This is a printer-friendly version of an article from

12/19/2021 11:00 PM

Valley Boys’ Hoops Has Great Expectations This Winter

Senior captain Simon Partyka and the Valley boys’ basketball team began their year at 2-0 by earning wins versus North Branford and Haddam-Killingworth during the first week of action.File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

After finishing as the runner-up in the Shoreline Conference last year, the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team entered the 2021-’22 season featuring a senior-laden roster that’s hungry to make another postseason run. The Warriors began their new campaign on the right foot by winning both of their games during the first week of play, earning convincing victories versus North Branford and Haddam-Killingworth.

“We have some great senior leadership coming back. We have a lot to look forward to this season,” Head Coach Kevin Woods said. “We’re coming off of a year where we were about a minute away from winning the Shoreline Championship. We’re pretty confident that we’re serious contenders again this year.”

Valley Regional began the season with a 52-25 road win over North Branford on Dec. 16. Valley outscored the Thunderbirds 15-8 in the first quarter and took a 34-11 lead into halftime. The Warriors went on to outscore North Branford by a 18-14 margin in the second half to come away with a 27-point victory in their season opener.

Senior captain Simon Partyka poured home 22 points, hitting four 3-pointers, to go with five rebounds, four assists, and three steals for Valley in the win. Junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre had 11 points and two rebounds, while senior captain James Marsden scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds. Junior Brayden Shea led the Warriors on the glass with nine boards on the night.

Two days later, Valley hosted Haddam-Killingworth for its home opener and defeated the Cougars by a 63-33 score to improve to 2-0 on the year. The Warriors got out to another strong start by outpacing H-K 22-2 in the first quarter. Valley took a 37-12 lead into halftime before outscoring the Cougars 26-21 in the second half to win the contest by 30 points.

Partkya turned in another solid all-around performance by scoring 10 points with six assists, three rebounds, and six steals for the Warriors. Jean-Pierre had nine points, two assists, and four steals. Fellow junior Samuel Hutchinson scored six points to go 11 rebounds and one steal in the victory. Senior Owen Kelly added six points with one rebound and one assist for Coach Woods’s club.

“We came out and showed that we’re going to be a tough out every night. No matter who we’re playing against, we’re not going to play down to anybody. We’re going to play our style of basketball,” said Woods, whose team went 10-5 last season. “Hopefully, we don’t have to play up to anybody, because that means we’re the best team. If we’re going to win a lot of games, we have to keep that mentality. We have high standards and high expectations.”

The Warriors have been playing a tight man-to-man defense throughout Coach Woods’s 10-year tenure, and this season will be no different. Woods said there are no secrets when opposing teams play Valley and that they always have to be prepared for a hard-fought defensive battle. While he feels lucky that the Warriors feature numerous options on offense, Woods believes that staunch defense is going to be Valley’s calling card this year.

“It starts with defense. That has been our identity since I first started as the head coach in 2010. It’s how we have won championships and had great seasons. If you can’t play defense, you’re not going to be a factor in big games,” Woods said. “We’re fortunate to have great offensive weapons, but we’re defense first. As long as we execute, the offense will come.”

Valley is being led by three senior captains in Partyka, Marsden, and Saagar Patel, along with junior captain Jean-Pierre. Woods called Partyka, who plays guard, a “coach’s dream,” and said that he serves as an extension of Valley’s coaching staff. In addition to his efforts with Valley boys’ hoops, Partyka often works with the Warriors’ JV and freshmen teams, in addition to the girls’ basketball team. This level of dedication is why Partyka was a unanimous pick for team captain.

In addition to playing basketball, Marsden is also a member of Valley’s football and baseball squads. Coach Woods said that the senior forward is respected by every team he plays for and everyone at the high school in general. Woods praised Marsden for how “kills it on the court and in the classroom,” and said that he’s being recruited by numerous Ivy League schools.

Patel has yet to play this season after suffering an injury on the first day of practice. However, Coach Woods said that the senior forward continues to dedicate himself to basketball and is a great student-athlete who leads through his work ethic.

Woods named Jean-Pierre a captain after seeing the effort that the junior put in during the offseason. Woods said that Jean-Pierre, whose main sport is football, has worked hard to improve his skillset on the basketball court, while becoming a vocal leader at the guard position.

While he’s looking for the Warriors to lean on their captains, Coach Woods feels that this year’s team has depth and is filled with talented players from top to bottom. One of those players is Hutchinson, who was injured for most of last season, but came back at the end of the year and made a big impact. At 6 feet, 2 inches, Hutchinson is Valley’s starting center, but Woods said that the junior plays beyond his height with his great athleticism.

Junior Andrew Yermenson has been starting for the Warriors early on this year. Woods said that Yermenson has developed into a strong shooter and that his improvement on defense earned him a spot in the starting lineup.

Coach Woods believes that Shea has what it takes to be the best “Sixth Man” in the Shoreline Conference this season. Shea can play any position that’s needed and always gives the Warriors a big boost whenever he’s on the floor.

Kelly is a senior guard who’s giving Valley good minutes off the bench. Coach Woods calls Kelly a smart player and a huge asset due to his passing and scoring abilities. Woods added that senior Zachary Kirla is a scrappy player who always is willing to hustle and defend.

Like every team in the state, Coach Woods is hoping that Valley will compete for its conference and state titles this year. However, before the playoff spotlight shines, Woods wants the Warriors to enjoy the journey and embrace the process that is needed to reach the postseason.

“We go into every season with hopes and dreams of playing in the biggest game. It’s not the end all, but it’s a realistic goal for us to be in the Shoreline playoffs, win the Shoreline championship, make a big run at states, and win the State Tournament,” said Woods. “But most importantly is the experience and the journey. You can win the championship, but if you have a bad experience, what are you in it for? We want to have the best, most fun season we can have.”

The Valley Regional boys’ basketball team’s roster features senior captains James Marsden, Simon Partyka, and Saagar Patel; seniors Owen Kelly and Zachary Kirla; junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre; juniors Michael Galberth, Samuel Hutchinson, Will Kelly, Kevin King, Brayden Shea, and Andrew Yermenson; sophomores Dylan Brown, Jack Driscoll, Josh Faucher, Paul Giantonio, Jonathan Gosnell, Kendrick Aspilaire Larabee, Owen Livingston, Maxwell Nickel, Michael Perham, Connor Quinn, and Joshua Richardson; and freshmen Cameron Atkinson, Finn Boyles, Matthew Cooper, Drew Delouchery, Daniel Fritz, Rex Grabowski, Braden Karcich, Alex Kruzel-Boxwell, Nathan Rowland, and Thomas Troy.

Senior captain James Marsden had eight points with six rebounds when the Warriors defeated North Branford 52-25 in their season opener on Dec. 15. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier