Shoot­ing for the stars

We­ston among the tal­ented squads out to de­throne Kolbe

The Norwalk Hour - - SPORTS - By Ryan Lacey

If re­cent sea­sons in the SWC are any in­di­ca­tion, it is to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

Few pre­dicted Kolbe Cathe­dral would be the last team stand­ing when last sea­son ended, and al­most no one thought Bethel would go from a .500 team to win­ning its first-ever ti­tle the year be­fore.

Five dif­fer­ent schools have claimed the ti­tle in the past five sea­sons, and sev­eral who haven’t are ca­pa­ble of end­ing a drought this time around. A hand­ful of teams are ca­pa­ble of de­thron­ing the Cougars, but with most of their squad back that will be a dif­fi­cult task.

5 TEAMS TO WATCH

NEW­TOWN: Though the Nighthawks lost All-SWC point guard Rylee Mul­li­gan, most of the roster re­turns. Sharp­shooter Nicki DaPra will lead a deep and ath­letic group while guard Amy Sapen­ter will also pro­vide a scor­ing punch along with sis­ters Cailin and Cyleigh Wil­son. The Nighthawks were the top seed in the con­fer­ence a year ago.

New­town’s last crown came in 2011.

ND-FAIR­FIELD: With po­ten­tially the best player in the con­fer­ence in Ya­mani McCul­lough, the Lancers will be a dan­ger­ous out in the post­sea­son. Gabby Joseph departs from last sea­son’s fi­nal­ists, who hope to claim a first ti­tle since 2016.

Se­niors Vanessa Joseph and Mia Dunn also re­turn while Erin Harris will be a key con­trib­u­tor. A trio of new fresh­men will add depth and could pro­vide an im­me­di­ate im­pact.

KOLBE: The de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons came of age last sea­son, aveng­ing de­feats to New­town and NDFair­field to claim its first ti­tle since 2009.

The Cougars will head to bat­tle with a new coach as Devin Parker

re­places long­time coach Lisa Hodges. Kolbe re­turns the bulk of their of­fense to ease the tran­si­tion. A pair of four-year starters — Gra­cen Kerr and Trin­ity Stack­house — will lead the Cougars’ chase for back-to­back ti­tles.

WE­STON: The Tro­jans will have to re­place three key se­niors in Claire De­Marco, Ge­or­gia Burkhard and Grace Toner, but an 18-7 ef­fort least year pro­vides hope of com­pet­ing for a ti­tle. Se­nior Katie Orefice is a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion player at the school while Katie Joyce and Jen­nifer Welsh are ex­pe­ri­enced starters.

Coach Dan Rosen noted size and re­bound­ing may be the big­gest road block be­tween the Tro­jans and a deep run as the tallest player on the roster stands 5-foot-10. Guard-ori­ented play with Orefice and Joyce could take them far, though.

BETHEL: Coach An­der­son Rawl­ins has trans­formed the Wild­cats into a peren­nial con­tender, a sta­tus that won’t change in 2018-19. Bethel is on the younger side this year but se­nior Gabi Mend­conca and junior Maranda Ny­borg form one of the strong­est 1-2 punches in the league.

Bethel hadn’t won more than 10 games in any sea­son in the pre­vi­ous decade, but won 22 games in 201617 and 19 last year.

5 PLAY­ERS TO WATCH

Katie Orefice, We­ston: Was named sec­ond-team All-State by USA To­day as a junior, lead­ing the Tro­jans to the Class M semi­fi­nals. First team All-SWC se­lec­tion. Al­ready eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in her junior sea­son. Av­er­aged 17.5 points, five re­bounds and four as­sists per game last year.

Mag­gie Lee, Pom­per­aug: The lone se­nior for the Pan­thers, Lee will be the top threat this year. The 5-foot-8 for­ward can shoot from the out­side and take it to the rim. Av­er­aged 11.7 points per game in 2017-18. Com­mit­ted to play at Weslyan.

Ya­mani McCul­lough, Nd-Fair­field: With an in­cred­i­ble feel for the game well be­yond her years, McCul­lough will once again lead the Lancers to a lot of wins. The sopho­more point guard could be one of the best play­ers in the con­fer­ence this win­ter.

Trin­ity Stack­house, Kolbe: The MVP of last win­ter’s tri­umph, Stack­house is a dom­i­nant force in­side for the Cougars. The 5-foot-10 for­ward is a re­bound ma­chine.

Maranda Ny­borg, Bethel: The 6-foot-2 cen­ter av­er­aged 18 points and 7.5 re­bounds per game last sea­son and will be one of the key lead­ers for the Wild­cats, who have suf­fered heavy grad­u­a­tion losses the past two sea­sons. 5 GAMES TO WATCH

Ma­suk @ Pom­per­aug, Dec. 21 7 p.m.: Many are tab­bing Ma­suk as a po­ten­tial dark­horse this year and to break up the top-heavy na­ture of the con­fer­ence. An early test in South­bury will shed more light on how much Ma­suk — who went 10-12 last year and reached the play­offs — have im­proved.

Brook­field @ Bar­low, Jan. 8, 7 p.m.: Two teams that missed the play­offs but have a great chance to qual­ify this fall. The Bob­cats sport one of the best play­ers in the con­fer­ence in Jenna Joshi while the Fal­cons are loaded with ex­pe­ri­ence.

Bethel @ New­town, Jan. 11, 7 p.m.: Could eas­ily be the two teams that are play­ing at the end of Fe­bru­ary for the ti­tle; the Wild­cats have claimed the last three meet­ings.

Kolbe Cathe­dral @ ND-Fair­field, Feb. 6, 7 p.m.: A re­match of last sea­son’s con­fer­ence fi­nal should be just as com­pet­i­tive; the Cougars will be far more ex­pe­ri­enced this time, though.

Bethel @ We­ston, Feb. 12, 7 p.m.: Two teams that squared off in the SWC quar­ter­fi­nals last sea­son both have high hopes again. Could help de­ter­mine who gets a home quar­ter­fi­nal in the post­sea­son. The sea­son fi­nale for both.

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

We­ston’s Katie Orefice drives to the bas­ket against Ca­reer on March 10. Orefice, a se­nior, passed the 1,000-point mark and was named sec­ond-team All-State by USA To­day as a junior.

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