- FUN FEATURES
CHS Basketball Teams Are Contrast In Varsity Experience
When Cheshire High School junior guard Missy Bailey takes the court to open the season against Daniel Hand tonight, it will be the first time she has started a high school basketball game without Maria Blois. Blois started games for four years, the last two beside Bailey.
“It was nice to have Maria ease Missy into the lineup,” said Head Coach Sarah Mik. “I think she is ready to take that leadership role at point guard. What she has learned over the last two years will be helpful.”
Bailey, a two-time All-Housatonic Division selection, is among four returning starters to this team. Lauren Como, Emma Gorham, and Molly Jalbert have assumed the role of senior captains after Blois, Lauren DeBisschop, and Riley Hasson graduated from a 16-8 season, including the school's second straight Housatonic title (6-2 tie with Sheehan).
Blois and DeBisschop played varsity for four years, while Hasson came up for the last two seasons.
“They were definitely a huge part of the team. We are a family, so it is different now,” reflected Como.
“A lot of girls have stepped up to helped fill their positions,” added Jalbert.
Girls gained experience over the team's breakthrough season, highlighted by an eight-game win streak at one point. Cheshire (fifth seed) reached the Southern Connecticut Conference semifinals where they fell 63-51 to eventual champion Career (top).
“We have a lot of girls who can contribute. I think I'll go with a 10-player rotation,” said Mik. “I'm confident about the leadership of our captains. All three started playing together in travel basketball. (Classmate) Ariel Greene is back from Mercy, but will sit out to start the season after transferring.”
“It feels great to be able to lead the team,” explained Gorham. “It is our turn to take up that mantle of responsibility.”
The offense will be orchestrated by Bailey, who led Cheshire in points (596 in first two years), assists, and steals last winter. Her impact was displayed in a 51-49 win over Amity. CHS trailed 26-16 at halftime before Bailey exploded for 18 points (school record) in the third quarter. She finished with career-highs for points (27) and free throw percentage (13 of 14), breaking the 49-49 tie with two foul shots under 10 seconds. Bailey played the final 4:43 with four fouls.
“I've talked to her about taking over games from the start,” explained Mik. “Her first instinct is to drive. Missy has developed her mid-range game, so that makes for a lethal combination with her three-point shot.”
The captains became starters last season. Como is a top defender on the perimeter. Like Bailey, she can drive and shoot from the outside. Como tallied 15 of her personal-best 21 points in the second half of a 53-45 victory at Lyman Hall. Bailey (18 points, six rebounds) each had four steals and three three-pointers that evening.
“We are looking for more ball-handling from Lauren. Missy needs help on the floor because she will draw a lot of attention,” stated Mik.
Mik hopes Como and her sophomore sister Sara can provide the kind of versatility Cheshire lost in Hasson. Sara Como played key minutes as a freshman.
“It is fun having my sister on the team,” said Lauren. “It will be our last time playing together on the same team.”
Without Blois, junior guards Bryanna McIntosh and Lily Dolyak will fill the final guard spot in the lineup.
“Bryanna and Lily played extensively on JV (junior varsity) last year. They are similar players,” added Mik.
Despite the departure of DeBisschop, Gorham and Jalbert return experience inside. Both became starters last season. Jalbert produced a career-best 16 points and added 11 rebounds during a 54-36 victory over Lyman Hall. The same night represented the first start for Gorham, who pulled a personal-best nine rebounds.
“It feels good to get our opportunity to shine. We do miss Lauren on the team,” stated Jalbert.
“Molly can step out to shoot the ball. Emma is more relaxed and comfortable. Her foul shooting is more consistent,” said Mik. “We have a nice inside-outside game with them and our guards.”
Getting to the foul line, through driving and post play, is one of the keys to each game. In winning at Lyman Hall last season, Cheshire made 17 of 23 attempts.
“We need to get to the line, especially down low,” Gorham said.
Mik feels her roster has depth. Seniors Christy Myjak and Marisa Edwards didn't return to the team, but Greene provides experience upon her return.
Cheshire will strive for a seventh Housatonic title in the last eight seasons against Amity (Jan. 18; Feb. 5), Lyman Hall (Jan. 4; Jan. 22), Sheehan (Jan. 11; Jan. 28), and Shelton (Dec. 20, Jan. 25).
“That is a huge goal for us,” stated Lauren Como. “We have to look at each game as part of a big battle. We need to come to play.”
According to Mik, the first mission is to win the Berlin Holiday Tournament (Dec. 28-29, 5 p.m.) and secure eight wins to qualify for the Class LL Tournament.
Cheshire begins with three straight home games, but that slate continues against state powerhouse Hillhouse (Tuesday; Jan. 8) and then Sacred Heart Academy (Thursday; Jan. 2). The girls visit Class LL runner-up Mercy for the road opener on Dec. 18, hosting them on Jan. 30. They also meet Career (Jan. 16, Feb. 1) twice. Start times, like tonight's game, are 7 p.m.
“Our kids know we have a tough schedule,” stated Mik. “They understand it will be worth it to play strong teams to test ourselves before states.”
