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Senior captain Carly Fresher and the North Haven girls’ basketball team put together their second-straight winning season with Head Coach Tom Blake by posting a record of 8-6 for the 2021 campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Sarah Puzone capped off her career with North Haven girls’ hoops by earning a spot on the All-SCC East Division Team this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Captain Olivia Stefanik and her fellow seniors did an excellent job of leading the North Haven girls’ basketball squad through an unusual campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Emily Konopka gave North Haven some valuable minutes at the forward position during the 2021 winter season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Emma Liedke led the North Haven girls’ basketball team in both points and rebounds per game this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The North Haven girls’ basketball team enjoyed another successful year with Head Coach Tom Blake this winter. It was a campaign that was in danger of never being played due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but North Haven’s athletes got their opportunity to compete and produced their second-straight winning season with Coach Blake.
North Haven finished with an overall record of 8-6 this winter. After winning seven games during the regular season, North Haven defeated Foran in the quarterfinal round of the SCC Division II Tournament before taking a loss to West Haven in the semifinals in its last matchup of the year.
Coach Blake feels glad that North Haven was able to take the court. It means a lot to Blake that his seniors got to experience a sendoff season and win plenty of games along the way.
“I was so worried about the pandemic, and I was concerned for the seniors that they wouldn’t have a season. When the CIAC said that we could play 12 games, I couldn’t have been happier. They were ecstatic to be playing, just as I was,” said Blake. “I thought that we were very successful. The kids never complained about anything, and that is a credit to them. We had a strong team bond, and that helped us out.”
North Haven suffered a big loss when junior Eveani Okwuosa, a returning All-SCC player, suffered a season-ending injury prior to the campaign. However, Coach Blake said that his team refused to fold and remained determined to follow up last year’s success with another good one in 2021.
Blake felt that a turning point came when North Haven faced Amity on the road in its fourth game of the year. North Haven trailed by 11 points in the fourth quarter, but rallied for a 42-40 victory that showed Coach Blake what his club was made of.
“It showed me that there was no quit in this team. We could have packed it in, but this team said, ‘We’re not going to do that,’ and came back and made plays and got a turnaround win for us,” Blake said. “It put us at 3-1, and the kids felt great about being 3-1. The whole team defended them great in the fourth quarter, and we walked out of the gym with a win that we weren’t supposed to get.”
North Haven went on to have a solid regular season that saw squad notch a record of 7-5. North Haven then competed in the SCC Division II Tournament, where the team posted a 57-26 home win over Foran in a quarterfinal game on March 19. Although North Haven lost to West Haven in the semifinals, Coach Blake was pleased that his team earned a playoff victory in what was essentially a flawless performance.
“We fought all year long for a home game, and we played great. We executed our game-plan, and the kids played great defense and offense,” said Blake. “We scored points on transition off of our defense. I was very happy with the way we played. We did all of the good things in that game.”
Coach Blake said that the leadership of North Haven’s senior quartet kept the team together this season. North Haven was led by senior captains Carly Fresher, Sarah Puzone, and Olivia Stefanik, along with fellow senior Emily Konopka.
Fresher averaged 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals per game while piloting North Haven from the point guard position.
“Carly was terrific. She knew our offense inside and out,” Blake said. “We let her call the plays, and she just gave us great leadership. She didn’t turn the ball over. She got us into our offense, which is what you want your point guard to do.”
Puzone, a wing, also had a nice year by scoring an average of 7.5 points to go with 5.5 rebounds and 2 steals per game. At the end of the season, Puzone was presented with All-SCC East Division honors for her performance.
“Sarah was the face of our defense. We had the half-court trap, and she was on point,” said Blake. “Sarah did a tremendous job on the press. She’s prideful of her defense. She’s a good defender and wanted to get better, and she did.”
Stefanik averaged 5.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal per game for North Haven. Coach Blake said that the senior shooting guard set a great example with her effort in practice and then carried that over into games.
“Olivia never took a play off in practice. No matter what drill we were doing, Olivia did it 100 percent,” Blake said. “When your senior captain does that in front of all those freshmen, it’s great because they know that have to do the same thing and they follow that example.”
Konopka, who played forward, scored 3 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field and also averaged 2 rebounds per game. Konopka netted a career-high 11 points when North Haven completed its season sweep of Amity with a 41-38 victory versus the Spartans on March 9.
“Emily had a great year. She gave us leadership, talked on the court, and made shots when she had to,” said Blake. “Emily did everything we asked and always asked questions. The freshmen would always look to see what her answer was, and then she would go help them out.”
While North Haven was receiving exemplary leadership from its seniors, the team also saw a couple of sophomores have breakout campaigns. Senior center Emma Liedke turned in a big season by averaging 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block per contest for North Haven this winter.
“Emma was so improved from last year. She was a warrior out there and never stopped,” Coach Blake said. “Emma got hit by bigger, stronger kids and constantly battled. She got knocked down and got right back up. She was our leading scorer and leading rebounder.”
Liedke will be attending Choate next year, while Okwuosa is going to attend Hamden Hall. Coach Blake said that he is going to miss working with Liedke and Okwuosa, whom he referred to as “great basketball players and great kids,” but added that he wishes both of them the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Sophomore guard Julia Ball also made a name herself this season after putting forth some of her best performances down the stretch. Ball finished the year by averaging 6.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. Ball hit the game-winning basket with one second left when North Haven earned a 36-34 win versus Guilford.
“Julia’s shot came around, and everything came around,” said Blake. “She was one of our most improved players all year.”
Sophomore guard Olivia Johnson, freshman guard Ava Johnson, and freshman center Erika Fronte also became members of North Haven’s rotation this year. North Haven’s roster also included freshman guards Cameron Ryan, Zaria Bradley, and Ava Papa, along with freshman forwards Damaria Williams-Davis and Ava Halovatch.
In his second season at the helm of North Haven girls’ hoops, Blake’s coaching staff featured Lindsay Suhr, who was head coach of the JV team, along with Jen Merck and Elizabeth Jackson.
With two solid years in the books, Blake feels optimistic about the direction in which his program is heading. He believes that the 2021 season served as another stepping stone as North Haven continues its climb up the SCC and state ranks.
“I was extremely happy. We had just as good of a season this year as we did last year,” Blake said. “We let people know that we have a good program—a program that is going forward, getting better every day, and winning more and more games.”