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03/26/2022 12:00 AM

Warriors Overcome Obstacles to Have Solid Season

Senior captain Simon Partyka and the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team maneuvered through various obstacles to have an 11-win season this year, including a victory versus Nonnewaug in the first round of the Division IV State Tournament. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

The Valley Regional boys’ basketball team overcame an injury-plagued season to record 11 victories and qualify for the playoffs this winter. While that was an achievement in and of itself, Head Coach Kevin Woods feels that the Warriors’ accomplishments on the court went far beyond the numbers in 2022.

Valley was only able to play one game with a fully healthy lineup, and that resulted in a 59-46 victory over Morgan on Jan. 4. Although the Warriors saw some ups and downs throughout the season, they still qualified for both Shorelines and states, earning a first-round victory over Nonnewaug in the Division IV State Tournament.

Coach Woods and the Warriors began the season with the news that junior Jeremy Arnum was leaving Valley Regional to play basketball at Gulliver Prep in Florida. Arnum was Valley’s top player as a sophomore, and his departure left a big void to be filled on the offensive side of the floor.

With his team already playing catchup before the season began, Coach Woods’s squad had more challenges to deal with once the ball tipped off for the 2022 campaign.

“It was a season where we constantly battled through adversity,” Woods said. “It was a team that was incredibly talented when were all together, but we didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play all together.”

Senior captain forward Saager Patel suffered an injury during Valley’s first practice of the year and, despite returning for five games, he then endured another injury and was sidelined for the majority of the season. The Warriors had no choice other than to play shorthanded, but continued working hard while displaying tremendous grit and staying competitive in every contest.

“We still had a successful season where these guys gritted. They showed a lot of grit and mental and physical toughness,” said Woods. “A lot of times we played five or six guys a game, because that’s just where our depth was at.”

Coach Woods envisioned a regular season full of success, followed by deep runs in Shorelines and states this year. However, with at least one key player missing in nearly every single game, the Warriors certainly had their work cut out for them in their quest to achieve those goals.

After going 10-10 in the regular season, Valley entered the Shoreline Conference Tournament as the No. 7 seed and took a 44-41 loss to No. 2 seed Morgan in a first-round contest. Following Shorelines, the Warriors competed in states for the first time since the 2019 season. As the No. 16 seed in the Division IV State Tournament, Valley claimed a 56-43 victory versus No. 17 seed Nonnewaug in the first round of the bracket, led by a 23-point performance from junior forward Sam Hutchinson.

“We came out hot and shot the ball incredibly well,” Coach Woods said. “It was kind of like the whole season. When it got tough, we stepped up on defense and were able to put them away.”

After a strong outing against Nonnewaug, the Warriors advanced to face top-seeded Cromwell, which had just won the Shoreline Conference Tournament, in the second round of states. Despite a spirited defensive effort against a formidable foe, Valley dropped a 54-43 decision to the Panthers to finish the year with an overall record of 11-12.

Coach Woods called the Warriors’ defense one of the team’s biggest strengths this season, and their defensive intensity was apparent in just about every game. The most points that Valley gave up in any game this year was 57 when the team took a 57-47 loss to Hale-Ray on Jan. 25.

“We certainly gave ourselves chances to win with our defense, and I was proud of our defensive effort throughout the year,” said Woods. “We left everything we had on the floor.”

All four of Valley’s seniors definitely gave every ounce of energy that they had on the court. Senior captain guard Simon Partyka earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors for the Warriors after averaging 12 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals per game during his shortened season. Partyka flourished when he moved from his natural position as a point guard to help give Valley’s offense a boost on the wing.

Senior captain forward James Marsden, the team’s best defender, also finished the season as an All-Shoreline Second Team honoree, averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per contest. Fellow senior captain Patel averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game on his way to receiving All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention.

Senior guard Zach Kirla served as a leader by example for the Warriors with his unrelenting work ethic. Coach Woods feels grateful for everything that all four of his seniors brought to his program.

“Zach was there every single day, practiced, and gave his best effort. We’ll definitely miss what Zach brings to the table,” Woods said. “It’s only four seniors, but it’s four big seniors.”

Looking ahead to next year, Woods is expecting big steps to be taken by multiple players, including Hutchinson, who emerged as an offensive force for the Warriors during the postseason. Junior guard Andrew Yermenson also made some smooth improvements throughout the course of the campaign. Junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre, who took over Partyka’s role as the team’s starting point guard, performed well at his new position and is expected to be a go-to leader for the Warriors next season.

“Jean-Pierre really stepped into the point guard role. He did a great job running the show, and he’s a great defender, as well,” said Woods. “But we still have a lot of work to do in the offseason.”

Valley’s roster for this year also included juniors Kevin King, Michael Galberth, and Brayden Shea; sophomores Jack Driscoll, Connor Quinn, and Maxwell Nickel; and freshman Drew Delouchry.

While he’s already looking forward to the 2023 season, Coach Woods isn’t about to forget the 2022 edition of the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team. Woods feels incredibly proud about what Valley accomplished by netting 11 wins and consistently competing its hardest on a game-in, game-out basis. With the odds stacked against them, the Warriors battled past numerous obstacles to have a solid year, and Woods has nothing but admiration for the dedication of his players.

“Put them up there with the 26-2 and 25-2 state championship teams. That’s how much character this team had,” Woods said. “They’re a great reflection of the values of the Valley community. My message to the team was just how incredibly proud I was to be their coach.”

Senior captain James Marsden earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team accolades for the Warriors after averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game during the winter campaign. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Senior captain Saagar Patel dealt with injuries throughout the season, but still proved quality leader for Valley boys’ hoops in 2022.File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
DiAngelo Jean-Pierre led the Warriors as a junior captain this year and will be back in action for his senior campaign next season.File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier