Girls basketball finals will put the lights of Mohegan Sun on the best teams and top players

After two years away, the girls basketball state championship games are returning this weekend and the way things are shaping up, it might have been worth the wait.

It does not always work out the way people want but girls basketball fans should have no complaints about the teams and players they are going to get to see this weekend in the five CIAC girls basketball state championships.

“I feel like we were robbed of this opportunity the last few years and I’m sure Notre Dame feels like that too,” Newington coach Marc Tancredi said. “Everything that has happened this season has been a learning experience for us and has prepared us to get to this point. We are taking a long exhale now and getting ready for the next chapter of the season.”

The top four and seven of the top 10 teams in the latest GameTimeCT poll will be at Mohegan Sun when the lights come on Saturday, including the two teams tied at No. 1, Notre Dame-Fairfield and Holy Cross.

Of the 10 finalists, eight have won at least 20 games this season with just Coventry (19-6) and Wilton (17-8) not reaching that mark.

In the finals are the champions of the CCC (East Hartford), FCIAC (St, Joseph), SCC (Sacred Heart Academy), SWC (Notre Dame-Fairfield) and NVL (Holy Cross).

Along with the best teams, some of the best players in the state will be showcasing their talents including three players at the top of the list for GameTimeCT MVP in Shailyn Pinkney of East Hartford; Aizhanique Mayo of Notre Dame-Fairfield and Lilly Ferguson of Newington.

“A lot of times, good teams don’t make it,” Coventry coach Kevin Clancy said. “There are so many girls that play high school basketball, girls who play all four years, and never make it to this point.”

And the matchups fans started talking about in December, are actually happening.

No. 3 ranked Sacred Heart Academy is playing No. 6 St. Joseph and No. 8 Newington is taking on No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield. All four of those teams, along with Holy Cross and East Hartford, picked up first-place votes this season.

Then there is No. 1 Holy Cross, going to Mohegan on a 42-game winning streak and as the state’s only unbeaten team, adding more heat to the championship weekend.

“Going in, we were not thinking of an undefeated season,” Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo said. “I know the kids will be nervous at Mohegan Sun. I have been doing this 28 years and been in the state final five times. Each and every year you are nervous when you get there and see the magnitude of what you are involved with. But once the ball goes up and the game gets going they will get over their nerves and play the best they can.”

Holy Cross will face No. 9 ranked Bacon Academy, the only team to play in Mohegan Sun this season when it lost in the ECC championship to New London.

Wilton, a 12 seed in Class LL, is the only team not carrying a top-3 seed and in two classes, MM and M, we get 1 vs 2 seeds. Enfield in Class LL was the only No. 1 seed not to reach a final.

Wilton’s run includes upset wins over No. Ludlowe (41-37 in OT) in the second round and against No. 1 seeded Enfield (48-37) in the semifinals.

“It’s been a great ride. The girls really brought us here. I just walk up and down the sidelines screaming and clapping a lot,” Wilton coach Keishaun Macklin said. “It’s an amazing feeling. No one thought Wilton would be playing at the Sun this year but we are. I’ll have to wait until I get in there to soak it all up under the lights. I’ll take a deep breath and let it sink in.”

With so many great teams, some feel like they might be going overlooked, such as Wilton’s opponent, East Hartford.

Despite winning the CCC and being ranked No. 4 in the GameTimeCT poll, Hornets coach Jonathan Myette feels his team is not getting the respect it should.

“Post-COVID, East Hartford continues to be overlooked and undermined and (celebrating after semifinals) was a moment in the right direction to bring us to the Sun,” Myette said. “I think this will be a great matchup for girls basketball in the state with two first-year coaches and two well-prepared teams. Our slogan all year has been, ‘let’s run I to the Sun.’”

Thomaston has played in five championship games since 2013, winning Class S twice and last making a final appearance in 2017.

If anyone knows the Sun, it is Bob McMahon though none of his current players have played in a state championship game.

“I keep hearing people refer to the great teams we had in the past and the good fortune to be there before but this an entirely different journey with a whole new group of kids,” McMahon said. “They did watch the other teams but they are writing their own story that has nothing to do with our teams from the past.”; @EricsonSports