Girls basketball: Bears hope they’re peaking at right time as they ready for state quarterfinal

Girls basketball: Bears hope they’re peaking at right time as they ready for state quarterfinal



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STONINGTON — Stonington High might be playing its best basketball, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

The Bears (16-7) are in the Class M state quarterfinals, having won two games in the girls tournament as a 14 seed. Monday, they travel to Rocky Hill for a meeting with the No. 6 Terriers (19-5). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Stonington, bolstered by the recent play of center Izzy Yarnall and forward Aliza Bell, has won four of its last five games overall, including an ECC tournament victory over East Lyme. Its only loss during that span was to New London, the top-ranked team in the state.

“I kept telling them they were a good team,” Bears longtime coach Paulla Solar said. “I just think, hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time.

“I’m truly excited to see Aliza and Izzy score. … Our guards have gotten a lot of the offense. [Now] our distribution is better, which makes it nice. It did take us awhile to get to this point, but I’m glad we got here.”

The Bears lost in the WCCU tournament finals on Dec. 28, and were 3-2 at that point. As late as Jan. 16, they were just 7-4. Solar remarked that they’ve struggled with free throws, shooting just 55 percent for the season.

Senior shooting guard Kate Hall (14.0 points per game) carried the team in the early part of the year, but, lately, there’s been plenty of balance for the Bears offensively. Defensively, the numbers speak for themselves. Stonington has allowed an average of just 43.5 points in two state tournament games.

“I have a lot of confidence in my players,” Solar said. “I think our defense has been the strong part of our game. And my bigs (Yarnall and Bell) have been coming along. They’re starting to get in the scorebook.”

Indeed. Bell, a 5-9 junior, is averaging 12.0 points and 16.0 rebounds in the state tournament, while Yarnall, a 6-2 junior, is at 12.0 and 11.5.

Point guard Kate Johnson and third guard Miranda Arruda have made contributions, too. Johnson runs the offense and steadies the team; Arruda does a little bit of everything — she had six points, 11 rebounds and four steals in Stonington’s 41-32 win over No. 3 St. Paul Catholic in the second round.

“I know my team has the potential, and I think that’s what’s been carrying us through,” Solar said. “In the beginning we had our ups and downs, but I think [the team’s recent play] shows what we’re capable of doing.”

Monday, they’ll have their hands full with Rocky Hill of the Central Connecticut Conference.

The Terriers are led by Nikki Lukens, a 5-9 junior guard, and Grace Moore, a 5-9 senior forward. Both are two-time all-CCC players. (Moore has signed a letter of intent to play soccer for Northeastern University as a defender.) Lukens scored 23 points and Moore had 13 in Rocky Hill’s 62-44 second-round win over No. 11 Seymour.

“They have a lot of changing defenses, a lot of pressing,” Solar said. “It’s just that when you get down to eight teams, none of the games are going to be easy.”

Stonington hasn’t advanced this deep in a state tournament since the 2007-08 season: Heather Buck, a four-time All-State player and the program’s all-time leading scorer who went on to play at UConn, led the Bears to the Class L quarterfinals, where they lost to East Lyme, 55-50. Buck, playing her last game in a Stonington uniform, had 39 points and 13 rebounds.

Solar has been at the Stonington helm the last 17 seasons and 26 overall (covering three stints). Her career record is 401-185 with two state championships — that’s a lot of games. So forgive Solar if she was initially unaware it’s been 10 years since Stonington’s last appearance in the state quarterfinals.

“It’s quite a feat,” she said. “I was taking one game at a time, and I hadn’t realized it had been that long ago. … It’s exciting for the kids. I’m proud of them no matter what happens.”


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