Entering last week having lost two straight games, the Valley Regional girls’ basketball team looked to get back on track when it hit the court for four Shoreline Conference matchups. The Warriors dropped their first game at Westbrook, 54-41, but then put together a great stretch of basketball with three consecutive wins to bring their record to 11-7.
Hosting Haddam-Killingworth on Feb. 7, Valley snapped its three-game losing streak by edging out the Cougars 39-35. Then on Feb. 10, the Warriors soundly defeated Morgan by a 45-21 final at home. Finally, on Feb. 11, Valley Regional finished strong by posting a 51-40 home win over Creed.
Warriors’ Head Coach Geoff Konstan was pleased with how his team responded by winning its last three games of the week. Konstan’s squad had been struggling since clinching its spots in the Shoreline Conference and Class M State tournaments on Jan. 25, and he knows it’s critical for Valley to win games to improve its seeding in both brackets.
“Our mindset after we qualified was to get out of the lower seeds where you know you’re going to face the Cromwells of the world earlier than you’d like,” said Coach Konstan. “We were 8-4 when we clinched. Then we went to 8-7 and now we’re 11-7. So this was a huge week for us.”
The Warriors opened last week with a game at Westbrook on Feb. 6. Valley trailed the Knights 10-7 after the first quarter. Then in the second quarter, Valley outscored Westbrook 14-13 and finished the half down 23-21. Entering the fourth quarter down by five, Valley played aggressive, physical defense, and the Knights took advantage of some fouls by hitting nearly all their free throws. Westbrook pulled away and won the final quarter 18-10 on its way to the 54-41 victory. Senior captain guard Libby Spitzschuh scored 12 points in the game for Valley, while sophomore guard Alexis Finnerty scored 11. Junior forward Carly Thompson added eight points in the loss.
Coach Konstan saw that his team was frustrated after the Westbrook game and was looking for Valley to use that to its advantage in its subsequent contest.
“I told them to take those emotions from the Westbrook game and channel them into playing harder in their next game,” Konstan said. “It won’t be against Westbrook, but we can still use those emotions.”
Twenty four hours later, the Warriors were put to the test when they came home to battle Haddam-Killingworth. The Warriors trailed the Cougars 10-8 after one, but in the second quarter, Valley clamped down on defense and forced turnovers that led to transition buckets. Finnerty netted 12 of her 18 overall points in the quarter as Valley outscored H-K 16-6 to lead 24-16 at the half. Ultimately, the game was tied 35-35 in the final minutes, when the Warriors brought their defense to another level. A double-team trap by senior captain Brianna O’Brien and sophomore Sadie Konstan led to clutch steal by Finnerty that helped Valley come away with the 39-35 victory.
Finnerty led the Warriors in points with 18 and rebounds with nine, along with swiping six steals. O’Brien pulled down six boards, had five steals, and added four points. Heidi Clark, a versatile junior who plays both guard and forward, gathered seven rebounds, with four of them on the offensive glass.
Valley was back at it on Feb. 10 with a home game against Morgan on Senior Night. Both teams’ offenses came out a bit sluggish and Valley led 6-4 after one quarter. Valley caught fire in the second quarter as its defense played relentlessly. Valley won the quarter 13-4 and led 19-8 at the half. Invigorated by their home crowd, the Warriors continued dominating in the second half by outscoring Morgan 16-9 in the third quarter and 10-4 in the fourth. The final score of 45-21 tied Valley’s largest margin of victory on the season.
O’Brien and Finnerty stuffed the stat sheet as both athletes poured in 10 points in the victory. O’Brien added five steals, five boards, and assisted on three baskets. Finnerty snagged eight rebounds with four steals and also dished out four assists. Senior captain forward Francesca Daniels added eight points, eight rebounds, and three assists for Valley
With another short turnaround, Valley hosted Creed the following afternoon. Valley came out forcefully in the first quarter by outscoring Creed 16-9. It was the same story for the Warriors in the second as they once again outscored the Howling Wolves 16-9. Holding onto a 32-18 lead entering the second half, Valley came out of the locker room looking to put the game away. Valley scored 15 points to Creed’s 11 in the third quarter and had an 18-point lead entering the fourth. Creed won the final frame 11-4, but the Warriors’ lead was too big to overcome as they went on to their third consecutive victory.
Finnerty led the team in points again with 11. She also collected seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Clark scored a career-high 10 points and mixed in four assists. Forward Amber Preble, a senior, patrolled the paint by blocking two shots and grabbing eight rebounds.
Coach Konstan complimented his team’s perseverance in piecing together its win streak during a physically draining week for his athletes.
“We were barely holding up. By [Feb. 10], the whole team was sick. It was Senior Night and, thankfully, we had our varsity players available. With all that excitement, we had the best crowd all year and we played one of our best games all year,” Konstan said. “By [Feb.11], we were mentally and physically spent and, no disrespect to Creed, but we allowed the game to be closer than it should have been by the end. If we had a game [on Feb. 12], I think you could put anyone on the court and they could beat us. We were just that tired.”
Looking ahead, Konstan talked about what he wants to see from his team in its last two regular season games against Cromwell and North Branford as the Warriors gear up for the playoffs.
“Defensively, we are right on track. It’s what defines our team. Our defense has solidified over the last three games. When we’re playing well, we create turnovers that turn into transition baskets,” said Konstan. “On the other end, we need to pass better and take better care of the ball. We can be our own worst enemy sometimes. I think if we stop rushing on offense, we have a great chance of going far.”
Overall for the season, Finnerty leads the Warriors with 11.6 points per game, 3.3 assists a game, and 7.2 rebounds per game. Spitzschuh holds the team lead in steals by averaging 4.1 a night.