed in the first half. We showed resiliency but we have to play better for 32 minutes,” reiterated Tancredi, who has led the Indians to back-to-back 17-win regular seasons, “It’s about consistency and we have to show that every game, and for the most part we have been consistent so I can’t be too disappointed, but we want to get to that championship caliber where we don’t have these lulls.”
During their 17-3 regular season, Newington showed they are capable on making a run, registering winning streaks of six and seven games.
“We have to move onto the next game, which is always the most important game. That’s where our focus is. We just have to get better and more forward and that’s what winning programs are all about. You don’t dwell on the past, you continue to push forward and improve.”
Frazier has supplied the offense all season, leading the team in scoring and assists, while fellow senior Sabrina Soler and junior Alexie Armour provide the Indians length down low on the defensive end, which Tancredi said is the team’s bread and butter, “We know that we’re a solid defensive team and that our defense leads to our offense. We hang our hats on that. If we have the rhythm and momentum on the defensive end, we’re able to pick it up offensively.”
With the regular season in the books, it’s now tourney time.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done throughout the season. We’ve played a very difficult schedule and we won a lot of tough games and it’s only going to get together. Now it’s the time were it’s one and done. You lose and you go home, and we need to realize that there might not be another day to play a basketball game. I think we have the capability but it’s that consistency factor and putting it together at the right time.”
Both Newington and Wethersfield were eliminated by Bloomfield in the CCC tourney and are now preparing for the Class L tournament, starting March 3rd.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin