Basketball season is upon us

My first year covering high school football was a little rough. I may some mistakes with names, I still don’t have a good statistics system and I especially have trouble writing on deadline from a McDonald’s halfway across the state. That being said, it was a good experience.

Basketball season is upon us and although my favorite sport, baseball, doesn’t play until the spring, I am excited for basketball games.

Last year while I was working with Joe Pelletier at the Middletown Press for my internship, I covered a number of girls basketball games including Maria Wesleyj’s 1,000th career point night at Mercy, some Middletown High games, the Shoreline Conference semifinals at Coginchaug with Jimmy Zanor and the state finals at Mohegan Sun (Friday night). I missed the “shot heard ’round Connecticut” when Wesleyj hit the buzzer beater to win the Class LL championship for Mercy. Those were a great experiences and this winter I know I am ready to write some great boy’s and girl’s basketball stories for both the Middletown Press and Game Time CT.

I don’t know how much I will be writing, because I will also be at ESPN some nights during the week, but I will do my best to cover games for both of these outlets and collect scores from around the Middlesex County area and Shoreline Conference to increase my exposure.

In the Shoreline Conference, I look for Cromwell to repeat for the lone reason that they won last year and have the conference player of the year coming back, Janelle Harrison. The senior will be heading to the University of Hartford next year, but will carry the Panthers first this year. They will not go undefeated like they did last year, but are surely the team to beat.

I hope I can write enough and be called on enough to get back to Mohegan Sun in March for the state finals, that will be a solid season and over just in time for baseball season to get started.

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The SLC stretches past Class S

Yesterday I wrote about how deep the Shoreline Conference was and focused on the Class S tournaments, but completely forgot about Class M. I just looked at the girls tournament results and Haddam-Killingworth will be playing for the Class S soccer championship.

H-K may play a mostly Class S schedule in the Shoreline Conference, but as I said yesterday, it is probably the deepest in the state, especially in girls soccer. They will be playing Waterford for the title on Saturday and although it’s tough to make a prediction, these two schools have a common opponent we can base some of that off of.

Both teams played Woodstock this year. Woodstock earned the #7 seed in the Class L tournament and won their first game 6-0 over Fermi before losing to Bunnell.

In the third game of the season for the Cougars, they tied Woodstock 2-2 in the northeast corner of the state. In the last game of the season for Waterford, the Lancers lost to Woodstock at home 3-2. There is not much to go by with this common opponent. One game was played early in the season, the other late and I don’t know anything about the Woodstock Academy. The point is, like I’ve been trying to make is, the Shoreline Conference is so good.

#5 H-K beat #12 Berlin, #4 Watertown and #16 Weston to make the finals. #3 Waterford beat #14 Holy Cross, #27 Sheehan and #2 Tolland. We will see what happens on Saturday, but the moral of the story is, the SLC is deep.

Three of eight teams playing for a girls soccer state championship are from the Shoreline. The next closest is the SCC where Branford and Guilford will play for the Class L title.

How deep is the Shoreline Conference?

You may know by now how much I love the Shoreline Conference (especially volleyball), but I have been noticing during tournament time, how good they really are.

Let’s start with girls soccer since the finals are almost set.

Before the year started, I went to Portland High School to do season previews for both the boys and girls soccer teams. The boys were coming off a winless season and the girls, a trip to the Class S finals. Coach Sandy Booth told me the girls had two goals this season, “get back to the SLC tournament and make the state tournament.” They have now done both.

Portland defeated Coventry 2-1 Monday night to secure their second straight state finals appearance. They lost to perennial power Immaculate of Danbury last year 5-0 (Immaculate moved to Class L this year). The Highlanders were expected to contend for a state title this year, but coming into the tournament as the #5 seed was a little low. Yes, anywhere in the top-10 is a contender, but coming off the season they had before, without losing much, Portland had high expectations.

They received a first round bye and then defeated #21 Wheeler (5-0), #4 Bolton (1-0) and #16 Coventry (2-1) to advanced to the Class S finals.

But this isn’t about Portland girls soccer, it’s about the Shoreline Conference.

On the other side of the bracket, #2 St. Bernard will play #11 Old Saybrook on Tuesday for a spot in the final vs. Portland. So how strong is the SLC? Eight of the teams finished the regular season with a record above .500 and nine made the state tournament. 38% of the Class S tournament was made up of the Shoreline Conference. #20 Morgan was the lowest seed, but the next lowest was #13 East Hampton, who finished the regular season with a 8-5-2 record; including a win against #3 Coginchaug early in the season.

Old Saybrook went 9-5-2 in the regular season in the SLC with keys wins over Old Lyme and East Hampton.

Basically in Shoreline Conference girls soccer, they beat up on themselves all fall and when they got to the tournament, they are taking it out on everyone else. We could have an all SLC girls soccer final and if that happens, I won’t be surprised.

Boys soccer is just as strong.

