North Haven Looking for More Success on the Court
Senior captain Carly Fresher and the North Haven girls’ basketball team are looking to follow up last year’s success with another solid season on the court this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Sarah Puzone returns for her senior year with North Haven girls’ hoops and will lead the team alongside fellow captains Carly Fresher and Olivia Stefanik. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Senior captain Olivia Stefanik and the North Haven girls’ basketball squad will once again look to play staunch defense this season, while improving upon their outside shooting. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Junior Eveani Okwuosa was an All-SCC Second Team honoree on behalf of the North Haven girls’ basketball during her sophomore season last year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Tom Blake is back for his second year as North Haven’s head coach on the heels of a successful 2019-’20 campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Last year, the North Haven girls’ basketball team earned its most victories since the 2007 season, including one win apiece in both the Southern Connecticut Conference Tournament and the Class L State Tournament. As he enters his second year as head coach, Tom Blake wants to see North Haven’s seniors continue moving the program forward.
Colleen Lucey and Laura Petrafesa, who served as the team’s senior captains last season, have graduated, as have Zoi Burns and Giuliana Ciarleglio. This year, North Haven will be led by three senior captains in guards Carly Fresher, Sarah Puzone, and Olivia Stefanik.
“They’re very well-respected by their teammates,” Coach Blake said of his captains. “Usually, when you’re respected by your teammates, you’re one of the harder workers. You care about the team, and you care about your teammates. Those two attributes fall into consideration for all three of them.”
North Haven is also returning senior Emily Konopka for this season. Konopka spent most of last year playing in the paint, but moved to the outside toward the end of the campaign. Coach Blake said that Konopka has a solid shot and will be relied upon to produce from beyond the arc in 2021.
Forward Eveani Okwuosa is back for her junior year after garnering All-SCC Second Team accolades as a sophomore. Coach Blake is also expecting sophomores Julia Ball, Emma Liedke, and Olivia Johnson to all step up in their second seasons with the team.
Coach Blake said that 3-point shooting will be a point of emphasis for North Haven this year. While his team excelled at using strong defense to create layups at the other end last season, Blake feels that North Haven can improve upon its outside shot and overall perimeter offense in 2021.
“We need to be able to shoot the ball better from the perimeter,” said Blake, whose team posted a mark of 14-10 last year. “Our defense was terrific, because we got a lot of steals and converted a lot of layups. I want everybody to shoot the ball, and I’m looking for Emily and Carly to step up and help us out there.”
North Haven recently started holding its conditioning sessions on the track at the high school, running and training without a ball for 30 minutes a day as the team prepared to open practice. Although the weather was cold, Coach Blake felt pleased to see his athletes take advantage of the opportunity and said the conditioning sessions were well-attended.
On Jan. 14, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced that basketball teams could start practicing on Jan. 19 in advance of a regular season that can get underway as early as Monday, Feb. 8. Teams can play a maximum of 12 regular-season games, after which there will be a postseason experience that features league tournaments instead of state tournaments.
Despite all of the scheduling differences, Coach Blake is glad that North Haven will have a chance to compete and feels especially happy that his seniors are getting one final opportunity to play high school basketball.
“This is business as usual. I’m very happy that we’re playing,” Blake said. “These four seniors have worked very hard the last three years. If we weren’t allowed to play, I would have been devastated for them. But we’ve got a chance to play and, whether it’s one game, two games, 12 games, it doesn’t matter. We have a chance to compete, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Coach Blake is hoping that North Haven’s younger athletes see the hard work put in by the seniors and try to emulate that effort. Blake believes that the leadership of his veteran players will prove crucial as North Haven strives for success both this year and beyond.
“I want them to learn from the seniors that it takes hard work to get the job done,” said Blake. “My four seniors last year were excellent. Two were captains, and they all worked real hard. You have to have that. When your seniors are working hard, everybody else picks up on it.”