What we learned from the virtual state championship luncheon

There was no girls basketball state championship luncheon this season but a Zoom call was held Tuesday with all the state finalists.

While there were no dinner rolls from the Aqua Turf Club handed out, the Thomaston team all showed up for their zoom dressed as if they were at the luncheon.

Coaches and captains met with the media to discuss all things related to the state championship basketball game scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Mohegan Sun.

CHAMPIONS SEEKING CHAMPIONSHIPS

In a peculiar mash-up of seasons, the four schools that won’t state titles in girls soccer this past fall, now have teams playing for girls basketball championships this coming weekend and each basketball team has at least one member of the soccer team on the roster .

Wilton won Class LL as co-champions in soccer and will play for the Class LL title in basketball; st. Joseph won Class L soccer and are in the Class MM championship game; Sacred Heart Academy was co-champions of Class M and will face St. Joseph in the Class MM final and Holy Cross won the Class S soccer title and are playing for the Class M basketball championship.

Among the players who will play in state finals in back-to-back seasons are Grace Kaplan, Mia Sommer and Leah Martins from Wilton; st. Joseph had Grace Montelli; Rosa Rizzitelli plays both for SHA and Mya Zaccagnini, Maeve Perrone, Ella Atkins, Isabella Lombardo and Rachel Healey are all on both Holy Cross rosters.

“We have a lot of crossovers,” Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo said. Mya Zaccagnini was a three-year starter on the soccer team and has two state championship rings for soccer. My daughter (Isabella) was a freshman on the soccer team this year too, so she is a crossover as well.”

Martens said she thinks getting used to playing at a larger court at Mohegan Sun will be like adjusting to the larger-than pitch at Dillon Stadium where the soccer finals were held.

“The situations are very similar with a massive field and massive court,” Martens said. “We have to adjust to that. It will also be a lot louder than our normal games. People will have to listen more closely to each other and focus more. During that soccer final, it was very loud, so communication is key and we will have to carry that over to basketball.”

ONE RETURNING PLAYER

There have been no state championships held in girls basketball the last two seasons due to COVID-19 and none of the teams in this year’s championship games played in finals in 2019.

Though none of the teams have played in a state final at Mohegan Sun, one player has.

Sacred Heart Academy senior captain Sydney Rossacci was a freshman on the 2019 Sheehan team which lost in the 2019 Class M final to Cromwell.

“I played there my freshman year and it was an incredible experience,” Rossacci said. “I can’t wait to go back. It’s crazy that professional and college athletes are playing there and now we get a chance to play on that court as well.”

Rossacci will serve as a de facto tour guide for the Sharks.

“It’s a crazy, cool environment,” Rossacci said. “It’s loud, the depth perception of the baskets is different but it’s something you will never forget.”

Rossacci is the only player with state championship game experience, but the girls from Bacon Academy have played in the arena in the ECC championship game last month against New London.

“It’s a little more intimidating because of the bright lights and there’s a lot of people there,” Bacon senior Valerie Luizzi said. “At the end of the day, it’s just another gym and it’s just another game. That’s what we all have to think going in there.”

FIRST TIMERS

The Class LL championship game will feature two first-year coaches in Keishaun Macklin of Wilton and Jonathan Myette of East Hartford.

Macklin took over a Wilton team that was 2-8 last year in a season shortened by COVID-19 and with many of Wilton’s now seniors opting not to play their junior season.

“When I took over, I didn’t know the juniors had opted out and when I came to the first practice it was like Christmas having eight seniors there,” Macklin said. “I thought if I could get them to believe and trust me, we’d be fine. Once I saw what we had, I knew we could make a run and be special.”

Myette took over a slightly more stable situation with GameTimeCT MVP Shailyn Pinkney returning along with senior Kayla Henry.

Myette knew the team’s goal was a state title and he had to figure out how to help it get there for the first time in school history.

“Coming in as a first-year coach the talent is there but we had to get a lot of work done in practice and team relations,” Myette said. “Where we are right now is a testament to the girls having a shared vision. As a coach, I want to reflect the players.”

BACK FOR MORE

While the LL game will feature two newcomers, there is plenty of championship coaching pedigree in the other classes.

In Class S, Thomaston and coach Robert McMahon have made five appearances in state finals since 2013, winning Class S twice with the last one coming in 2017.

“I keep hearing people refer to the great teams we had in the past and the good fortune to be there before but this is an entirely different journey with a whole new group of kids,” McMahon said. “They did watch the other teams but they are writing their own story that has nothing to do with our teams from the past.”

Twenty-eight year Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo has led the Crusaders to five state finals, winning one title in 2007 in Class M.

st. Joseph coach Chris Lindwall led the cadets to the 2015 Class M state title.

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