PLAINVILLE - The Rybczyk Memorial Tournament is a two-day event that features four boys teams and four girls teams. The event isn’t the end-all, be-all for any of the teams that compete in it, but playing against two quality opponents on consecutive days can tell a coach a lot about his/her team.
Plainville had both its boys and girls teams in the tournament, while St. Paul sent its girls. Each team had varying degrees of success over the two days but there was plenty to take away from each.
St. Paul learns it can win ugly
The St. Paul girls basketball team came into the championship game with a 4-0 record and hadn’t really been tested to this point. It didn’t seem like Plainville would be able to provide much of a challenge for St. Paul, on paper at least, but the host team did exactly that.
Head coach Joe Mone was less than thrilled with his team’s performance in the game but he attributed a lot of that to the way Plainville played them. The head coach described his team as being like an orchestra in that everything needs to be in sync and in tune.
On Friday night, that was not the case, as Plainville brought a physical style of basketball to St. Paul which is something it hadn’t seen. It wasn’t the Falcons’ best performance but the fact of the matter is they won and ended up doing so in pretty convincing fashion, as the final score was 50-37.
“It wasn’t our best performance by any means,” Mone said. “But the fact that we were still able to win by 13 is a pretty good sign. This game showed me that this team can win different types of games. Even when things aren’t going exactly as planned, they can battle through and make enough plays to win a game so I’m happy for that and for the win but I still would rather play well.”
Mone was unsure of what to expect from his team coming into this season, as St. Paul has graduated a lot of its key players over the past two seasons. The 5-0 start was not something he expected and he certainly doesn’t expect to finish the season undefeated, but his expectations for this team have been raised.
Helping increase those expectations is the fact that freshman Janessa Gonzalez stepped up against Plainville and had a huge game when the rest of the Falcons struggled. Gonzalez scored a game-high 21 points in the championship and St. Paul needed that type of performance from her.
“You can’t just wave the candy in front of my face and then pull it away,” Mone said referring to his team’s great start. “They have started off the season playing at such a high level that now I’m going to expect that every game. [Friday night] wasn’t great but we had some good things, namely the freshman [Gonzalez] who made up for our poor shooting performance.
“I thought we might struggle at the beginning of the year but now that this team has proven to me how good they are, I expect them to continue to play at as high of a level as they have so far.”
This Plainville team is different
The Plainville girls basketball team is coming off a season in which it won just three games. The Blue Devils entered their championship matchup with St. Paul on Friday night with three wins already this season.
To say this year’s team is different than last year’s would seem like an obvious thing to say considering the win totals but the energy and confidence Plainville plays with shows what first-year head coach Jessica Neuweiler is trying to instill in her team.
The Blue Devils played a physical brand of basketball and made things extremely tough on a good St. Paul team. At the half, the deficit for Plainville was just three and it was a close game until the end of the fourth quarter when many of its players ran out of gas due to a lack of depth.
The Blue Devils got big performances from Isabel Lozefski and Jessica Masco in the championship game and through the two days of the tournament. Lozefski scored 17 points against St. Paul and was named the tournament’s MVP, while Masco had eight points and was named to the all-tournament team. In the end, though, it became a numbers problem for Plainville and it was too much to overcome.
The Blue Devils were already without Caitlin Barker to start the game and late in the fourth quarter, Cheyenne Emmendorfer went down with an injury. The team wasn’t deep to begin with so injuries, especially to key players like Barker and Emmendorfer, were tough to deal with.
Still, Plainville fought throughout and never made it easy for St. Paul in what was the Falcons’ closest game of the young season.
“We ran out of gas there in the second half,” Neuweiler said. “We are dealing with a couple of injuries and just don’t have the numbers like a St. Paul does. The girls that were out there, though, gave me everything they had and that’s all you could ask for.”
The team’s fight and ability to handle diversity is something different than last year. But the biggest thing that is different may be the confidence the players have.
“They came into this game expecting to win,” Neuweiler said. “We had a good game plan and we were able to keep it close for three quarters. We just weren’t able to get it done. Those girls know we are going to win a lot of games this season and tonight just further proved that to me with the way they battled against an extremely good team.”
Young Blue Devils have a long way to go
The Plainville boys basketball team still has a zero in the win column after losing both of its games in the Rybczyk Tournament. The Blue Devils have lost all of their games so far this season by at least 13 points, a margin of loss which has happened twice. Both 13-point losses came in the last two days for the Blue Devils and while it is still a double-digit loss, it does mark some sort of progress.
“We get a little bit better every day,” head coach Jim DiNello said. “When you have a young group like we do - we’re playing five sophomores and a couple of freshmen - you just look for incremental improvement. [On Friday] we were better than we were on Thursday. We are just going to build on that and come to practice on Monday and hope to be better on that day.”
That’s the route DiNello has decided to go, as he knows his job this season is not easy. The team is young and hasn’t played much varsity basketball so the early struggles are far from a surprise. The head coach understands that his team is going to be an underdog in virtually every game it plays so he wants his team to embrace that and come out to prove people wrong.
“We are a small school playing against much bigger schools,” DiNello said. “It’s not like we are going to have any games that we are going to walk on the floor, especially with our youth, that people say Plainville should win that game. We are pretty much going to be underdogs every night so we have to learn to deal with that.”
In the end, though, DiNello and the Plainville basketball program can only go as far as the talent takes them. The head coach thinks the talent level needs to increase but he also thinks the kids already in the program need to commit themselves to working hard and getting better every day and every year.
“I think there is a big difference between coming back a year older and bigger and coming back a year older, bigger and better,” DiNello said. “I think for all of our guys, they need to come back better. They have to work harder in practice, not take anything for granted and make the most out of every single minute, every single drill and every single rep.
“They have to do everything at game speed to get better. With young guys that have only played travel or middle-school basketball, that’s not a concept that they know well. When they get that concept, we will start to make great strides. It could be a while, but it’s definitely getting better.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org