SCC volleyball preview: Lyman Hall at Mercy

Here’s the deal today. I will be going to Mercy at 5:30 for their first SCC volleyball tournament match vs. Lyman Hall. I love volleyball and it has grown on me more and more every year, but I know nothing about the Mercy team or the Southern Connecticut Conference as a whole. I have done quite a few Shoreline Conference matches, but tonight will be new for me.

Mercy (16-2) have only lost to Cheshire (20-0), the top team in the conference, both matches ended 3-0. Lyman Hall (11-7) won’t be an easy out for the Tigers tonight however. They took Amity (16-4) five sets before losing 2-3 on October 15.

This is the first meeting of the year for the two teams and I predict Mercy wins 3-0. The Tigers played only two five set matches this year and that was opening night vs. Sheehan and a week later against Foran, winning both. Mercy hasn’t lost since October 4. Mercy will cruise there way to the next round.

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Aside

Championship Weekend

I have done so much and so little since the last time I sat down to write, so let me fill you in…

Last Thursday I spent a few hours in the Middletown Press office putting together the “Tale of the Tape” for the state basketball championship games. The Press had three teams that we cover playing for a state title last weekend, Cromwell girls, Valley Regional boys and Mercy. Each team had their own story heading into championship weekend at Mohegan Sun, but one turned out to be one of the best stories in the history of Connecticut basketball.

The “Tale of the Tape” piece I did was some research on each team and their opponent. I may be a little slow with research, but it was a fun piece. Although it took a while, it was enjoyable, because that is something people who read the newspaper are more likely to look at rather than read the entire game preview.

The first story was the Cromwell girls basketball team. They went through the entire regular season without losing a game, they won the Shoreline Conference tournament and waltzed their way through the Class M state tournament on their way to Mohegan Sun where they met Notre Dame-Fairfield.

The second game of the night was Valley Regional-Deep River vs. Weston. Both of those teams had some pretty great stories heading into the finals. Valley Regional was the #5 seed in Class M. Two years ago, Valley won the Class S championship with Jon Luster and Co. this was the best four-year run in the school’s history regardless of a championship in 2013.

Weston was the #23 seed in the tournament and upset #10 University, #2 Kaynor Tech and #6 Enfield on their way to the finals. They had some setbacks early in the season including some injuries and their coach being forced to resign and then get reinstated later in the season. If Weston had won, it probably would had been the best story of the weekend, until Maria Wesleyj of Mercy stepped on the court.

The Mercy basketball team is arguably the best girls basketball team in the state. They had lost two games all season, both to Career Magnet, one of which being in the Southern Connecticut Conference title game at Quinnipiac University. I may have written about that a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember. Anyway, the Tigers had been to the state tournament finals three years in a row and lost all three games by a COMBINED 7 points. This year marked the fourth straight finals appearance  which is an amazing accomplishment alone, but for the five seniors on the team, they weren’t about to let the elusive title slip away again.

I covered one and a half Mercy basketball games this season, the first one I went to was the first night of my internship, I went with Cathy and met Jimmy Zanor there, because Weselyj was set to score her 1,000th career point. She did so just as we entered the gym. The second game I covered was on my own. Mercy destroyed Hillhouse that night, but the point of me covering the game was to improve. I talked to coach Tim Kohs and two players, Weselyj and fellow senior Jordyn Nappi (Weselyj is friends with my girlfiend’s sister and to this day she knows me as the awkward guy who interviewed her). That story was one of my favorite game stories I have written thus far.

Let me make this quick…

Cromwell defeated Notre Dame-Fairfield 42-28, although they did trail by 3 at the half for only the 2nd time all season. They finished the season 28-0, the first undefeated team since 2007. This was Cromwell’s first girls basketball state championship.

Valley Regional defeated Weston 52-45. Weston played the Warriors very tough and were even still within 3 points with under 2 minutes to play. This is Valley Regional’s 2nd state title in three years.

Now for the game of the weekend. I was not there due to a prior commitment, but trolled Twitter during the game. I actually lost track of time and checked my go-to social media site for game updates. At the half, Mercy trailed by 3. I was a little surprised, because earlier in the season Mercy defeated the same opponent, Laurelton Hall 66-47. I was with my girlfriend at the time and I told her that the game would probably come down to a last second shot by Mercy (I swear I said this, you can ask her if you want).

We went out to dinner and engulfed in conversation in Northampton, I completely forgot about the game until after it was over and we were about to leave the restaurant.

The game was tied at 51 when Laurelton Hall, the sister school of Mercy, took a 2-point lead on a layup with 3.8 seconds left. The story was writing itself, Mercy had made the finals four straight years and had lost by a total of nine points. That just couldn’t happen.

Sheena Landy stood under the basket prepared for the biggest inbounds pass of her life. She heaved the ball 3/4 the length of the court…Cassie Santoro caught the pass between three Laurelton Hall defenders…dished to the streaking Weselyj in front of the Mercy bench…Wesleyj launched a three-pointer as the over 9,000 people in attendance held their collective breath…SWISH.

Weselyj won the game as the final horn sounded. She just hit one of the biggest shots in the history of Connecticut high school basketball history. After losing the three previous years, it only makes sense that Wesleyj was the one to hit the shot heard ’round the state Saturday night. Described as one of the purest shooters in the state according to a Hartford Courant preseason “Top-25 Players to Watch,” it was her shot that brought the Class LL championship back to Mercy High School.

My girlfriend asked me if I was disappointed I wasn’t at the game and the real answer is yes, but if I was there, it wouldn’t have happened, that’s just the way things work. I went Friday night, because I wanted to see Cromwell finish an undefeated season and I wanted to see Luster play. I got what I wanted. You can’t predict anything like that and that is the beauty of sports.

