Westbrook Waiting, Wishing for Winter Season
Junior guard Jami Sacco and the Westbrook girls’ basketball squad are hoping to begin practicing on Jan. 19, which is the tentative date for a winter preseason. Sacco led the Shoreline Conference in scoring last season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Junior guard Gianni Salisbury improved her play as the Knights’ season progressed playing meaningful minutes last year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Junior guard Alex Zanzalari started nearly every varsity contest for the Knights last season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
The Westbrook girls’ basketball squad is still in a holding pattern as it waits for the beginning of the winter season. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) delayed the start of winter sports due to the still raging COVID-19 pandemic, and as it stands, first practices are slated to begin on Jan. 19. Head Coach Frank Lyon and his squad are eagerly awaiting for the go ahead from the CIAC to get back out on the court in 2021.
The upcoming season will mark Coach Lyon’s second year with the Knights. Last year, Coach Lyon and his squad posted a 7-16 overall record with appearances in the Shoreline Conference and Class S State Tournaments. This year, Westbrook is hoping to build on that performance, but with a squad that stands to look different after the graduation Callie Newberg, Lexi Koplas, and Maria Dias.
“I think our personnel will be a little different this year,” Lyon said. “We may have to adjust some of our philosophies, but our end goal remains the same. Go out, compete hard, and try to make both tournaments. That’s the on-court stuff.”
Beyond the day to day of building a winning basketball team, Coach Lyon and Assistant Coach Jeff Petrillo will try to help their student-athletes evolve as people, not just as players.
“I want them also to prepare as adults everyday: go to class, be on time, do your work, be good people,” said Lyon. “We’re not just there trying to teach basketball. We’re trying to teach how to be better people going forward. Trying to have a positive impact on our players going forward.”
To that end, Coach Lyon and Coach Petrillo have been keeping in touch with the team through online meetings. While the Knights are not allowed to prepare for the season in terms of learning plays or developing workout plans, Lyon wants to make sure his squad is in the best position to compete when they are able.
“We haven’t been doing much. We’ve had a few Zoom meetings [with] the girls to stay in conversation and keep them updated on anything that I’ve heard,” Lyon said. “We’re seeing how they’re doing academically and talking to them more as a person than as a coach. We’re just trying to stay in the picture and keep tabs on them academically. We’re also just seeing how the holidays are going for them, too.”
While Coach Lyon and Coach Petrillo can’t instruct their student-athletes, they’re working on developing strategies to present when practice can begin on Jan. 19.
“Personally, my assistant and I have been in communication constantly and watching film,” Lyon said. We’re just trying to stay engaged. We’re optimistic that we’re having a season, even it is shortened. If something happens we want to be prepared.”
The Knights will have several returning players who were contributors last season. The chief of those players is junior guard Jami Sacco, who poured in the buckets last season for the Knights.
“Jami was the leading scorer in the Shoreline Conference last season,” Lyon said. “She’s a good kid off the court and a good leader. She has a bright future at Westbrook and at the next level.”
Another player who saw significant floor time last season was senior forward Emma Parkhurst. Coach Lyon expects her to assert herself even more as a leader for the Knights as their only senior.
“Emma is a good leader, and I’m looking forward to her contributions on and off the court this year,” Lyon said. “Emma did some really good stuff toward the end of the year.”
Westbrook also has a pair of junior guards returning who played big roles last year: Gianni Salisbury and Alexandra Zanzalari. Coach Lyon is looking forward to seeing how another year of experience benefits their respective games.
“Gianni came on strong at the end of the season for us last year. Alexandra started 21 out of the 22 games. She was a pretty important varsity player,” Lyon said. “They are great kids. They took major strides last year at the varsity level, and I’m looking forward to them to help steer the program in the right direction for years to come.”
The Knights will also sport a sophomore pair of guards who probably got a bit more than they bargained for last year playing significant minutes as freshmen: Allison Brajczewski and Adriana Stranieri. Coach Lyon is excited to see how their basketball skills will progress.
“Allison and Adriana were thrown into the fire at the varsity level as freshmen,” Lyon said. “They have bright futures at Westbrook for sure.”
Coach Lyon is just looking forward to when the Knights can take the court, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get a season for his squad.
“COVID didn’t end our season last year because we were already eliminated, but the state tournament was cut short because of it. I would have been devastated if we were still alive last season, but it was obviously for good reason. It’s affecting everything, all walks of life. I hope it will pass and get back to normal as soon as possible,” said Lyon. “We can’t do Xs and Os. We haven’t named captains. If we’re able to start on the 19th, I think we have to have two weeks of practices before we can play a game. We’ll do whatever we’re allowed to do. We’ll approach it however we need to make it a successful season.”