Newington girls’ basketball went through a coaching change this past offseason but that hasn’t stopped them from being one of the most successful teams in the state.
The new-look Indians improved to 13-1 last Tuesday night, defeating a talented RHAM team 55-46 at NHS.
“I don’t know if I could have envisioned this start, but it’s been great,” first-year coach Marc Tancredi said following the team’s seventh win a row, “We set the expectation level very high. It was about creating that culture, not just for this season but for years to come.”
All-around dynamo Ashanti Frazier led the way with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Freshman Karissa Zocco added 17 points and seven rebounds for a Newington team that is getting contributions from their entire roster.
“Coming into the season I thought it was going to be a good, but I didn’t know it would go this well. I’m constantly amazed what we can do on the floor every single night,” stated Frazier, who also had seven steals.
Newington’s offense took a few minutes to warm up, but they were efficient and relentless once they cranked the heat up.
After falling behind 6-2, Zocco drained back-to-back threes to help the home team closed the opening quarter on a 10-2 run.
Frazier, who assisted on both of Zocco’s first-quarter threes, went into attack mode to start the second quarter, converting on a pair of layups in transition to increase the run to 16-2. The junior guard finished with eight points in the quarter after being held scoreless over the first eight minute.
Senior Aby Flores has teamed with Frazier and Zocco to create a triple threat on the perimeter. The trio has taken turns sharing the scoring load this season.
“Every single game there’s a different leading scorer. If I’m down Karissa is up, if Karissa is down Aby is up. We all work together. It’s a total team effort,” said Frazier, who like Zocco has been starting since she was a freshman, “Karissa has been great for us and she has helped me out tremendously. In previous years I’ve been strained offensively, but now we have a perfect balance between offense and defense.”
Flores canned a three to start the second half and Zocco hit her fourth from beyond the arc later in the quarter, providing Newington a comfortable 43-27 lead late in the third.
“She has a very good basketball IQ and she can shoot the ball very well. It’s only going to get better with her confidence growing,” Tancredi said of his Zocco.
“She was that little missing piece, we just needed her,” added Flores, “She’s been such a big help and she’s such a great shooter.”
Flores finished the night with nine points and is one of two seniors in the starting lineup. The other is Olivia St. Remy, who had five points and a pair of blocks.
“They’ve been great but it’s not only them, it’s all of our seniors,” stated Tancredi, “Like we said in our pregame ‘everybody star in your role’. It might be being a great defensive player for us or a great offensive player for us. Whatever it is they give us what we need every night. It’s our whole senior class.”
Erika Cueves, Isabelle Ortiz, and Maya Gajowiak are the other three seniors that have excelled under the first-year coach.
“It was a pretty easy transition,” Flores said about the coaching change, “We’ve all been playing since we were younger, so we have that chemistry and we work well together. It just clicks with us.”
The chemistry has shown on both ends of the court.
Defensively they pressed full court early and often, holding the visiting Sachems to a mere eight point in the opening quarter.
“We’ve worked on it in many of our games and it’s kind of evolved to what it is now,” Tancredi said about the aggressive defense, “Every night it could be something different and we’re just following a game plan and it just so happened that it worked tonight. Hopefully we can continue to have that grow as one of the staples for our team.”
Frazier had to exit the game in the fourth with an injury but quickly returned and put the finishing touches on the victory with a layup and a dish to a cutting Sabrina Soler, who scored Newington’s final two points of the night.
The Indians made it look easy against a RHAM squad that entered the contest with an 8-3 record. Jaclyn Santella led the Sachems with 14 points and Marisa Lee added 13 in defeat.
Newington closed the week with another convincing victory, a 59-27 takedown of Platt in Meriden last Thursday night to earn their 14th win.
Zocco led the way with 17 and St. Remy completely dominated down low, grabbing a season-high 20 rebounds.
Thursday’s victory was the latest example of how consistent the team has been under Tancredi. Through the first 15 games their offense has yet to held under 41 points and their defense hasn’t surrendered more than 51 points.
The postseason-bound team will close the regular season with three of their final four at home, starting this Thursday, Jan 31 again Bulkeley at 5:30 pm.
It’ll be the final four tune-up games for Tancredi and his team, who have shown very few weaknesses thus far.
“We’ve been lucky too, it takes a certain amount of luck, but we’ve been pretty good, and I think we can compete with anybody in the state. I just want to keep it going.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Gabe Charleston- Cromwell (Basketball): Charleston has been excellent all season but took it to another level last week. The junior had a 25 point and seven rebound performance in a 76-55 victory over Haddam-Killingworth on Tuesday and then scored 17 more and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 59-37 win over Amistad on Friday. The pair of wins moved the Panthers to a perfect 13-0 mark on the season.
Alice Kelly- Wethersfield (Basketball): Kelly exploded for 36 points in a 74-67 victory over Middletown last Thursday. The junior forward has been a consistent force all season for the Eagles, who entered the week having won their last three games.
Jack Healy- WMRP (Hockey): Healy scored the game-winning goal in overtime as the Eagles outlasted Newington co-op 2-1 last Saturday. The junior ended the rivalry game with 4:50 left in overtime after Ben Mrockza set him up with an assist. The contest was both exciting and charitable as all the proceeds from the game went to CCMC and St. Jude Research Hospital. All told the game raised $2,200 for childhood cancer awareness.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Indoor Track): Stockman won the 1600 meter run at the CCC Indoor Track & Field finals at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven last Saturday. Next up for Stockman and the Terriers are the class finals, which take place on Saturday, Feb 9 at the same venue.
Andrew Graham- Newington co-op (Hockey): Graham had three goals and an assist in the Indians 8-1 victory over BBD last Wednesday. The senior also tallied an assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to WMRP on Saturday.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin