This yearâ€™s All-Herald Girls Basketball Team is loaded with 1,000-point scorers and program record-holders, making up a squad that represents some of the best talent in the state, and helped some of the top-ranked teams in all of Connecticut before the season came to an abrupt end.
Berlinâ€™s Lyzi Litwinko highlights our first team, as does a pair of Newington standouts in Ashanti Frazier and Karissa Zocco, New Britainâ€™s Maya Slisz and Southingtonâ€™s Kelley Marshall round out the first team, and on the second team is Redcoats sharpshooter Carly Grega, Plainville point guard Jaida Vasquez, Blue Knights junior Livvy Pizzitola and a pair of forwards in Hurricanes senior Tianna Sweeney and Indians senior Alexie Armour.
Berlin boasts two entries this season after rolling to an 18-2 regular season record, and leading the way through it all was Litwinko, who became the programâ€™s all-time leading scorer this season after reaching 1,000 career points in last yearâ€™s Class M state tournament.
â€śWe are very thankful [Lyzi] decided to wear red here at Berlin High,â€ť Berlin head coach Sheila King said. â€śYou knew she was special. I knew she was going to do great things for us here and amp up the program and break records. That was set for her destiny.â€ť
Litwinko led the team with 16.5 points per game and was one of the Redcoatsâ€™ most efficient scorers, averaging 43 percent from the field. A former All-State selection, Litwinko received all-conference honors again this season, and is still deciding on the next step of her basketball career, though she had received interest from several Division I schools prior to this historic season.
â€śLyzi gave us four incredible years, and the town of Berlin really enjoyed watching her play,â€ť King said. â€śSheâ€™s an incredible kid and sheâ€™s got big things ahead of her.â€ť
Litwinko and Berlin ran into trouble in the second round of this yearâ€™s Class MM state tournament, losing to Jonathan Law at home, but a big part of that unexpected loss was the absence of Grega, who became another reliable scorer to pair with Litwinko.
The junior suffered a broken nose just before the game against Law, but not before she earned an all-conference selection and averaged 10.5 points per game, while also posing as the teamâ€™s top 3-point threat. Grega led the team in 3-pointers made and attempted, and was also tied for the most efficient shooter from downtown, hitting her triples at a 36 percent clip. With Litwinko graduating, Grega will likely be the teamâ€™s top scoring option alongside Ashley Wenzel next season.
â€śSheâ€™s been an incredible leader for us,â€ť King said. â€śWeâ€™re so proud of her. She is such a gritty player, and it does seem a little unfair that she couldnâ€™t play in [the second round of the state tournament] after the tremendous season she had. She was a vital part of this team.â€ť
Newingtonâ€™s run to a state championship came to a frustrating end when the season was canceled, leaving the Indians in an unfinished matchup in the Class L quarterfinals. It also marked an abrupt end for Frazier, who was looking to build off an already historic season that saw her get her 1,000th career point at home during the regular season. Frazier, an all-conference selection, was an elite scorer all season long, averaging a team-high 15.7 points per game, but also was just as prolific on the defensive end, leading the team with 2.7 steals per game. Frazier will be tough to replace next season after finishing her career as one of the top players in program history.
â€śSheâ€™s done a great job in the two years Iâ€™ve been here,â€ť Newington head coach Marc Tancredi said. â€śIâ€™m so proud of Ashanti. Iâ€™m blessed to have coached a player like her.â€ť
Frazierâ€™s basketball career will continue next year, as she is committed to play at Rhode Island College.
Zocco, a sophomore shooting guard, will do her best to make up for Frazierâ€™s loss next year, and showed this year that she has the scoring ability to do so. The sharpshooter was named to the all-conference team after representing one of the best 3-point shots in the CCC, drilling 58 triples while shooting 34 percent from downtown. Zocco was second on the team with 10.6 points per game, and like Frazier, was a force on defense, averaging 2.2 steals per game. Together, Zocco and Frazier represented one of the best backcourt duos in the state.
â€śSheâ€™s a really good player,â€ť Tancredi said of Zocco. â€śShe has a really high basketball IQ and a feel for the game. We know sheâ€™s hard to contain and other teams are going to key in on her, but sheâ€™s such a pure shooter that thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind that when she puts it up, itâ€™s going in.â€ť
One of Newingtonâ€™s unsung heroes was junior forward Armour, who was quietly one of the teamâ€™s most efficient scorers while owning the offensive and defensive glass. Armour was third on the team with 7.6 points per game, but also pulled down eight rebounds per game, including 4.5 from the offensive end, generating a load of second-chance points for the Indians.
