NEW BRITAIN - For many on the Innovation girls basketball team, this is a season where things have come full circle.
The Ravens celebrated their senior night on Tuesday, making the six seniors the first to play all four seasons at the school since the program first began playing.
Innovation started playing varsity as Med-Ed Prep in 2015 a year after being established and playing junior varsity in 2014.
While there have been plenty of ups and downs - such as the loss on senior night - along the way, the players continue to focus on the successes they’ve had, not only this season, but the recent years as well.
“Being here for all four years, I definitely think our program has gotten a lot better,” Innovation forward Bailee Nardi. “I think this has been one of our best years so far.”
The Ravens’ first year as a varsity team (2015-16) was rather successful.
Innovation clinched its first playoff berth and advanced to the first round of the Class S tournament. Unfortunately the Ravens run ran short, as they fell to Goodwin Tech 39-28.
Innovation missed out on the postseason last year, but this season, the program is looking to change that as it sits with a 7-10 record and one win away from clinching a postseason berth.
“This year we’re hoping to win one more game to make it to the state tournament for Class S,” Nardi said.
The six seniors that have been leading Innovation to success this season are Nardi, Kelsey Walicki, Stefany Ferguson, Aryanna Townsend, Delilah Rodriguez and Christina Nazario-Fernandez.
Townsend, Nardi and Rodriguez have all been under the watchful eye of Innovation head coach Michael Jessie since they were freshmen.
“I can’t say enough great things about them,” Jessie said. “Ary and Bailee have been with me for four years. I’ve seen them progress from freshmen all the way up into senior-year leaders. Delilah Rodriguez, another senior, who’s also been with me for four years, and she is another one who has really developed.”
When Nardi came to CREC Academy of Science and Innovation her freshman year, all she knew was ballet.
“I wasn’t a sports player at all,” Nardi said. “I was a ballerina and especially now being a senior, I think I myself have improved with ball handling, scoring and just being more aggressive in the game all together.”
With the combination of Innovation and Two Rivers this past year, the Ravens got Ferguson and Nazario-Fernandez, who is currently on the verge of breaking a school record of most blocks in a single season.
Walicki is new to the sport of basketball.
Originally, a member of Innovations girls soccer team, Walicki decided she wanted to try something new her senior year.
“[Walicki] really has helped us,” Jessie said. “She has been the leading scorer in a couple games and even hit a couple big 3s [Tuesday]. She’s just an all-around good kid.”
The first-year player didn’t know what to expect, but as the season continued she has seen improvement in herself and the team.
“As a team we’ve improved a lot since our first game that we played,” Walicki said. “The coaches have helped us a lot, improving us every single day. The more practices we had and the more bonding we did, [it] made us a better team by the end of the season.”
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860)801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org