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01/22/2022 11:00 PM

Warriors Aiming to Play Their Best Down the Stretch

Senior captain James Marsden and the Valley boys’ basketball team took a few recent defeats, but still have high hopes about what they can accomplish as the 2022 campaign unfolds. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

Head Coach Kevin Woods knows that Valley Regional boys’ basketball team can reach great heights during the 2022 season. The Warriors moved to 5-6 on the year after losing two of their three games last week, but Coach Woods and his players are maintaining their expectations for Valley to qualify for its conference and state tournaments and then make a deep run in each of them.

“A lot of times, you talk to a coach whose team is 5-6, and they might not have the greatest attitude, but my expectations for this team remain the same. We have a solid group of players here, and our plan is to make the tournament, go deep, and, hopefully, win it all,” Woods said. “We haven’t been able to fire on all cylinders, but we’re going to get there. It will be really nice to see what our team looks like when we are all healthy by the end of the year.”

Valley played three road games last week and came away from the slate with one victory. The Warriors earned a win versus Old Lyme that was sandwiched between defeats against Old Saybrook and Cromwell in recent action.

On Jan. 18, Valley traveled to Old Saybrook and lost to the Rams by the final score of 42-35. Old Saybrook entered its contest against Valley with only one loss on the season. Junior Andrew Yermenson scored 11 points for the Warriors, and fellow junior Sam Hutchinson had 10 points. Senior captain James Marsden finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds in a game that was decided in the final frame.

“It was 28-27 entering the fourth quarter against these guys. We kept it close the whole game,” said Woods. “We have a couple games now this season that we’d love to get back. This was one of them.”

Three days later, the Warriors bounced back by posting a 48-32 road win at Old Lyme. Marsden scored 11 points to go with 4 rebounds and 1 block for Valley Regional. Senior captain Saager Patel scored 10 points, while Hutchinson recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds for Coach Woods’s club.

Valley concluded its week by facing an undefeated Cromwell team on Jan. 22 and took a 42-31 defeat to the Panthers. Patel had 10 points for the Warriors, and junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre scored 7 points in the game.

Despite the loss, Coach Woods credited Valley for playing hard against a strong Cromwell squad. The Warriors have been without senior captain Simon Partyka for most of the season, but a few other players have stepped up to help them stay competitive with some of the best teams in the Shoreline Conference. Coach Woods noted the solid play of Marsden and Hutchinson this year.

“James is the best defender in the league in my opinion. He’s been so good for us on that end of the floor,” Woods said. “And Sammy has really developed his game. He’s a 6-foot, 2-inch center, but plays much bigger than his listed height. He grabs a ton of rebounds for us, and he’s been crucial to our success so far.”

Coach Woods added that the 2022 campaign features a lot of parallels in comparison to last year, specifically the fact that Valley has had to learn to play without some of its top players. Woods is looking for the Warriors to keep getting better as they grind their way through the regular season and then perform at their peak come playoff time.

“The path isn’t always going to be easy. I don’t think these guys are deterred by the record or what it looks like on paper,” said Woods. “March is so much different from the regular season and, as long as we can string together some wins and make it into the postseason, I have a good feeling where we will end up.”

In addition to the captains Partyka, Marsden, and Patel, Valley’s senior class features Owen Kelly and Zach Kirla. Along with Jean-Pierre, who’s also a captain, the Warriors’ junior class includes Yermenson, Hutchinson, Kevin King, Brayden Shea, and Will Kelly. Jack Driscoll and Max Nickel are the two sophomores on the squad. Coach Woods’s assistant coaches are Scott Harger, Nick Hahn, Lou Rolon, and Anthony Pagano.

“My assistants have been incredibly helpful to the team,” Woods said. “We’ve been doing this for 12 years now with success. You don’t see small school programs on the Shoreline do it on a consistent basis. We always have a good team, because we have such a great program.”

With Valley entering the second half of the season, Coach Woods wants to see his team stay on an even keel as the Warriors strive to reach their ultimate goals.

“You can’t get too high, and you can’t get too low. You have to keep your composure,” said Woods. “The season is a story of runs. You need to learn from the bad and the mistakes and can’t get too cocky from the good. That’s what makes or breaks a team.”

Junior Andrew Yermenson and the Warriors notched a 48-32 road victory over Old Lyme to highlight last week’s action on the court.File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier