BRISTOL - Injuries at a crucial position, countless illnesses and adjusting to different styles of play game in and game out all played a part in a St. Paul girls basketball season that was special, despite a second-round exit in the Class M state tournament.
“I’m proud of them,” St. Paul head coach Joe Mone said. “We fought until the end. We played a lot of inexperienced kids and JV kids out there. We got some points from them and a couple rebounds from them. I’m disappointed we lost, but I’m not disappointed in the effort I saw this year out of all the kids. And I’m definitely not disappointed in how we played [against Stonington on Thursday]. It’s unbelievable to describe this season, and extremely proud would be the other way to put it.”
Through it all, the Falcons had one name constantly in the lineup, Aidrianna Lopez. She became the identity of the team following the loss of star player Janessa Gonzalez to an ACL injury.
Lopez is the type of player that battles for all 32 minutes regardless of what the scoreboard reads. That became how the entire team played. If somebody else went down, it was the next person up. Each player had a role in reaching the second round, whether that player was in the starting lineup, on the bench, sidelines, crutches or at home getting text updates from teammates.
Through all of it, Lopez and fellow seniors Molly Hooks, Brigett Giantonio and Lindsey O’Bright kept the team in good spirits and made sure everybody kept pushing.
“I would explain our team as outstanding,” Lopez said following the Class M tournament loss. “We hustled and were dedicated to each other regardless if we kept winning or losing. Love, that’s what it is, it’s passion.”
The three key injuries came at the guard position, losing Janessa Gonzalez, Taylor Crawford and Emma Cretella for the year.
For a team that didn’t have point guard experience coming in, that was a devastating blow.
“If you take three of your top four guards out, I’d like to see what other team scraps and battles and wins 18 games and another six or seven after [Janessa] got hurt,” Mone said. “For who they are and what they’ve had to overcome, they’ve had a great year. It’s unbelievable they didn’t lose them all. They really believed they were going to go the whole distance. All the way around, it’s unbelievable. It was a crazy year.”
The Falcons have youth and next season they should be right back in the thick of it, ranked near the top in Class M.
Gonzalez, Jade Udoh, Crawford, Olivia Stump, Oliva Heslin, Megan Fortier and Kailyn Bielecki make up a sophomore class that’s led by Gonzalez and Udoh.
“Janessa is definitely going to have to put in a lot of work to get to where she was and maybe better,” Lopez said. “Jade will get better also with each practice. Every year they’re going to get better.”
Without a doubt, though, this was a season that the Falcons could have made a deep run in the Class M tournament if they had all their pieces healthy.
“We had a downfall,” Lopez said, “with losing people to injuries and sickness. There was one point when the whole team was sick, but we pulled through. We had a good season. We finished 18-5, I think. To have what we had, it’s unique to be able to pull through with how much we didn’t have. I’m very happy with my teammates.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org