SHA (16th seed) eliminated CHS (17th) 64-41 in last winter's Class LL First Round.
“The way it ended last year left a bad taste in our mouth,” said Mik. “They have a good team. It will be a battle.”
Photo of Jalbert, Como, Bailey, and Gorham was taken by Allen Paul/Cheshire Herald.
Cheshire boys' basketball, conversely, returns without four starters from last season. In all, the Rams graduated seven seniors from the 2011-12 team that won the school's first Housatonic Division title (7-1; 13-10) since 2000.
Captains Tim Covel, Eric Dietrich, and Erik Pettit, along with Kevin Dietrich comprise the senior class of this team.
“I think we are coming along well,” said Head Coach Dan Lee. “We have a lot of kids who will be gaining experience. They've played well in three scrimmages. As a whole, it is a hard-working team.”
The graduation of Nate Howard, Sebastian Little, and Jordan Kubilus changes the look of the front court. Howard, who started full-time in his last two seasons, used his six foot and 11 inch frame to impact the offensive and defensive ends. As a senior, he compiled 21 points, 14 rebounds, and seven blocks in a 46-45 win at West Haven.
“A lot of teams didn't run their offense through the middle because of him. When he didn't block a shot, he would force people to alter them,” recalled Lee. “Nate was the focal point of defenses and shared the ball to his teammates. We'll miss him as a player and person.”
Howard, who captained the team last season with Little and classmate Kevin Adams, received All-Housatonic en route to finishing in the top 10 for single-season and career blocks. He has started his collegiate career at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Little (Nick Carparelli Award) enjoyed a breakthrough season as a senior, his first as a starting forward. Kubilus contributed off the bench.
“We lost most of our height on the varsity level. We'll play teams with an advantage in that area, so we look to outwork them and rely on team rebounding,” explained Lee. “Tim Covel and (junior) Tyler Post will be big guys inside.”
With depth on the perimeter, Cheshire is embracing a transition offense this winter. Junior Collin Jordan is the returning starter, running the show from point guard.
“If you look at Collin's stats last year, it doesn't tell the full story,” said Lee. “His ease at the point and ability to find the open man are traits that he brings to the court. Collin is unselfish and has a great understanding of the game.”
Eric and Kevin Dietrich combine with Pettit to start in the backcourt, helping offset the leadership previously provided by Adams and Tyler Barnes (University of Connecticut-Avery Point). The Dietrich brothers and Pettit are all lethal three-point shooters. Lee compares their situation to Barnes (University last season. Starting for the first time, Barnes was a consistent shooter from the outside and top scorer with Howard.
“Tyler had a tremendous season last year,” recalled Lee. “He finally got his opportunity and capitalized on it. I see that same work ethic in our seniors. They got experience on varsity last year and we hope it works to their advantage.”
Juniors Tommy Arisco, Reid Duglenski, Mark Dietrich, Jon Rizzo, and Pedro Pena, along with sophomore Andrew Yamin, are among a group looking to contribute off the bench.
Kevin Dietrich energized the team last year at Lyman Hall, scoring a career-high 11 points during the fourth quarter of a 55-41 victory. Alfred Kroqi and Max Formica seized their chance to play heavily on Senior Night.
“We've played a lot of guys in the last couple seasons. We reward them for working hard in practice,” stated Lee.
Cheshire (11th seed) lost the 2012 Southern Connecticut Conference First Round 65-54 at Hamden (sixth), but rebounded in the Class LL Tournament. CHS (16th) raced past Stamford (17th) 72-52 to earn the program's first home state tourney win in 12 years.
The Rams were eliminated 77-59 by two-time defending champion St. Joseph (top) in a Second Round game that was closer than the final score indicated. Cheshire used a 13-0 run to pull within two points twice (41-39, 43-41) in the third quarter.
“A lot of guys were in that environment and really competed,” Lee reflected.
Cheshire renews Housatonic rivalries with Amity (Dec. 20, Jan. 25), Lyman Hall (Jan. 18, Feb. 8), Sheehan (Jan. 4 and 22), and Shelton (Jan. 15, Feb. 1).
“Every year, the Housatonic has competitive rivalries,” stated Lee. “We had a hard-working senior class with a great dynamic last season. We were happy that they accomplished the honor (division champions.”
This schedule is tough right off the bat. Cheshire visits defending Class L Champion Career in Wednesday's opener and then travels to West Haven (Dec. 14, Feb. 18), hosting Xavier on December 18. They travel to Xavier on Jan. 30. The Rams also play SCC foes Wilbur Cross (Jan. 11 and 28) and Joseph Foran (Jan. 8, Feb. 12). Southington (Dec. 27) and Wilby (Feb. 6) are non-conference opponents.
“We know it is a challenge,” added Lee. “We want to get better every game.”
Cheshire was supposed to host Career to start the season, but with issues involving the roof of the West Gym, they flipped home games. Career comes to Cheshire on Feb. 15. All start times are 7 p.m.
Bottom photo of Jordan was taken by Jim Brandolini/Cheshire Herald.