BRISTOL - Both the St. Paul and Bristol Eastern girls basketball teams were successful this past season, making the postseason despite some key injuries suffered along the way.
The other two area teams, Bristol Central and Terryville, struggled throughout the year, with just one win each.
Thanks to their success, the Falcons and Lancers lead the way in our 2017-18 All-Press Girls Basketball Team selections, the 10th annual squad.
St. Paul has six selections, including three on the first-team: Janessa Gonzalez, Jade Udoh and Aidrianna Lopez. Morgan Kolb, Molly Hooks and Lindsey O’Bright round out the rest of the All-Press players from St. Paul as second-team selections.
Bristol Eastern has three selections - Hannah Maghini, Miranda Janick and Jordan Ouellette. Maghini makes our first-team, while Janick and Ouellette are part of our second-team.
Despite the team’s struggles, the Kangaroos had a standout player in McKenzie Huria, who makes our All-Press first-team for her performance.
Falcons sophomore guard Gonzalez led her team to a 9-1 record to begin the season before suffering a torn ACL against Holy Cross midway through the year.
St. Paul felt her absence in the lineup to a large extent, as she was the primary scorer and was adjusting well to her new role at that point. Even though the Falcons went 8-4 without her in the lineup, they were eliminated in the first round of the NVL tournament and lost in the second round of the Class M tournament as the No. 3 seed against No. 14 Stonington.
St. Paul would’ve been a threat to win both tournaments had Gonzalez been on the court, as she was one of the top players in the NVL and a sure thing to get many college looks. Gonzalez was named to the Class M All-State team as well.
“Janessa is one of those players that can create offense on her own when things aren’t going right,” St. Paul coach Joe Mone said. “When she went down it changed the dynamic of our offense. She also was one of our best shooters, and when she went down it became harder for the forwards because it allowed defenses to pack it in down low, so it hurt our offense a lot.”
The Falcons needed other players to pick up the slack without her and had multiple players do so. Lopez and Udoh filled in admirably with more being asked of them.
Udoh, a sophomore, was a force in the paint for the Falcons at center, and her ability to shoot the ball showed more as the season progressed and her confidence grew. In the Class M tournament loss, she extended her shot to the 3-point line a couple times, something Mone believes she can instill into her game in the offseason.
With two years still to go, Udoh is on her way to get multiple offers at the collegiate level as well.
Lopez was the identity of the Falcons. Without Gonzalez, St. Paul needed gritty performances, and that was Lopez’s style of play. Anytime a loose ball was on the floor, Lopez was the first one diving for it. For a 5-foot-8 guard, Lopez’s ability to rebound the basketball stood out, and she was the only Falcons player consistently healthy in a season marred by injuries.
Lopez is planning to run either track or play basketball in college, but is still undecided as to where.
Hooks, Kolb and O’Bright round out the St. Paul players receiving All-Press honors.
With the Falcons down their best shooter in the middle of the season, somebody needed to step up and do so quickly.
Kolb was the one to do so, as she went from being a secondary shooter to the primary scorer for St. Paul.
It was all on display on the big stage when the Falcons beat Oxford in the first round of the Class M state tournament 44-37. In the game, Kolb put on a clinic with 18 points, including 10 consecutive points to give St. Paul the late lead.
“When Janessa went down we lost not only our best shooter but one of the best shooters around,” Mone said. “Morgan [Kolb] could always shoot but she became even more important in that role for our offense.”
Her ability to shoot the ball was beneficial to the post players, who became the focal point of opposing defenses over the second half of the year.
While Udoh led the way for St. Paul down low, she didn’t do it all herself. Hooks played next to her in the paint and the two teamed up to make up a dynamic frontcourt duo. Rebounding was a big strength of St. Paul and those two deserve much of the credit.
Like most of the St. Paul players, O’Bright battled injury. She missed multiple games this season with a concussion. While on the floor, though, O’Bright was a contributing player on the best team in the area. She played strong enough both offensively and defensively as a mainstay in the Falcons rotation.
Where she helped out most was as a leader. O’Bright was one of four seniors on this year’s Falcons roster and is a well-respected athlete at the school, with softball being her primary sport. For a team that dealt with so much adversity, senior leadership was a big reason St. Paul was able to stay focused and put together a winning record.
“I’m proud of every single one of them,” Mone said. “For all that happened to us, a lot of people judge it as a season that wasn’t successful based on the preseason expectations, but I consider it an exceptional season with all of what happened and how we reacted.”
O’Bright will be attending the University of St. Joseph and playing both softball and volleyball. Hooks will be attending Loyola University in Maryland but will not be playing sports. Kolb still has a year left at St. Paul and is unsure as to whether or not she will play in college.
The other area team with multiple players on our All-Press squad was the Lancers, who were tasked with facing top-ranked New London in the first round of the Class LL tournament, ending in a 62-22 loss.
Seniors Maghini and Janick were the main reason Bristol Eastern was able to get into the tournament.
Both were strong shooters and impacted the game in multiple ways. Maghini averaged 17 points per game, while Janick averaged 10.7 per game.
Maghini ran the point and set up the secondary scorers in positions they could succeed. It showed with 4.1 assists per game, though her role was to be the go-to scorer.
Janick’s presence on the floor was more defensive-oriented, often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player. She did a good job this season with it and had strong court awareness, averaging 3.2 steals.
Maghini will continue her basketball career in college at Western Connecticut State University. Janick will not be continuing her playing career at the next level but will be attending college.
With the young Lancers team, sophomore Jordan Ouellette stood out in that group.
Ouellette took on more responsibility with the loss of Meredith Forman for the year. She finished the season as the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 11 points, and will be the focal point of next year’s team.
Terryville’s Huria shined on a one-win team. Huria finished off her impressive career with the Kangaroos averaging 12.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals. She also shot 77 percent at the foul line. She scored 250 points, which accounted for 44 percent of the Kangaroos’ offense over the course of the season.
Without her on the team Terryville likely wouldn’t have won a game, as she scored 22 points in the Kangaroos’ 42-31 win over another struggling team in Wilby.
Huria will continue her playing career at Elms College next season.
“I think it’s great,” Terryville coach Tom Morgan said. “She’s always wanted to continue playing and she chose a spot where she can play right away. I’m really happy for her.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org