Last week I was at a Class S second round game between conference opponents, Cromwell and Haddam-Killingworth. The Panthers defeated the Cougars 2-1 in OT and moved on to play…surprise, another SLC opponent in East Hampton. As a matter of fact, after Cromwell plays Old Lyme in the semifinals on Wednesday, there will have been four all-SLC matchups in the Class S tournament with the possibility of one in the finals.

Much like on the girls side, more than half of the conference made the boys tournament (30% of the field represented by the SLC). #18 Lyman Memorial was the lowest seed for the conference with a 7-8-1 record. Old Saybrook gained the top seed after thouroughly dominating the regular season (14-1-1). Their only loss came to Cromwell in OT and they tied Westbrook, which was the biggest shock of the year. Westbrook only won once all season.

Three of the four teams playing in the Class S semifinals are from the Shoreline Conference, so it’s very likely that we could have another all-SLC final, although this #2 Bolton team is not going to be easy for the #3 Valley Regional Warriors. Bolton outscored their opponents 52-23 on the season and 7-2 in the state tournament. Valley Regional also has an explosive offense, but it will be tough.

On the other side, Cromwell is playing Old Lyme. The two met in the last game of the regular season with Old Lyme winning 2-1 in OT. The Panthers are playing some great soccer right now and have the opportunity, if Valley Regional wins, to not play a single team outside of conference in the state tournament.

Now to where I call my high school sports expertise, at least in the fall: volleyball.

Once again, the Shoreline Conference is dominating.

Morgan and Haddam-Killingworth entered the tournament as the top two seeds and only Morgan is still standing, but it took another SLC power to take out H-K…East Hampton.

The teams met twice during the regular season (H-K won both meetings) and twice in postseason (East Hampton won both meetings). As you can tell, there is too much parody in the conference, minus Morgan. The top of SLC volleyball was very good and the bottom was not. I wouldn’t say it’s the deepest conference, but very well might be the most competitive in the state. Morgan has won 22 straight title, but that’s besides the point, the rest of the league is catching up.

H-K has a very good team overall. They have some of the best attackers in the conference and maybe the state and play with great ball movement. East Hampton hasn’t even had a volleyball program for that long, but ever since John Post came in, they have been winners. In 2011 they made the state semifinals and are back two years later. Plus, the Bellringers are playing their best volleyball of the season right now and have a great chance to make the finals if they can beat Lyman Memorial.

Like I’ve said before, Coginchaug may be the most talented team in the conference. They have all the pieces and have shown signs of greatness, with set victories over Morgan on two occasions. Hale-Ray and Valley Regional aren’t in the same conversation as the top four, but are still good teams and didn’t qualify and win matches in the tournament for no reason. It just goes to show how deep the Shoreline Conference is.

In three separate tournaments, the SLC has had seven teams make the semifinals out of a possible 12. If you don’t think the Shoreline Conference is the deepest in the state or at least Class S, than who is?

East Hampton vs. Haddam-Killingworth volleyball preview

East Hampton and Haddam-Killingworth have been two of the best teams in the Shoreline Conference for a few years, just behind Morgan, who no one can seem to beat. Well, they face off tonight for a chance to play for a conference championship.

Twice this year the Cougars and Bellringers met and both times H-K won 3-1.

The game is in Higganum and for the third time this year, I will be there. The Haddam-Killingworth Fieldhouse has the ability to get loud and I expect the student section to make some noise. It will be tough for an East Hampton team, who has been battling injury all year to win.

H-K has two of the best outside hitters in the conference and will be tough to stop. Both teams are well coached and wouldn’t be surprised if this one goes five sets, but I think the Cougars are too strong.

Back on deadline

A couple of weeks ago, before the fall high school sports season began, Jimmy Zanor of the Middletown Press called me and asked if I was ready to write for the paper again. Of course I was and couldn’t wait to get started.
The first assignment he gave me was a season preview for Portland boys soccer. I thought, “no problem, I’ve done these before,” but it wasn’t that easy. I mean, yeah, it was short, but after looking at last season’s record (not a single win) I knew it was going to be tougher than expected.
When I got to the field for practice the coach joked with me saying, “must be a slow news day if you’re coming here.” Yeah, I don’t really know why Jimmy wanted me to do that story, but I did it anyway and it came out well for being my first story in a few months.
After the weekend he asked me to profile the girls team from Portland, which would be a little easier since they had a lot to talk about. Last year they played in the class S state finals, so saying they would like to finish the job this year in about 500 words was easy.
After submitting these stories to Jimmy to edit and seeing them on the website, it felt good to be back. He had made some edits, but I’m always learning and seeing the changes that make my stories sound better make me want to be better.
The first game story I did this season was Coginchaug vs. Haddam-Killingworth volleyball. Last fall I became a big volleyball fan after watching Central Connecticut State and lots of Shoreline Conference contests, so this game would be fun. It was a great match with H-K winning in five sets.
I drove home and wrote my game story in about an hour or so and got it in well before deadline, but the pressure of getting a story done in time was fun…again. It feels good to be back on deadline.