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Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame announces 2014 inductees

CP basketball graphicThe Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame has announced its 2014 class of inductees who will be recognized on Wednesday, April 23, at the Cascade Banquet Facility on 480 Sherman Avenue in Hamden.

Former high school players Chryssandra Watts (Bristol Eastern) and Jennifer Gombotz (Southington) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Joe Russo, the long-time coach at New Fairfield High School, former University of Connecticut and WNBA star Nykesha Sales, former Southern Connecticut State player Kate Lynch, referee Fran Vandermeer and University of Hartford athletic director Pat Meiser.

Created in 1987, the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame honors outstanding basketball players, coaches, officials and advocates for the sport. The Hall of Fame is located in the Brenda Reilly Gallery at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Tickets are available from Ann V. Fariss at 203-378-6581 or via email at avfariss@sbcglobal.net. Tickets are $50 each. Cocktails begin at 6 p.m. with the dinner at 7 p.m.

Watts, an U.S. Olympic handball player and Gombotz are being inducted as high school players. Russo is being inducted as a high school coach while Sales and Lynch are being inducted as collegiate players. Vandermeer is being inducted as a referee while Meiser is being inducted in the honorary category.

Chryssandra Watts – High School Player

Chryssandra Watts

Chryssandra Watts

Chryssandra Watts was an outstanding three-sport athlete at Bristol Eastern High School, earning All-State honors in basketball, track and field, and volleyball.  She led her team to the Class LL State Championship during her senior year.

Chryss was one of those athletes who could excel in any sport, but it was in basketball that she really made her mark.  She was a natural on the court as a scorer, rebounder, passer and leader.  She had the ability to communicate with everyone and was greatly respected by both peers and school officials.

Chryss brought her skills to the University of North Carolina where she excelled in basketball and track and field.  She captained the basketball team during her senior year and finished third in the heptathlon to help the Tar Heels win the Athletic Coast Conference Championship in track and field.   At North Carolina, she is recognized as “one of the all-time, all-around great successes in sports.”

During her senior year at UNC, Chryss was invited to try out for the United States national handball squad.  She made the team and played on the 1992 team that finished 6th in the Barcelona Olympic Games. She was the captain of the 1996 U.S. Olympic handball team that competed in Atlanta.

Obviously a natural leader, Chryssandra Watts had captained her high school, college, and Olympic teams as she excelled on all three levels of play.

Jennifer Gombotz – High School Player

Jennifer Gombotz

Jennifer Gombotz

Jen Gombotz was simply one of the best athletes the town of Southington had ever seen.  She dominated sports in all three seasons. When she graduated, Jen was recognized as the Connecticut Female Athlete of the Year.

Jen is acknowledged as one of the top five athletes to ever go through Southington High School – male or female. She was named to All-State teams eight times.  She would have exceeded that number if freshmen had attended the high school.

Jen Gombotz was outstanding at everything she did.  She earned two All-State selections in volleyball and was named All-State three times in basketball and softball.  Jen led Southington to the state championship game in all three sports, and pitched the Lady Knights to a state title in 1997.  Her 1996 basketball team finished second in Class LL. Jen set a Southington scoring record of 1,135 points before taking her talents to Providence College.  She lettered during  four seasons at PC, was named to the Big East all-rookie team as a freshman, and averaged 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds throughout her career.

Upon graduation from Providence, Jen turned to teaching and coaching.

Joe Russo  — High School coach

Joseph Russo

Joseph Russo

Joe Russo has been the girls’ basketball at New Fairfield High for 31 years.  Joe’s basketball teams have compiled an overall record of 392-290 while qualifying for the CIAC state tournament 23 times, including 19 years in a row. New Fairfield won the Class M state championship in 1991 and 1992 with its outstanding player Jennifer Rizzotti.

Joe’s outstanding efforts have resulted in many personal accolades.  He received the Connecticut Board of Certified Basketball Officials’ Sportsmanship Award and the Gatorade CT High School Coaches’ Association Outstanding Coach of the Year Award.  Joe was twice acknowledged as Danbury News Times Coach of the Year and has been inducted into the New Fairfield Hall of Fame.

Nykesha Sales – College Player

Nykesha Sales

Nykesha Sales

After an outstanding career at Bloomfield High, where she averaged 36 points and 12 rebounds per game as a senior, Nykesha Sales was named national player of the year.  She brought her talents to the University of Connecticut in 1994.  After providing us with four years of personal highlight videos, Nykesha concluded her UConn career by being selected to four different All American teams and being named Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.  As a freshman, she was instrumental in helping UConn win its first national championship in 1995.  She finished as UConn’s all-time leading scorer with 2,178 points and remains its all-time leader in career steals (447) today.

Nykesha scored a team record 3,955 points during her WNBA career, which spanned 278 games with the Orlando Miracle and Connecticut Sun franchise from 1999-2007. She played in a team-record 248 consecutive games from 1999 through 2006 and still holds the all-time Connecticut marks for points, games, minutes (8,762), made field goals (1,481), field goal attempts (3,539), made three-pointers (352), three-point attempts (990) and steals (490). Sales is one of just six players to be voted on to seven WNBA All-Star teams. Only two players, Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie, have appeared in more All Star games.

She currently works with the Sun as a Community Liaison and Assistant to the coaching staff.

Kate Lynch – College Player

Kate Lynch, the current head coach at Malloy College (Photo courtesy Malloy College)

Kate Lynch, the current head basketball coach at Molloy College (Photo courtesy Molloy College)

Kate Lynch arrived at Southern Connecticut State University in 2004 – fresh from an outstanding career at LaSalle Academy in Rhode Island where she was a two-time All State selection and MVP of the state basketball championship finals.

At Southern, Kate played for Coach Joe Frager. Together, they led SCSU to a 103-26 record, four Northeast-10 Conference titles, four Northeast Region crowns and the 2007 NCAA Division II national championship, in which Kate was named the MVP.

Kate averaged 21.8 points per game as a senior and was named first team All-American for the second time. She was also the Northeast Region Player of the Year, Northeast 10 Conference Player of the Year, and New Haven Tap-Off Club Female of the Year. With the Owls, she was a two-time first-team All-American and All-Northeast 10 Conference choice. Kate also presently holds four all-time school records, including the career scoring mark.

After graduation, Kate continued her basketball career by entering the coaching ranks.  She spent a year as an assistant at Worcester Polytechnic Institute before being named head coach at Community College of Rhode Island for three years. Kate was recognized as the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association’s 2013 national coach of the year at the junior college level.  Named head coach at Molloy College on Long Island in July 2013,  Kate led the team to a 14-14 record in her first year.

A New England Basketball Hall of Fame inductee in 2009, Lynch graduated from Southern Connecticut State with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Human Performance. 

Fran Vandermeer – Referee

Fran Vandermeer, the current head volleyball coach at Smith College. (Richard Orr photo courtesy of Smith College)

Fran Vandermeer, the current head volleyball coach at Smith College. (Richard Orr photo courtesy of Smith College)

Fran Vandermeer was an outstanding athlete at Bulkeley High School in Hartford before taking her talents to Southern Connecticut State University.  At Southern, Fran was introduced to the world of basketball refereeing in Louise Albrecht’s officiating class in the 1970’s.

One coach for whom Fran had officiated recalled,  “Fran always appeared confident, well-prepared, and excited about the challenge – qualities which gave us confidence that we would not have to worry about the quality of officiating.  She was especially terrific with the players.  She was always clear, respectful, and under control.  Fran Vandermeer had a huge impact on the positive development of high quality girls’ basketball in the Central Connecticut Interscholastic League, and many of us will forever be grateful.”

In addition to years of refereeing basketball, Fran has been coaching collegiate volleyball for 16 years. She is currently in her third season at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where she led the Pioneers to a 23-9 record and the finals of the ECAC New England tournament.

She coached volleyball at Connecticut College, St. Joseph College and Trinity College before going to Williams for 10 years where she took the Ephs to the NCAA Division III tournament six times and won the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title six times. She was 254-73 at Williams.

A 1988 graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, she also has extensive experience officiating volleyball, refereeing the NCAA Division II national championship finals from 1995-2002 and the NCAA Division I regional finals in 1995-96.

Pat Meiser – Honorary

Pat Mesier, the athletic director at the University of Hartford (Photo courtesy Univ. of Hartford)

Pat Mesier, the athletic director at the University of Hartford (Photo courtesy Univ. of Hartford)

In her own words, Pat Meiser has lived Title IX – the legislation that, in part, improved athletic opportunities for women. As the head coach, she offered Penn State’s first women’s basketball scholarship in 1974.  She moved to the University of Connecticut where she oversaw the transition of the women’s basketball program from a lackluster program to a national powerhouse. Pat chaired the search committee that in 1985 hired Geno Auriemma, the Hall of Fame coach who has won eight NCAA championships.

In 1993, Pat Meiser was named athletic director at the University of Hartford – one of only 13 female athletic directors at a Division I school.  Pat convinced Jennifer Rizzotti to join the Hartford Hawks as the women’s basketball coach.  Together, they have built the women’s basketball program into one of the most formidable mid-major programs in the country.

At Hartford, Pat leads a team responsible for overseeing the growth of athletic and academic quality of the program, increasing revenue and community interaction.  In 1999, Pat was named one of the nation’s top 50 women’s sports executives by Street & Smith’s Business Journal.  In 2009, she was named Northeast Region Athletic Director of the Year for the second time.

Pat Meiser didn’t just live Title IX. She is everything Title IX represents to every girl growing up in America who has opportunities that didn’t exist for Meiser when she was their age.  As Pat prepares to retire after 21 years at Hartford, she leaves a very important footprint for all of athletics – she has made life better for others who followed.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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