Westbrook Girls’ Basketball Seeking Wins on the Court and Excitement in the Stands
This season, the Westbrook girls’ basketball team is looking to accomplish more than just wins on the court. They are also hoping to continue to build excitement around the program and enthusiasm in town from players of all ages.
Replacing an All-Shoreline, 1,000-point scorer is no easy task, but that is what the Knights must do this season with Jami Sacco having graduated. The transition will be especially difficult on offense, where she accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Knights’ production during her tenure.
To help ease the transition this season, the Knights are blessed with strong senior leadership for Head Coach Sean Donadio. Westbrook is led this year by three captains: senior Adriana Stranieri, senior Allison Brajczewski, and junior Leticia Pires. They will look to bring a “get better every day” attitude to the court, something Donadio preaches to every team he coaches. This sentiment is especially important entering this campaign, with a young squad looking to establish themselves.
To start the season, Donadio sees his core shaping up to feature an experienced group: the three captains, plus junior Olivia Palumbo. He believes Leticia Pires is capable of taking a major leap this year. Junior Kayla Prisley is also returning this year and will play a key role for the Knights.
Outside of that, Westbrook is very young. Six freshmen and one sophomore will suit up for Coach Donadio this season, the freshmen being the largest group of any class.
“Those freshmen are going to have to step in and play some big minutes,” Donadio said. He sees the large group as a great sign for the growth of girls’ basketball in Westbrook in the upcoming years.
While the experience those young players gain this season will be invaluable for the future, there may still be a learning curve. Coach Donadio understands growth will happen in-season this year. His hope is that when challenges arise, his team harnesses them as potential learning experiences rather than roadblocks.
“Our mantra is ‘Get Better Every Day’,” Coach Donadio said. “This year we’ve added ‘Trust the Process.’ You can’t get frustrated, you have to keep working hard, you have to keep competing and eventually, it will click.”
Much of that process will begin on defense. Coach Donadio knows replacing the level of scoring Sacco leaves behind doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, he’ll look to build this year’s team around defense and transition, hoping that stops on the defensive end will lead to quality shots and easy buckets in transition.
“Defense is going to be very important to us because we did lose all that scoring,” Coach Donadio said. “I think it’s easier to score off your defense in transition than running a set play. Some of the good looks we got today [during the scrimmage] were off of transition. It’s really important that we play good defense, we get the rebound, and we run.…once you can play defense, you can build all the other things.”
The Knights are confident that they will put all the aspects of the game together this year. The ultimate goal is to return to the SCC Tournament and the State Playoffs. Coach Donadio understands that reaching these goals will be difficult, especially in a loaded Shoreline conference, but he feels his team is up for the challenge.
“It’s going to be really tough,” Coach Donadio said. “The Shoreline is returning three-time champion East Hampton, they didn’t lose any starters, Valley, Coginchaug, Morgan, [and] Cromwell are all going to be very good so we’re focusing on each single game as very important to us, to make sure that we could hit our goals of qualifying for the shoreline tournament and making the state tournament.”
However, their goals extend beyond the gymnasium at Westbrook High School. A measure of success this year will be the energy they are able to build around the team and girls’ basketball in town. Coach Donadio sees this as essential to building momentum for the team in the future.
“Part of getting better every day is having a basketball program that the community can be proud of and we definitely established that last year. We want to get the excitement back, especially making sure the kids coming from the middle school want to play basketball,” Donadio said.
Westbrook is the third smallest girls’ enrollment school in the state – Donadio knows this means it is important they get as many girls into the basketball program as they can. Part of being a captain for Westbrook means continuing to promote the basketball culture Donadio is hoping to build.
“We did some middle school clinics last year after the season, a lot of the current players helped out through Parks and Rec for that, which gave them some insight into the kids coming up as well. We have to start the excitement at that level and build a relationship with them.”
Westbrook will open the regular season on Monday, Dec. 12 on the road vs. Norwich Tech at 5 p.m.