Following the game

I have only been interning at the Middletown Press for about a month, but I have already began to recognize high school basketball players names and take interest in their season. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I was the only one who has no personal connections to Mercy High School, but wanted them to beat Career Magnet School tonight in the SCC tournament finals at Quinnipiac University.

I wrote a game story about Mercy a couple of weeks ago and got to talk to Maria Weselyj and Jordyn Nappi, two of their top players. I feel like I have a small bond with that team now and secretly was rooting for them tonight.

Mercy had not won the SCC tournament since 2007 and felt like they had a great opportunity to do so this year. They came into the tournament as the #2 seed with Career being #1 after the tie breakers were applied. The teams split the season series with Mercy winning on Dec. 11 64-53 at Career and when the Panthers came to Middletown on Jan. 9, they came away with a 47-40 victory.

Quarterfinals – Saturday, Feb. 16

Mercy 78, Lyman Hall 48

Career 64, Amity 45

Semifinals – Monday, Feb. 18

Mercy 60, Sacred Heart Academy 34

Career 50,  Foran 37

Mercy and Career were clearly the top two teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference heading into the finals on Wednesday and even though I could not attend the game due to class, I followed on Twitter through the hashtag #ctgb. @NHRHenryC and @Lidivision were at the game and I retweeted them while listening to my professor teach us what kind of map our next project would be about (cartography class, as I am a geography minor).

Mercy took an early 11-7 lead after one quarter and led 25-22 at halftime. I knew it would be a close game, but Mercy seemed as if they were the better team, at least that’s what the tweets led me to believe.

With 2:38 left in the third quarter, Mercy called a timeout down 34-29. This got me worried and I had a feeling it was over. After three quarters Career led 40-29 and that was it.

There is no shot clock in high school basketball so Career played keep away for the entire fourth quarter coming away with a 48-35 win and their second consecutive SCC tournament championship.

This game raised the question of why is there still no shot clock in high school basketball? Career scored 40 points in three quarters (13.3 average) and then 8 over the final 8 minutes basically running out the clock, forcing Mercy to foul the entire time.

@NHRHenryC: “Believe it or not, with basically the entire quarter to play. career is playing keep away and it’s working Mercy #ctgb is forced to foul”

@NHRHenryC: “This game was only 3 quarters. The fans didn’t get to see a fourth Smh #ctgb Career up 46-35″

@NHRHenryC: “Both teams played hard and maybe Career wins anyway but 8 minutes of keep away is straight trash #ctgb

@NHRHenryC: “Crowd screaming play basketball as Career’s Alston shakes up every Mercy defender that tried to guard her. Even made a girl fall #ctgb

You can look at this from both sides, there is no shot clock, so Career played to the rules, they got the lead and earned the right to play keep away. On the other side, that is not basketball…

@NHRHenryC: “@haleyarnaoutis they played keep away for over 3 minutes. That’s not basketball, no passing, nothing. Just one person dribbling.”

I know I would have been incredibly frustrated and mad if I was at the game, because I was feeling for the Mercy girls. They had to foul and foul hard, according to @NHRHenryC, they were in the bonus at the halfway mark of the fourth quarter, that’s not basketball. Like he said and I saw the argument other places as well, as long as there is no shot clock in high school basketball, that will always be a strategy and the teams that earns the right to do it, will always do it, especially in win or go home games. Let’s hope this doesn’t have to happen in the state tournament where Mercy has made the finals the past three seasons and are hungry as ever to win a title.

Learning Something New

So, what did I do Thursday and Friday at the Middletown Press???

I told you what I was doing Thursday while my editor and the photographer were at the Middletown Athletics Hall of Fame…I sat in the office and blogged about that. When they came back I was given the task to find one more college story from a local athlete to finalize the “College Notebook.” After checking on a few athletes, we decided on Erikson Wasyl, a freshman basketball player at Vassar College in New York. Wasyl has just begun to start and as I write this post I am reading that he hit a clutch three-pointer on Saturday to send the Brewers to overtime vs. St. Lawrence University. Vassar won the game 84-80 in extra time.

Those four stories would be my second byline while at the press, but my next “real” one would be on Friday. I was sent out with the photographer again to cover the Mercy basketball game. This would not be a good game, it was actually a really poor game to watch. Mercy defeated Hillhouse 63-23. So how the heck do I write a semi-interesting story about a 40-point blowout??? That comes in the interviews.

I talked to Mercy coach Tim Kohs immediately after the game and he talked a lot about defense and how they worked on their zone Friday night against a team they knew they were going to beat handily.

Joe and I discussed what I was going to try to do differently for this story to make it better before I left and the two things I decided on were: 1. Take better notes and 2. Talk to a player…I did both.

I got a couple good detail plays from the game and talked to both Maria Weselyj and Jordyn Nappi after the game outside their locker room. Both seniors are looking forward to the SCC tournament and the state tournament, where they have been to the finals the last three seasons, they haven’t won and they feel like this year their team chemistry is great and they have their best opportunity to bring a state title back to Middletown.

I rushed back to the office and had about 45 minutes to get my story done before the ridiculous deadline of 9:45 p.m. I finished right at deadline and then Joe reworked the piece a little, put it on the page and sent it off to print. After the pressure was gone he wanted me to rewrite it for the website. I added a nut graph and some extra quotes and made the story more about defense and less a straight game story. One of the news reporters then read my story and gave me some suggestions. This was so cool. The best compliment of the night was from Jeff Mill. He said reading my story was exciting! I never thought about that, but I like that still. I want people to get into the story and keep them on edge.

I left the office around 11 p.m. with Joe and Jeff after another successful and educational night at the Middletown Press.