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Senior captain Sarah Puzone and the North Haven girls’ basketball team lost both of their games last week, but are still sporting a record of 5-4 and will look to finish their season strong. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Olivia Stefanik scored 10 points for North Haven when the team took a 42-36 defeat against Hamden on March 2. North Haven took a 39-34 loss to Lyman Hall later in the week. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The North Haven girls’ basketball squad took a pair of hard-fought road losses last week, but the bright side is that everything the team wants to achieve is still there for the taking this winter. With its record of 5-4, North Haven will look to shake off its recent defeats and finish the regular season strong in preparation for SCC Tournament play.
In its first game of the week, North Haven dropped a 42-36 decision at Hamden on March 2. Then on March 5, North Haven took a 37-32 loss against Lyman Hall in another road game.
North Haven and Hamden were tied 6-6 following the first quarter of last week’s matchup. Hamden outscored North Haven 17-9 in the second quarter to take a 23-15 lead into halftime, then won the third quarter by a 14-6 margin for a 37-21 advantage entering the fourth.
North Haven rallied back by outscoring Hamden 15-5 in the final frame, but the Green Dragons held on for the six-point victory. After trailing by as many as 16, North Haven cut the deficit to three with 1:10 remaining before Hamden put the game away.
Head Coach Tom Blake was pleased with the energy that North Haven displayed to make it a close game in the fourth quarter. On the flipside, Blake knows that chasing a 16-point deficit is never the ideal scenario for any team.
“We brought tremendous energy in the fourth period. We made steals and converted them, we made a big three. We rattled them and then they started turning it over, and we were able to score off of it,” Coach Blake said. “That is how we need to open up a game. We have to establish ourselves immediately as a good defensive team and then everything else falls into place. When we play good defense, our offense follows, but when our defensive intensity isn’t good, our offense isn’t as good.”
Sophomore Emma Liedke scored 11 points and had 13 rebounds for North Haven in the game. Senior Olivia Stefanik scored eight points, senior Sarah Puzone also scored eight points, and fellow senior Carly Fresher had seven points. Sophomore Julia Ball had five rebounds, and senior Emily Konopka had two steals for North Haven in the team’s comeback effort.
“What I liked about the fourth quarter was that everyone got involved. That’s when we are good—when everyone chips in,” said Blake. “In our first five games, we had five different kids as our leading scorer, so it’s not like we’re depending on one person. It’s usually someone different all the time, and it’s good for the team to have that balance.”
Three days after playing Hamden, North Haven was back on the road to face Lyman Hall and lost the contest by a 37-32 score. North Haven held a 5-3 lead after the first quarter and brought a 16-12 advantage into halftime. However, Lyman Hall outscored North Haven 11-4 during the third quarter to take a 23-20 lead into the fourth and then maintained that lead through the final frame to come away with the five-point win.
Fresher scored 13 points to go with two steals for North Haven. Puzone scored seven points and also had 10 rebounds with five steals on the night. Freshman Ava Johnson had eight rebounds, Liedke grabbed 15 rebounds to go with three steals, and Ball had five boards for North Haven.
Just as with the Hamden game, Coach Blake felt that his club gave a great effort during the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, North Haven was unable to overcome its struggles from the third quarter.
“We always tell the kids at halftime that we have to come out and establish ourselves in the first five minutes of the third period and let everyone know that we are going to dominate that quarter. But we didn’t do that,” Blake said. “Lyman Hall spread us out, got some pick and roll layups because our weakside help wasn’t where it needed to be, and the next thing you know, they’re up by six.”
Coach Blake’s squad kept battling and was still in the game heading down the stretch, but North Haven had a tough time making baskets, and Lyman Hall was able to finish off the win by hitting some clutch free throws.
“We were only down four late in the game, but we couldn’t score. We took some bad shots and had some good looks where the ball just didn’t drop,” said Blake. “We played better in the fourth quarter, but we got to a point where we had to put them on the free throw line, and they made all their free throws.”
Despite the two recent defeats, Coach Blake still feels good about where North Haven currently stands. Blake expects North Haven to get back on track and play strong in its last three regular-season games—which are against Amity, Hand, and Cheshire, all at home—and then take some momentum into the playoffs. This year, the SCC is scheduled to hold two conference tournaments, instead of one as is typically the case.
“We’re still in a great position,” Blake said. “One thing that I loved about last year’s team was that whenever we had a bad loss, we always came back with a win, and I anticipate the same thing this year. We had a good practice [on March 6], and the kids are focused.”
North Haven features a mix of veterans and newcomers this year. Of the 14 players on the roster, 7 are freshmen who have been competing against older kids in JV games throughout the season.
Coach Blake said that the freshmen are holding their own and also feels that his seniors are doing an excellent job of bringing them along, while keeping everyone on the team together. North Haven’s seniors are Fresher, Puzone, and Stefanik, who are the captains, along with Konopka.
“The seniors have been doing great with showing the freshmen how to work, how to do things, and then congratulating them. That is good for the whole team, from the seniors to the freshmen,” said Blake. “The seniors have been great. They’re on time, they listen to me and the assistant coaches, and they’ve worked hard from day one. When I walk into the gym for practice, they have everything all set up. These kids want to win, they want to get better, and I really appreciate that.”
North Haven has been playing its entire campaign without junior Eveani Okwuosa, who suffered a season-ending injury during a preseason scrimmage. Okwuosa earned All-SCC Second Team honors last year, and it was a brutal blow for the team to take when she got injured. Coach Blake said that North Haven’s players are rallying around Okwousa by giving the best effort they can, because they know that’s exactly what she would be doing if she was on the court. Okwuosa is still very much a part of the team and has been attending North Haven’s games.
“When Eveani got hurt, we were devastated, but I told the kids that they couldn’t hang their heads, because she would be disappointed. We told them that her 32 minutes were up for grabs and said, ‘Who wants it?’ Kids started picking up their game, working for those minutes, and they are getting better now,” said Blake. “Eveani works as hard as anyone. The kids love her, she’s a great kid, and she’s still a big part of this team.”
While the 2021 season has been an unusual one for North Haven and all the basketball teams across the state, Coach Blake has been impressed with how his players are taking everything in stride this winter. Blake said that North Haven’s athletes are dedicated to their quest for success and won’t complain for even a single second.
“It’s been a strange year and there has been a lot of adversity, but my kids have conquered every minute of it,” Blake said. “They don’t complain at all. They are focused on playing basketball. They want to play, they want to win, and they want to have a good year.”