The Class L State Championship game did not end the way the Newington girls basketball team wanted it to, falling 60-45 against Notre Dame-Fairfield, but reaching the final game of the season signifies a turning point, not an end for the dominance of this program.
Competing in the program’s first championship game since 1993, Notre Dame-Fairfield outplayed Newington in the second half and earned the right to celebrate after the final buzzer. As the excitement ensued from the winning side, Newington head coach Marc Tancredi looked on in disappointment, but filled with a quiet confidence in knowing this is unlikely to be his last trip with his team to Mohegan Sun Arena.
Despite losing five seniors from this year’s team, which reached the finals of its state and conference tournaments, the future remains positive for the Nor’easters. With a younger group ready to step into leadership roles, the program’s ever-strengthening culture is set to create a perennial title contender.
“I love [these seniors],” Tancredi said. “They made a huge impact in this program, more than what they think. This team, this senior class is going to be remembered for years to come. They elevated us to a spot we could only dream of, and when they come back in whatever capacity that is, it’s going to be great to see them and know that they built this.”
While replacing UMass-bound Lilly Ferugson will be a challenge in the immediate future, Newington carries a deep roster from top to bottom with budding talent that probably is not leaving anytime soon. While four of the seven players that ate up most of the team’s minutes this season were seniors, the other three were freshmen, two of whom started.
“We have good junior leadership that’s going to come in,” Ferguson said. “I talked to them in the locker room and I hope they learned a lot from me and I hope they learned a lot from Karissa [Zocco] as captains. Our freshman group is strong and talented. For the next three years they’re going to be great for us.”
Freshman Bela Cucuta finished the state championship game as the Nor’easters’ leading scorer and was one of the team’s primary offensive weapons all season. Along with Kendall Miller and Selah Prignano, who are all already listed at 5-foot-7 or taller, Newington’s freshman group is already hardened with experience from playing an entire season at a high level.
Cucuta and Miller each logged more than 20 minutes in the state finals against some of the best competition in the state, while Prignano already proved her ability to contribute as a spark off the bench by scoring 10 points during the Central Connecticut Conference Championship Game.
While all of these freshmen just completed their first year in the program, Tancredi already had foundations of success in his previous three seasons. Newington went 15-0 to win the CCC Championship in last year’s shortened season, and reached the state quarterfinals the previous two years. Tancredi’s 2020 group never lost in the state tournament, but had its season cut short two days before hosting its third tournament game.
Newington has benefitted from having one of the top players in the state in recent years, with Ashanti Frazier preceding Ferguson’s two years with the program, but Tancredi now has the chance to develop his own young players who already have great promise. Ferguson transferred to Newington after two years at East Catholic and saw vast improvements, which she recognizes and appreciates.
“He gave me a lot of confidence,” Ferguson said. “My past coaches didn’t give me that confidence, but he told me he knew I was special. He told me that I was special and that I was going to be a leader for this team, and I was.
Tancredi and his returning players will have to wait several months for another shot at a championship, but everyone in the program can stay confident knowing what they have to build off of after such a successful season.
“It’s meant so much, not only to our program and the culture that we continue to build, but our community. I think the future is very bright if we stick to our values and how we try to work each day. I think we can still be competitive for a state title every year,” Tancredi said.
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.