Newington's seniors (l-r) Karissa Zocco, Adriana Romano, Marlie Zocco, and Arianna Barnes are the unsung heroes behind Newington's 8-0 start
Newington girls basketball improved to 7-0 with a 47-23 win over Glastonbury last Thursday, Jan 7.
Senior Lilly Ferguson, who has committed to play basketball at the University of Massachusetts, led the way with 14 points and freshman Bela Cucuta added 10 as the Nor’easters took an early lead and never looked back.
Ferguson, formerly at East Catholic, is in her second year with the program, leading the team in scoring.
Joining Ferguson are four other seniors, who are the unsung heroes, adapting to play multiple roles on the court and giving head coach Marc Tancredi unlimited lineup options.
“They are just the most unselfish kids, too unselfish at times,” Tancredi said of his senior. “They are all really high character kids.”
Twin sisters Karissa Zocco and Marlie Zocco, along with Adriana Romano and Arianna Barnes are the seniors who have been with Tancredi since he first took over the head coaching duties prior to the 2018-2019 season.
The four, along with Ferguson and a deep bench, are powering a team who is steamrolling opponents this winter.
As freshmen the Zocco sisters were outside shooting specialists and while both remain prolific shooters, they have transformed their games and found news ways to contribute.
Karissa is leading the team in assists and averaging five rebounds per game. Marlie does all the little things and is the defensive specialist, leading the team in blocks.
“We have been playing with each other since travel ball and we all know each other really well. We all have the confidence in each other that we will all get the job done,” Karissa Zocco said of the four seniors. “Every year at the beginning of the season we have all these goals we want to accomplish. We buy into this culture and we all buy into being a family and our chemistry really shows on the court.”
Marlie Zocco added that she takes pride in her defensive assignments, “That is definitely my main goal because I know other girls on the team have the ability to score the ball really well. We all have our roles and I try to do the best I can at my role.”
Romano averaged the second most points per game a year ago, behind Ferguson, when the team finished 15-0 and won the conference. However, she missed nine games and returned this year with a sense of purpose as the team aims for an even bigger goal, a state title.
“Just knowing that it was my last year, I had to come out with a bang and you can’t hesitate at all,” said Romano. “It’s all about the team working together. We all look out for each other, whether it’s making the extra pass or helping on defense.”
Barnes has assumed the role as the team’s energizer off the bench.
“I know when I get on the court that I’m that spark that lights up the team,” said Barnes. ‘I’ve been playing with these girls forever and the confidence is 100% there.”
Over the past four seasons, the four seniors have won 56 of 60 regular season games.
The game against Glastonbury was a microcosm of the season. Newington leaned on their defense early, holding the Guardians to nine points in the first half, and used a 12-0 run at the end of the first half to take control of the game.
Newington closed the door on the contest by limiting the Guardians to four points in the third.
“I love our defensive intensity and the way we are executing on defense. It’s something that we spend a lot of time on in practice,” said Tancredi. “We pride ourselves on that end and as long as we can stop people from scoring, the offensive end will take care of itself. It’s something that we always emphasize and if you want to be in our program you have to buy into that end.”
The seniors, along with Cucuta, rested for most of the fourth quarter as the Nor’easters deep bench finished off the win.
Freshman Kendall Miller was particularly impressive, scoring six points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing three assists, and adding three steals off the bench.
Miller’s first bucket was set up by Barnes, who crashed the offensive glass and grabbed a rebound before flipping it to Miller for a layup as part of Newington’s second quarter scoring surge.
Newington made it eight for eight, defeating Trumbull 49-37 last Saturday. Ferguson led the way with 25 points and Miller again shined off the bench, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
It was yet another convincing win for the undefeated team, who has won each of their first eight games by double digits.
Barnes believes the team’s adaptability is the key to success, “Every game is different and we prepare differently depending on the team we are up against. But we know we have to play to our strength and everyone has a role they have to buy into. If everyone is a star at their role, we are an undefeated team. “
Following two years of canceled state tournaments, the pieces are in place as Tancredi and his seniors eye the ultimate prize.
“I couldn't have asked for a better group and it’s a group that I’ve grown with at Newington,” said the fourth-year head coach.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin