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02/28/2023 08:06 AM

Valley Girls’ Hoops Focused on States After Shoreline Semis Loss

Sophomore Regan Grow, an Honorable Mention to the All-Shoreline Conference Team, and the Valley girls’ basketball squad now prepare for the Class M State Tournament after a 17-3 regular season and Shoreline Conference Tournament semifinal berth. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Junior Olivia Cunningham and the Warriors’ girls’ hoops squad are preparing for what they hope is another deep Class M State Tournament run after a 17-win regular season that included Valley taking 12 games in a row. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team finished the regular season on fire after playing some of its best basketball. Now, while the Warriors did not emerge with a Shoreline Conference crown, the combination of their recent rousing successes and league tournament defeat has only motivated them further toward attaining the ultimate prize of a state championship.

After a 2-2 start to the 2022-2023 campaign, Valley went on a 15-1 stretch, which included a 12-game winning streak that began on Dec. 29 and concluded on Feb. 3, to finish with a regular-season mark of 17-3.

Earning the No. 2 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament, the Warriors thrashed No. 7 North Branford, 83-55 on Feb. 18 in the quarterfinal round. Hosting 3rd-seeded Cromwell in the semis on Feb. 21, Valley took a close 40-37 loss–marking only the team’s second loss since Dec. 28.

“It was a very physical game, as expected with Cromwell,” said Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt. “We didn’t do a good job with shot selection, and shots were not falling. We kept the game tied with a little over a minute to go, but we had some mental lapses and two turnovers. Cromwell is a tough team, and it is hard to beat a team three times in a season. The girls fought hard, and we have this film to learn from. Losing in the semis is one of the biggest motivators to compete well in states.”

Battling Cromwell, senior Abby Bradbury led with 11 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds, while junior Olivia Cunningham added nine points and three boards. Senior Lily Grow nabbed eight points, and sophomore Regan Grow contributed two points and eight rebounds off the glass.

“Cromwell had some new offensive sets that we had not seen yet,” Bickelhaupt said. “But I thought we did really well defensively. We were not digging in for offensive rebounds.”

Facing the T-Birds in the quarterfinal triumph, Lily Grow recorded 32 points in the win, and Cunningham added 17 points. Senior Elizabeth Allen chipped in 11 points, and Regan Grow added 10 points.

“It was a close game in the first half; the girls moved the ball, but North Branford couldn’t miss,” Coach Bickelhaupt said on the quarterfinal tilt. “We changed up our press and put our foot on the gas pedal. We had a 30-point third quarter where everyone scored and built momentum. Everybody was able to get some minutes, which hyped up the rest of the group.”

Despite the league bracket loss, several Warriors earned All-Shoreline Conference Team accolades. Lily Grow and Bradbury made First Team distinction, with Cunningham earning a spot on the Second Team. Regan Grow was also an Honorable Mention.

Knowing the deep pool of team talent in the conference, Bickelhaupt and the Warriors find extra satisfaction in posting the 17-win regular season resume. She added that while there may have been some lopsided victories on the slate, it proved to be a benefit for a 10-person Valley program, as it gave the younger girls minutes to shine.

“It is great to see our hard work pay off at 17-3,” said Bickelhaupt. “That record is no small feat in our conference. We celebrated it, but we know our work isn’t done. We have tough teams in the Shoreline, and then we have those building their programs. It was a great momentum builder in playing the smaller teams midseason because we were able to get in the younger girls, which helps since we have no JV team.”

For the regular season, Valley defeated North Branford (67-54 and 73-56), Haddam-Killingworth (57-22 and 49-43), Ledyard (65-57), Granby Memorial (42-31), Morgan (59-31 and 62-35), Coginchaug (60-35), Cromwell (49-45 and 41-35), Portland (88-24), Old Lyme (76-25), Westbrook (69-24), Hale-Ray (68-11), Fitch (68-49), and Old Saybrook (58-32). The Warriors’ lone losses came against East Hampton (74-50 and 44-39) and Northwest Catholic (45-42).

Even through the few defeats, they proved valuable for Valley because they produced pivotal building blocks and revealed the girls’ true grit, pride, and passion for winning.

“After the Northwest Catholic loss, they realized they could have won and learned time management. Then after the first East Hampton loss at home, they decided that they would not let a team do that to them again,” said Bickelhaupt. “They took lessons any program needs with boxing out and defensive rotations. They took the lessons to heart and dug within themselves. Each game built on another. We should have won the game at East Hampton, but we didn’t have great clock management, yet it was a close and good game. We hope to see them again.”

As the No. 3 seed in the Class M State Tournament, the Warriors earned a first-round bye and will host either No. 14 O’Brien Tech (13-7) or No. 19 and conference cohort Haddam-Killingworth (10-11) in the second round on Friday, March 3. A win there puts Valley in the quarterfinals at home on Wednesday, March 8, and then another victory would put the Warriors in the semifinals on Monday, March 13. The finals are scheduled for either Saturday, March 18, or Sunday, March 19, at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“The day after the Cromwell game, we watched the whole game and aired out our frustrations,” Bickelhaupt said. “We were able to see our body language, and the girls were able to say what they were feeling, which was huge. It is a tough thing to do, but it was 100% necessary. We now have one and a half weeks of practice, but we will be ready. The girls have a tough, gritty mentality to leave their legacy here.”