AVON, Feb. 13 – It’s been difficult this season to challenge the undefeated Avon High girls basketball team, ranked No. 2 in the state in the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance poll. The defending Class M champions haven’t received a lot of resistance this season. However, they have been pushed by No. 7 Norwich Free Academy, Northwest Catholic and East Catholic.
Against NFA in game two, it was a nip and tuck affair for most of the contest before the Falcons pulled away for a 50-46 victory. Early in January, the Falcons grabbed a 10-point lead in the first quarter and held off East Catholic for a 49-45 triumph. Avon did have to rally from a seven-point deficit after three quarters against Ellington in December and outscored the Knights by 15 points in the final quarter of a 59-51 victory.
But since then, it’s been mostly blowouts for the Falcons (18-0, 12-0 NCCC) who have spent many games simply trying to avoid an embarrassing final score. So how can Avon prepare for a difficult Class L tournament when they’ve spent much of the year taking their foot off the throttle? Avon could face No. 1 Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport, a tough No. 3 Fairfield Warde team or an undefeated Torrington squad.
“I worry and agonize about that all of the time,” Avon head coach Frank Waters said. “We’re not being challenged in most NCCC games. My starters have been playing 16 minutes or less each night. We really can’t work on pressure or aggressive defense and it’s easy to get into bad habits at both ends of the floor.”
One of his solutions was to schedule the toughest competition he could find. NFA is 15-1 and a contender in Class LL. East Catholic is a perennial contender in Class LL along with Northwest Catholic in Class L. Avon closes out the regular season next Wednesday (Feb. 18) with a game at Morgan in Clinton. Avon beat the Huskies, currently 15-2, in last year’s Class M championship game, 50-46.
Waters holds his starters up to a higher standard during games. In many NCCC games this season, a victory is a foregone conclusion with Avon’s talented and veteran team. But Waters focuses on their capabilities and what they can accomplish. In last week’s 70-41 win over Canton, he was annoyed with Avon’s 14 turnovers.
“I try to pick out two or three things to work on and emphasize in each game,” he said. Sometimes, the game helps. On Tuesday, the Falcons led by just five points against a Windsor Locks team that came into the game with a 5-11 record. Unforced turnovers, wild shots and limp defense enabled Windsor Locks to hang close. They trailed 16-11 after one quarter.
But in a flash it was over. Fueled by a stifling full court press, Avon went on a 22-0 run to close out the first half. All-State forward Lindsay Horbatuck scored 12 quick points while Jenni Marcus and Lauren Primovic each knocked down a pair of three-point shots. Laura Dulla scored on a pretty drive and Titi Vanreil sank a pair of free throws to give Avon a 38-11 lead at halftime.
The Falcons ended up with a 69-19 victory. Horbatuck finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds while Marcus added 15, including three 3-point goals. Sam Riccio scored 10 and Primovic dished out eight assists to go along with her five points.
On Friday night, the Falcons led by just one point at halftime, 20-19 over Bolton but used a 15-4 run in the third quarter to take command in a 49-36 victory on the road. Horbatuck had 13 points while Marcus scored 12 for the Falcons. Primovic chipped in with 11 points.
Waters knows that it will much more difficult to race off to big runs against better competition, especially in the Class L tournament.
“I try to create tough situations in practice,” he said. Waters will frequently bring in starters from the Avon boys team to press the girls and the boys are a quick team. “I had five boys varsity players—Joe Ives, Scott Mancini, Zak Blawie, Jack O’Brien, and Tyler D’Onofrio—work against us for an hour. They played half court man defense against us and pressed us for a while. We scrimmaged and concluded with an end of game situation. We were up four with two minutes to go and the ball.”
“I have to hope the combination of these is enough,” Waters said. “Alas, we won’t know till we get there.”
The NCCC Tournament will begin next weekend. The first round of the Class L tournament is March 3 with the second round on March 6. The quarterfinals are March 12 with semifinals on March 16 at Central Connecticut State. The championship games are March 20 or 21 at Mohegan Sun.