The Hand girls’ basketball team steamrolled its postseason competition this winter on its way to facing Holy Cross in the championship game of the Class L State Tournament. Although the Tigers found themselves in the unfamiliar position of trailing at halftime, they got back to the fundamentals that carried them all year and played lock-down defense in the second half to emerge with a state championship.
The 2nd-seeded Tigers were playing in their first state final since 1999 when they tipped off against top-seeded Holy Cross with the Class L crown at stake at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 19. Hand trailed by 10 midway through the second quarter and was down five at halftime, but the Tigers used a 16-3 run, along with a defensive effort that held Holy Cross to just four field goals for the entire second half, to secure their second state title in program history with a 50-45 victory. Hand finished the season with an overall record of 24-4.
“I’m beyond proud of my team for what we’ve achieved. All of the hard work that we have done the past 60 practices and 28 games has finally paid off. Our three seniors, Gabby Martin, Kaitlyn Martin, and Colleen Caruth, have been such tremendous role models and leaders for me and my teammates. They’ve done an amazing job leading us to this state title. We wear ‘Team First’ on the backs of our shorts and that’s the style of play that has brought us to this moment,” said junior Gabby Egidio. “Going to the locker room down five at half, you would think we’d be nervous. However, we went in knowing we were still in the game. We talked game-plans and every player was ready to give it all on the floor. Going to man-to-man defense to start the second half helped us pick our energy up and resulted in us starting to play our game. The energy carried over to the defensive end, which was crucial because their offense was very good in the first half. Overall, our perseverance, determination, unity, and heart are what carried us in the second half to take the victory.”
Egidio and fellow junior guard Emma Sullivan both scored 12 points for Hand with Egidio also grabbing five steals during her 25 minutes on the floor. Freshman guard Sara Wohlgemuth had eight points, while senior tri-captain forward Kaitlyn Martin scored six to go with five rebounds and four steals. Junior forward Halle Freund also scored six points, plus she added seven rebounds. Senior Gabby Martin had four points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals in 24 minutes of work for the state champion Tigers.
“It was a great feeling to win. Not only were we beyond proud to represent Daniel Hand High School, but we proved to everyone that we are a great team from a public school,” Gabby Martin said. “The team really stepped up and gave it their all for 32 minutes. I am so proud of everyone and happy I was able to finish my high school career with a state championship win. We knew at halftime that we needed to come out strong and rebound better than we did in the first half, and we definitely did.”
The Crusaders (25-3) opened up a 7-4 lead after an early three-pointer, but the Tigers answered right back to even things at 7-7. Hand grabbed its first lead at 8-7 on a free throw and the two sides traded one-point leads throughout the opening period with Holy Cross holding a 14-13 lead after one.
Holy Cross made it 19-13 early in the second and then stretched its advantage to 27-17 with 3:56 to play before halftime. However, the Tigers outscored the Crusaders 11-6 for the rest of the quarter and only trailed 33-28 at the break thanks to Sullivan scoring Hand’s final five points of the half. The Tigers shot just 9-of-29 from the floor during the first half.
“We got good looks in that first half. We were just missing them. Maybe it was the big stage of Mohegan and some nerves set in. But the kids were so confident, even when they were down,” said Head Coach Tim Tredwell. “Emma Sullivan is the most unassuming kid on the floor. She just makes shots and hit some big ones for us. We went from zone to man-to-man defense to start the second half. We even debated it at halftime and I was also skeptical. We started moving and guarding kids and then our energy picked up. We switched back to a zone, but we were now moving our feet, active, and talking on the floor. We started to disrupt them and our offense was feeding off of our defense. It kind of helped jog our memory that we are pretty good. The girls never panicked and they were locked in the whole time. They kept saying how they got this. They took over and it was fantastic.”
With 5:23 to play in the third quarter, Sullivan struck again from three-point land to bring Hand within 35-31. The Tigers kept their second-half surge going and took the lead for good at 41-40 when junior Hannah Martin hit a jumper with 29 seconds remaining. Hand ended the third quarter on a 10-2 run and brought its one-point lead to the final frame.
Gabby Martin opened the fourth with a bucket after running the length of the court, forcing the Crusaders to ask for time with 6:40 remaining. Freund’s jump shot with 3:59 to go capped a 16-3 Tigers’ run that turned a 38-31 deficit into a 47-41 command. The Crusaders cut it to 49-45 with 47 seconds left, but Wohlgemuth hit a clutch free throw with 11 seconds remaining to clinch the Tigers’ first state championship in 18 years. Hand outscored Holy Cross 22-12 during the second half.
“I couldn’t be any more proud or happier for this group of kids. After last year when we won SCCs and made the state quarterfinals, I looked at who we had coming back for this year and saw we had potential to do something big. There were no egos, they had good team chemistry, and they worked with each other well,” Coach Tredwell said. “In terms of how well they worked with each other and interacted, it was a dream season. This couldn’t be a more perfect ending.”
The five-point triumph marked Hand’s slimmest margin of victory in the State Tournament as the Tigers had won their previous five games by an average of 26.2 points. Although the Holy Cross contest was much closer, Coach Tredwell felt confident that his could club could fare well against the Crusaders considering how strong of a schedule Hand traversed throughout the season.
“Our run through this tournament was remarkable, but we packed our schedule. We played a holiday tournament back in December and three of the four teams in it played in state finals this weekend. We were battle-tested this year, so we knew we would be able to compete,” he said. “It was so remarkable because they were able to stay focused during a long season. They stayed composed every day and there was never a moment when you thought any of them were losing that focus. When you have that, then you know something special will happen.”
Reflecting upon what’s been arguably the best year in program history, Coach Tredwell expressed how lucky he feels that he got to work alongside a talented group of young women who put their team and each other above all else.
“This group is so special to me. Coaching is tough. You have expectations that may not line up. I’ve felt privileged to coach in Madison for the past eight years, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have another team like this,” Coach Tredwell said. “Being able to spend a couple hours each day with this team was remarkable. My two daughters adore them. This team is like family to me.”
From the Sidelines
Hand’s Class L state champion roster features seniors captains Gabby Martin, Kaitlyn Martin, and Colleen Caruth; juniors Hannah Martin, Emma Sullivan, Halle Freund, and Gabby Egidio; sophomores Anna Beccia and Erickson Richard; and freshmen Summer Adams and Sara Wohlgemuth. Head Coach Tim Tredwell was assisted by JV coach Kristina Ciotto and freshman coach Cynthia Morgan.
In the Class L final, Hand score 19 points off of turnovers compared to six from the Crusaders. The Tigers also won the points-in-the-paint battle by a 20-12 differential.
On its way to the final, Hand posted victories against No. 31 seed Law (78-30), No. 15 Windsor (52-34), No. 10 Woodstock Academy (60-33), and No. 3 Pomperaug (73-40).
For the State Tournament, the Tigers scored 62.6 points per game and allowed just 36.4 points.