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12/04/2022 11:14 AM

Nighthawks Girls’ Basketball Picking Up Right Where They Left Off

Senior Talia Annunziato and the North Haven Nighthawks hope to make a deep postseason run this season with a new head coach in Jessica Neuweiler taking the lead. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Current senior Olivia Johnson led the Nighthawks’ offense last season, averaging 15 points per game. North Haven hopes to make a deep postseason run this year. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

The North Haven girls’ basketball team heads into the 2022-23 season with familiar faces on the court and a new head coach on the sidelines. Jessica Neuweiler will take over the reigns as Head Coach for the Nighthawks this year after serving as the Plainville head coach for the last five seasons. She brings extensive CT basketball experience to the team, growing up in East Haven and playing high school basketball at Sacred Heart Academy.

While Neuweiler settles into her new role, the team on the court will pick up right where they left off last campaign, as the Nighthawks did not lose a single player from last year’s team and also bring back three junior captains from 2021.

“We didn’t lose anyone, all the players from last year are returning, Coach Neuweiler said. “We have three seniors who were junior captains last year, we also have seven juniors who got a lot of time as sophomores last season, so I think that only benefits us.”

On top of zero roster turnover, Neuweiler’s team will also gain some promising young players, including freshman point guard Sammi Santacroce. “We have a really great freshman coming in, Sammi Santacroce, and I think she is going to make an immediate impact on our program as a freshman so it’s a really good balance through all of the classes.”

The North Haven roster will also be bolstered by players returning from injury. Last year, the team’s leading scorer, junior Julia Ball, suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. In preseason practices this year, Coach Neuweiler has been awed by Ball, now a senior, and her incredible recovery from the injury, noting that without the brace on her knee, you would never know she had been hurt.

Providing nightly offense in Ball’s absence last season was junior Olivia Johnson. Livi averaged 15 points per game last year, including 31 points in a game vs. West Haven. Coach Neuweiler hopes to harness that explosive scoring ability, but also believes this year’s team balance will mean the scoring responsibilities will not fall as heavily on Livi’s shoulders.

“Players 1 through 12 honestly are going to make an impact and all are going to push for playing time,” Coach Neuweiler said. “One of the nicest things is we have options, we have a lot of scoring options, we have a lot of options in multiple positions. Hopefully that will take some pressure off of Livi with what she had to carry last year.”

While the Nighthawks will hope to develop an offense ready for anything, their foundation will be built on the defensive side of the court. Coach Neuweiler believes in a high intensity defensive approach, using all five positions to wreak havoc and create turnovers. She feels this year’s roster has both the length and athleticism to do so.

“We’re very athletic,” said Neuweiler. “We’re going to look to play every inch of the floor. I’m very big on man-to-man, giving a lot of pressure on defense. I’m a big believer that defense sets the tone for your game, today in our very first practice our focus is 100% on defense.”

Last season, the Nighthawks won 10 games with a young team and will look to improve on that record this year while continuing to develop their core.

North Haven competes in the challenging Hammonasset Division of the Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC). They were one of four 10+ win teams last season, along with West Haven, Hillhouse, and East Haven. The SCC is territory the Nighthawks’ new coach is familiar with, from her time playing high school ball at Sacred Heart Academy. She is excited to return to her roots and go toe to toe with the best coaches the conference has to offer.

“I’m excited to be back in the SCC,” said Coach Neuweiler. “One of the things I think that is exciting is you have a great mix of coaches who are very tenured who have been there a long time, who were there even when I played and I have a great deal of respect for, Tim Kohs at Mercy, [Steve] Bethke at Career…so I’m excited to go up against them… but also there’s a great mix of new coaches in the SCC, and one of the things that is really exciting is there is a lot of female coaches in the SCC.” In preparing for the season, North Haven scrimmaged against Jess Moriarty’s West Haven squad. Neuweiler noted she has a “great deal of respect for her and her program.”

“We’re ready to hit the ground running,” Neuweiler said. “I think you’re going to see some exciting basketball this season from North Haven. We’re setting the bar really high. We’re going to set some really tough goals for ourselves and the program, and we’re going to look to build.”

As for those specific goals, the Nighthawks will discuss and identify them together as a group as part of their early season practices before they embark on the 2022 campaign. Neuweiler herself feels she has a team ready to make a deep postseason run in her debut season.

“Personally, I’d love to see us make a deep run in the SCC. I think we’re absolutely capable.”

North Haven will kick off their regular season on Friday, Dec. 16 with a home game vs. Hamden at 7:00pm.