Preview: New Britain-area girls basketball teams have varied expectations entering new season

Published on Sunday, 15 December 2019 19:01
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER

@ryanchichester1

The girls basketball season begins on Monday, and area teams will have varying expectations, from state championship hopefuls to teams in the beginning of a transitional era.

The upcoming season will feature first-year head coaches, returning All-State talent and some of the best guards in Connecticut, making the 2019-20 campaign one to keep an eye on.

Here is a look at the local area teams before the season gets underway:

NEW BRITAIN

Head coach: Marc Wesoly (3rd season)

Last year: 5-15

Key losses/graduates: Brianna Clarke, Toni Mills

Key returnees: Tianna Sweeney (Sr), Nataly Hernandez (G/F), Maya Slisz (Jr, G)

Notable newcomer(s): Saniya Pellergrini (Sr, G), Asia Gaines (Sr, G), Jada Hubbard (Sr, G)

Outlook: The Hurricanes struggled through last season, finishing with five wins for the second straight year. With the loss of their senior leader Brianna Clarke, who was the team’s top rim protector and offensive presence in the paint, the offense could again be a challenge this winter.

But New Britain does return a veteran lineup that includes Tianna Sweeney, Nataly Hernandez and Maya Slisz to name a few, that has been able to gain plenty of varsity experience over the past few seasons. According to head coach Mark Wesoly, now in his third year leading the program, the players are grabbing the aspect of what the coaches want night in and night out and understand what they need to do to be successful.

BERLIN

Head coach: Sheila King (16th season)

Last year: 18-5 (lost in Class M semifinals)

Key losses/graduates: Angela Perrelli

Key returnees: Lyzi Litwinko (Sr, G/F), Ashley Wenzel (Jr, G/F), Carly Grega (Jr, G), Callie Gendron (Sr, F), Wynter Yovan (Jr, F)

Notable newcomer(s): N/A

Outlook: Heading into this past offseason, the Redcoats were feeling confident in making another deep state tournament run in 2020, and that confidence was justified. Angela Perrelli was the only starter lost to graduation, and with 1,000-point scorer Lyzi Litwinko and all-conference talent Ashley Wenzel back for another season, Berlin was considered one of the strongest returning groups in the area.

This label will be tougher to live up to than expected after Wenzel broke her leg during the soccer season, and is still limited in her basketball activities. Wenzel, who owns five program records, is a huge piece to the Redcoats’ plans of getting to a state championship, so if the rest of the group can tread water, or even better, until she returns, the postseason run they were hoping for can still be a reality.

NEWINGTON

Head coach: Marc Tancredi (2nd season)

Last year: 22-5 (lost in Class LL quarterfinals)

Key losses/graduates: Olivia St. Remy, Maya Gajowiak, Aby Flores

Key returnees: Ashanti Frazier (Sr, G), Karissa Zocco (So, G), Sabrina Soler (Sr, F), Alexie Armour (Jr, F)

Notable Newcomer(s): Marlie Zocco (So, G)

Outlook: Tancredi’s first season as the Indians head coach was certainly a memorable one, taking Newington all the way to the Class LL quarterfinals, where it lost to eventual runner-up New London. With Ashanti Frazier back for her senior season, the goal is likely to get back to that point, if not farther.

Frazier is coming off her second straight all-conference campaign, averaging 14 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in a sparkling junior season. Karissa Zocco, who added just under 10 points per game last year, will form a dynamic backcourt with Frazier. The frontcourt suffered a big loss in Olivia St. Remy, who averaged 10 rebounds per game last season. Sabrina Soler and Alexie Armour will try to fill that void, and should do a strong enough job to get the Indians back in position to make another tournament run.

PLAINVILLE

Head coach: Jessica Neuweiler (4th season)

Last year: 12-9 (lost in first round of Class M state tournament)

Key losses/graduates: Caitlin Barker, Samantha Lozefski, Krystyna Miller

Key returnees: Jaida Vasquez (Jr, G), Kori Jones (Jr, F), Tessa Susco (Jr, G), Lilly Wazorko (So, G)

Notable newcomer(s): N/A

Outlook: After nearly upsetting Berlin in the opening round of last season’s state tournament, but to get back there, the Blue Devils will have to do it without one of the most efficient scorers in program history. Caitlin Barker, an All-State selection last year after eclipsing 1,000 points for her career, graduated and is playing at the University of Saint Joseph, leaving a massive offensive hole that needs to be filled. An unexpected departure of Krystyna Miller, who left via transfer, means even more production needs to be accounted for.

Jaida Vasquez will be heavily relied upon on the offensive end. As a sophomore, she was second on the team in scoring (behind Barker) with 13 points per game, and lead the team in rebounds (8.2), assists (3.6) and steals (3.4). Vasquez will be leading a younger starting lineup than last year, but the returning talent should be enough to keep Plainville in the state tournament discussion.

SOUTHINGTON

Head coach: Howie Hewitt (1st season)

Last year: 5-15

Key losses/graduates: Kristen Longley, Diane Williams

Key returnees: Taylor Sullivan (So, G), Brianna Harris (Sr, G), Livvy Pizzitola (Jr, G), Julia Korp (So, G), Kelley Marshall (Jr, F), Allison Carr (Jr, F), Megan Mikosz (Sr, F), Samantha Sullivan (So, F), Alison Barretta (So, F)

Notable newcomer(s): N/A

Outlook: The new season brings a new era for the Blue Knights, as Howie Hewitt, a long-time coach at Maloney, takes over the program after Mike Forgione held the title for 16 seasons. Southington is in a rare spot, coming off an underwhelming season, and Hewitt will look to return the program to a consistent winner.

Allison Carr, Kelley Marshall and Livvy Lizzitolla should all take steps forward after logging heavy minutes as underclassmen, and the return of captain Megan Mikosz could help the rest of the young core that will see time this season. With another year of experience, Southington should take a step forward in Hewitt’s first season, with the question being whether that step will be big enough to reach the state tournament.

INNOVATION

Head coach: Michael Jessie (7th season)

Last year: 6-14

Key losses/graduates: Gabriella DeJesus Brown, Arianna Ferguson

Key returnees: Chelsea Wray-Brown (So, G), Te’ijah Roberts (So, G), Ariana Rivas (Jr, G/F), Breanna Santana (Sr, F), Lydia Bishop (Sr, G/F)

Notable newcomer(s): N/A

Outlook: The Ravens were loaded with youth last season, which wasn’t hard to tell by a glance at the roster sheet. Ariana Rivas was a team captain as a sophomore, and with the departure of graduating captain Gabriella DeJesus Brown, Rivas will have to take on an even more demanding role if Innovation wants to draw closer to the .500 mark this season.

Chelsea Wray-Brown and Te’ijah Roberts were both main contributors as freshmen on last year’s squad, meaning their maturation and evolution will be a key factor to what kind of season the Ravens have. After losing seven of its last eight games in the regular season last winter, Innovation is hoping to start this year with much different momentum, and continue to build upon its young core.

GOODWIN TECH

Head coach: Jeff Bemis (7th season)

Last year: 10-11 (lost in first round of Class S state tournament)

Key losses/graduates: Joarielys Pino, Kerilad Ocasio, Katria Tirado

Key returnees: Nyssa Foster De Oro (Jr, C), Justina Rodriguez (Sr, F), Ericka Aponte (So, G), Aiyana Montes (Sr, G)

Notable Newcomer(s): Megan Lukaszewski (Fr, F)

Outlook: The Gladiators lost a few key contributors from last year, but is returning plenty enough to maintain their strong defensive identity. Nyssa Foster De Oro and Justina Rodriguez should make a formidable duo down low on the defensive end, and will make points for opponents hard to come by.

In the backcourt, Ericka Aponte should benefit from more experience after limited minutes last year, and her partner in senior Aiyana Montes will be able to help her on that front, as Montes has the most varsity experience on the team. The returning core certainly seems like enough to get Goodwin Tech back to the state tournament.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, Goodwin Tech, Innovation, New Britain, Newington, Plainville, Southington on Sunday, 15 December 2019 19:01. Updated: Sunday, 15 December 2019 19:03.