Armour, who tallied double digits in rebounding in five different games, appeared in every game for Newington, and will likely take on a bigger role next season.
â€śShe was our x-factor all year,â€ť Tancredi said. â€śDefensively, she brings a presence that not many of our bigs can offer. Sheâ€™s multi-dimensional and can defend on the perimeter and with rebounding. She was phenomenal for us. Thatâ€™s why she found herself out there with the majority of the minutes.â€ť
New Britain made the state tournament for the first time in three seasons, and junior guard Slisz was a big reason why. The all-conference selection was the teamâ€™s leading scorer, and set the tone for her season back in December when she banked in a game-tying shot against Plainville in the Rybczyk Tournament final with just seconds remaining in regulation, then scored four quick points in overtime to secure the win.
Slisz scored 20 points in that victory, and dropped 18 in a win over Wethersfield later in the year, which clinched the Hurricanesâ€™ state tournament berth.
Slisz was one of the most consistent producers for New Britain this year, averaging 16 points per game while shooting 37 percent from the field. She was also reliable from the charity stripe, shooting 71 percent from the free throw line.
The point guard also averaged four assists per game and two steals per contest on the defensive end. Slisz, a team captain, already has 721 career points while playing in just 61 games. She without question will be New Britianâ€™s top offensive target again next year.
â€śMaya has shown much improvement as a leader this year and only being a junior,â€ť New Britain head coach Marc Wesoly said. â€śShe hit some big shots for us this year. She is not shy about wanting the ball in a big game situation and willing to take the shot. She has been a tremendous leader and teammate...and I am very fortunate to have her for another year.â€ť
The Hurricanes do suffer a few losses from this yearâ€™s group, including senior forward and team captain Sweeney, who was a force on the glass for New Britain all year.
Sweeney was selected to this yearâ€™s Senior All-Star Game, which was unfortunately canceled, but still ended her career by leading the team to a higher regular season win total (11) than the past two years combined (10).
Sweeney averaged eight points per game while shooting 36 percent from the field, and was one of the teamâ€™s top rebounders, averaging eight boards per game. She was also the teamâ€™s top rim protector, tallying eight blocks per contest. Sweeney logged four double-doubles on the year and graduates with a share of a school record, having tied the programâ€™s top mark with 22 rebounds during a regular season contest last year.
Southington experienced a similar resurgence, getting back to the state tournament after a five-win season the year before. Marshall was at the forefront of the Blue Knightsâ€™ newfound success, leading the team with 9.6 points per game. Marshall, an all-conference selection, unfortunately suffered a leg injury prior to the state tournament and was unable to play in the postseason, though she will be looking to lead Southington back next year.
The Blue Knights clearly need her, as the team went just 1-5 without her after she suffered her season-ending injury.
Despite the loss of Marshall, the Blue Knights were able to get a win in the first round of the state tournament thanks to junior point guard Pizzitola, who nailed a baseline jumper with four seconds left to beat Manchester in thrilling fashion.
Pizzitola averaged 7.6 points per game, tied for second most on the team, and led the way defensively with 3.6 steals per game.
With Pizzitola, Marshall and others coming back next season, the Blue Knights are poised for another successful run.
Rounding out our squad is Plainvilleâ€™s Vasquez, who logged a second straight all-conference season.
Vasquez, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore last season, stepped into a leadership role this year and helped Plainville nearly pull off an upset of Seymour in the opening round of the Class M state tournament. The teamâ€™s top scorer, Vasquez showed her offensive ability in this yearâ€™s Rybczyk Tournament, when she dropped 46 points in a span of two games.
â€śI have the utmost confidence in Jaida,â€ť Plainville head coach Jessica Neuweiler said. â€śShe works really hard and is really dedicated to the game.â€ť
Of our 10 All-Herald selections, seven received all-conference honors this season, while two (Litwinko and Frazier) conclude their high school careers as 1,000-point scorers. The five teams that the All-Herald entries represented combined to win four state tournament games before they were cut short with some brackets in the quarterfinals and others in the semifinals. Of the 10 entries, six averaged in double figures in scoring in an overall memorable season.