Valley Wins First Two States Games to Make the Quarterfinals
Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt knew what the Valley Regional girls’ basketball team was capable of as the Warriors entered the Class M State Tournament last week. After taking a loss in the Shoreline Conference final, Coach Bickelhaupt had a simple message for her players heading into states—just keep fighting.
That’s exactly what Valley did in its first two matchups in the Class M State Tournament. The Warriors notched victories versus Haddam-Killingworth and North Branford to advance to face Montville in the quarterfinal round with an overall record of 21-4.
“The day after our championship game, we came together and watched the game film, which was tough. Although there were still feelings of disappointment and anger, what that film showed us was that we beat ourselves in that game. We had every opportunity we wanted. We just couldn’t convert, and we got down on ourselves and everyone wanted to do it themselves,” Coach Bickelhaupt said. “When you wake up the next morning after a game like that, you have a choice to make as an athlete. You either let this game define you or you learn from it and work harder to be better. I’m happy with the response I got from that.”
No. 5 seed Valley Regional opened the Class M State Tournament by earning a 52-34 home victory over No. 28 Haddam-Killingworth in a first-round game on March 1. Sophomore Olivia Cunningham led Valley with 18 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field to go with 14 rebounds and 3 blocks on the night. Junior captain Abby Bradbury scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Junior Lily Grow contributed 9 points in the victory.
“We came out a little slow. I think coming off an emotional loss, we were trying to find our groove again,” said Bickelhaupt. “We grinded it out and, overall, we worked hard for that win.”
Three days later, the Warriors hosted Shoreline Conference rival North Branford, the No. 12, seed, for a second-round game and defeated the T-Birds by the score of 61-53. Bradbury scored 18 points for Valley in the win. Olivia Cunningham and senior captain Ava Cunningham both scored 11 points, while Grow netted 10 points for the Warriors.
Coach Bickelhaupt was happy to see her team put together a strong fourth quarter to rally for a victory against a formidable North Branford squad. The two teams had split their series with during the regular season with Valley winning the first game and the T-Birds taking the rematch.
“Both games this week were greats wins, especially North Branford. We were down almost the entire game and fought our way back in the fourth quarter,” Bickelhaupt said. “I was happy with how we were mentally tough through every part of the game. I’m also impressed with how well we played as a team.”
Olivia Cunningham recorded her second-straight double-double by collecting 11 rebounds to complement her 11 points in the victory. Coach Bickelhaupt said that the sophomore has been vital to the Warriors’ postseason success thus far.
“Olivia Cunningham had two great games, both offensively and defensively. Against North Branford, she had to guard their best player, who averaged 24 points, and kept her to 12,” said Bickelhaupt. “It was a great game against North Branford. They’re a physical team and always give us a run for our money. I was extremely happy with how we played as a team. We had four players that scored in double digits. We had good bench minutes and contributions, and we played hard all four quarters.”
While the team is having a great season, one area where Valley has struggled at times this year is in its possession of the ball. Coach Bickelhaupt is making it a point to address that issue after the Warriors committed 15 turnovers versus H-K and had 16 in the North Branford game.
“I think we can and need to improve on two things: valuing the possession of the basketball and boxing out,” Bickelhaupt said. “We turned the ball over too much in the last two games and gave up too many offensive rebounds after working extremely hard on defense to get a stop.”
Valley hosted No. 20 seed Montville in the Class M quarterfinals on March 8 (after press time). If the Warriors win, they will take on the winner of top-seeded Holy Cross and No. 8 New Fairfield in the semifinals on Monday, March 14. The Class M state final will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena on either Saturday, March 19 or Sunday, March 20.
With two state tourney triumphs in the books, Coach Bickelhaupt believes that Valley has what it takes to make a run to Mohegan Sun for the title game.
“The expectation is to survive and advance. We want to play for the state championship at Mohegan, and we know we can do it,” said Bickelhaupt. “So, we need to show up to practice, work hard to get better, and execute and compete at a high level in these next three rounds.”
The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team’s roster features senior captains Ava Cunningham and Bitzy Klomp; junior captain Abby Bradbury; juniors Siena Schaller, Lily Grow, and Elizabeth Allen; sophomores Sharmel Rivera and Olivia Cunningham; and freshmen Rubee Cecchini, Emma Gibson, and Regan Grow.