Friday, January 4, 2008


The exponential improvement in the quality of top-notch girls basketball in Connecticut was on display at Chick Shea Gym Friday night.

Bulkeley at New Britain. The rivalry has been going strong for a decade, but the current crop of players exhibit superior strength and durability. The gap between the girls and boys product has diminished.

I like to get to where I'm going early so I made sure I'd see at least some of the junior varsity game. Believe me when I tell you that the understudies in these two proud programs could give more than half the varsity teams in the state a run. New Britain's Emily Polkowski, sporting a major shiner that must have been delivered by a stray elbow in a previous game, was sensational in scoring 23 points in a Hurricane victory.

The first quarter of the varsity game featured New Britain riding an emotional high to an unthinkable 20-3 lead. Every Herald sports reader and Division I coaches around the nation have known about NB junior sensation Symone Roberts for awhile now. She's always been fast and she's always been smart, but she's better than ever now.

I saw Roberts against Windsor on opening night Dec. 5. She scored 21 points in New Britain's only loss despite suffering one of her poorer shooting nights. I didn't see the 'Canes during their subsequent eight-game tear and the difference in her game is stunning.

The fluidity of her moves on her lightning-like thrusts to the hole was captivating. She is finishing her shots so much better, exhibiting a soft touch off the glass and a variety of moves that allow her to thread her shots through the maze of arms. No player that I've ever seen has been able to harness the kind of speed she possesses.

The talents and desire of her backcourt runningmate Sarah Sideranko may not come through in box scores but she complements Roberts to a tee. Her floor burns are a testament to her hustle. She locates Roberts flying down the floor like Tom Brady zeroes in on Randy Moss, garnering assists by the bushel.

And sophomore center Tyler Kimball hit the ground running after missing the first four games. She consistently outmuscled taller and graceful Bulkeley center Samantha Sanchez. She has the agility to put the ball to the floor and leave frontcourt defenders standing still. She scored 16 points and grabbed 16 rebounds while getting Sanchez in foul trouble. With Sanchez forced to sit much of the third quarter, Bulkeley could not put together enough of a run to get any closer than nine points.

And how fortunate the girls are to have a coach like Karen Byrne come in on the heels of the legendary Beryl Piper's departure. As I overheard several observers say, Byrne guides and teaches like the college coach she once was, and like Piper will probably land another college job down the line if she so desires.

The only possible downfall for New Britain is depth. Monika Malec and Cassie Bell round out the starting five. Sophomore Shakoya Samuels was the only other player Byrne used. The hope is that Heather O'Bright, a promising freshman frontcourt player, can bounce back from a head injury and contribute. Maybe Polkowski can adjust to the speed and power of varsity ball to help out, too.

But the fact is that New Britain has the stuff to win a third straight Class LL title and having the chance to witness the journey is a treasure.


newbritainite said...

As a NBHS alum, I'm always pleased to hear of a strong team. However, as a witness to Friday night's game, I am not as ecstatic as you about the performance of the Lady Canes against Bulkeley. There's obvious skill in Roberts and a few supporting cast-members but there are many things that made me cringe about the NB style of hoops being played.

Body language: The most talented player on the court, Ms Roberts of course, had slumping shoulders and tugged on her shorts during every dead ball. It's sad that the only time she showed positive emotion was after a score of her own when her typical reaction was to clap for herself and cheer running down the court.

Siderenko, on the otherhand, the true Hustle of the Lady Canes, was relentless on the court and even looked like she could have played another 32 minutes when the game was over.

Heart: Should it ever be the case that a team's diminutive pointguard wrestles down more rebounds than the taller superstar? I guess if Symone had crashed the defensive boards she wouldn't have been able to cherry-pick the 10 or so points she poured in by hanging at half-court waiting for a Siderenko outlet pass. Commendable? Not from a purist point of view. Her "fluidity" during fastbreaks is incredible, but inbetween whistles she appears flat and uninspired.

Inside game: For a while I wondered why the post players on the NB team had their hands at their sides. The answer became self evident when hardly a single outside-in pass was thrown. Any man of odds would have advised them to rest their arms also - the rock was not going inside.

Coaching: Beryl Piper is sorely missed. The atmosphere in the NB gymnasium has changed, and not for the better. But perhaps elaboration of this point is for another comment, another time.

In sum, I'll admit that I am guilty of looking at the past with rose colored glasses. But I can't help but think how much better this team could be if there was more than one or two players that possessed an iota of intensity and a game plan that consisted of more than a full-court one-on-one game of a seemingly lazy superstar.

Ken Lipshez said...

To newbritainite:

I cannot totally dispute your commentary about Symone Roberts' court demeanor, but when you consider the young lady's strengths, I believe Coach Byrne had done a terrific job.

And I agree with your assessment about Sideranko. Not only is she the epitome of what you would want a hustle player to be but she puts any personal glory aside for the good of the team.

But Roberts' talents must be accentuated in way Piper did and Byrne does. As Sideranko's approach suggests, NB has to find a way for Roberts to use her speed to the team's greatest advantage.

In regard to the inside game, Tyler Kimball has been sensational. She had 20 points and 20 rebounds the other night. She may not be the biggest kid out there, and she's just a sophomore, but she has the determination that all great rebounders have.

The one area that could cost New Britain, and it's also a shortcoming for likely tournament foe Mercy, is depth. Hopefully young Ms. Heather O'Bright can shore up that area now that she's returned from her injury.

I think NB is the most formidable team in the state. The Canes won't see unbeaten Holy Cross (unbeaten in the NVL doesn't do much for me anyway), but I think the only team that can beat them is Bulkeley. NB won the first round but the quartet of Sherece Huddlin, Richelle Anderson, pint guard Evebonee Acosta and big center Samantha Sanchez impressed the heck out of me.