Girls hoop preview: Talented Wilton has eyes on title

Heading into next week’s season opener, the Wilton High girls basketball team has everything in place to make a run at the FCIAC title — talent, depth, athleticism ... and a lot of motivation.

“I think everybody coming back remembers the feeling we had at the FCIAC finals last year. We don’t want to have that feeling this year,” said head coach Jaclyn Porco of the Warriors’ 41-29 loss to Danbury in the conference title game. “I hope the girls get there, because they deserve it.”

Despite that loss, and a loss to Weaver in the state quarterfinals, Wilton produced one of the greatest seasons in program history last season, finishing at 21-5 (a record for wins in a season) and reaching the FCIAC finals for the first time in 25 years.

The Warriors return all five starters from last year and a key player off the bench, and have several newcomers who are ready to make an impact as they try to win the school’s first FCIAC title since 1988-89.

“I think this year will be the deepest team we’ve had since I started,” said Porco, in her seventh season as head coach.

The Warriors will be led by their four senior captains — Erin Cunningham, Erica Meyer, Hayley English and Makenna Pearsall.

Meyer, a 6’3” center who will play Division I basketball next year for Providence, led the team last season in scoring (13.6 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg) and blocks (3.1 bpg), earning third-team All-FCIAC honors. She shot above 50% from the floor.

Cunningham, a 5’10” guard/forward, was a first-team All-FCIAC and All-State player last season. She was second on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and had a team-high 38 three-pointers, in addition to 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. A sweet shooter, she hit over 50% of her shots last year (35% from beyond the arc) and was an 80% shooter at the free throw line.

“Our goal is have her exercise her strength, and that’s to shoot,” said Porco.

English, a third-team All-FCIAC pick, returns at point guard, and will set the tone at both ends of the court. Last season, she averaged 8.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.9 steals and 2.3 rebounds per game, and hit 16 three-pointers (at a 36% clip).

Also back at the guard spot is Pearsall, who led the Warriors in steals (3.6) and assists (4.0) last year, in addition to her 3.7 ppg and 6.8 rpg.

“She’s probably one of the best defensive players in the FCIAC,” said Porco, who looks for Pearsall to become more of a scorer this season.

The other returning starter is 5’10” junior guard Karen Brosko, who averaged 4.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, in addition to hitting 12 treys.    

Porco said Brosko has improved her game tremendously in the off-season.

“She’s elevating off the floor beautifully, and sees the floor really well,” she said.

Wilton also returns a key player off the bench in junior center Christina Holmgren (4.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who poured in 13 points in Wilton’s loss in the state quarterfinals. Porco hopes Holmgren will eventually move into the starting lineup.

The other returning varsity player is sophomore forward Caylin Cannavino, who will see minutes on the front line.“If she’s under the hoop, she’ll finish,” said Porco about Cannavino.

The team also has five new players.

Senior Hannah Maatallah, who took basketball off last season to focus on soccer, is back and should be a nice addition. "I do believe Hannah will certainly contribute. She’s an excellent defensive player, and very fast,” said Porco.

Junior guard Caroline Higgins, moving up from the JV team, should also see minutes. "She’s an extremely hard worker and has a great rapport with the other girls and is extremely coachable,” said Porco.

Junior guard Sarah Fitzgerald, returning from an injury last season, has “phenomenal speed” and “will be a help on defense” said Porco.

Rounding out the lineup are junior forward Hana Previte and freshman guard Emily Tuin.

“We have to take it one quarter at a time. We have to make sure we are 100% eight minutes at a time,” said Porco. “Offensively, we should definitely improve, as long as we execute on offense and realize the clientele that’s on the floor at the time, and make good decisions. Defensively, I have high expectations. You won’t win games without defense.”

She continued, “We have good basketball players and we want them to realize that, and enjoy it, and go out there and work hard every second.”

Notes: The Warriors open the season next Wednesday at 7, at home against Fairfield Ludlowe.

Pearsall and Brosko were both honorable mention All-FCIAC last season.

Two key bench players from last year did not come out this season: Seniors Sara Dickinson (3.1 ppg) and Cori Cannavino (3.5 ppg).