Naugy girls look to take another step forward

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Naugatuck seniors, from left, Brielle Behuniak, Hailey Russell and Alissa McNeil will lead the girls basketball team this season. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — Under head coach Gail Cheney, the Naugatuck girls basketball team has gone 32-8 in the regular season the last two years.

In her first year, the Greyhounds played in the Naugatuck Valley League championship game. Last season, the Greyhounds finished the regular season 15-5 and ended a ten-year drought by winning a game in the Class L state tournament for the first time since 2009.

The Greyhounds head into this season with a talented and experienced group of players who are looking to take another step forward.

Naugy graduated five seniors, including a pair of All-Iron Division players in Sarah Wisniewski (227 points) and Hailey Deitelbaum (116 points).

“We did lose five seniors, so it creates an opportunity for some of the younger players to step up and fill that void,” Cheney said. “We have 29 girls trying out and that is a bit exciting for us as we look to build off the success we had the past two seasons.”

The Greyhounds return three seniors — Hailey Russell (123 points), Brielle Behuniak (67 points) and Alissa McNeil (33 points).

As Cheney begins her third season at the helm, her coaching philosophy won’t change.

“Each year we went with whatever player stepped up in practice would get a shot at starting, and we will continue to do that,” Cheney said. “It works as both an incentive for the players to work hard and it also shows us players who are ready to take on a bigger role.”

That philosophy earned plenty of opportunities last season for four freshmen to emerge as solid contributors — none more than sophomore Sara Macary, who was named to the All-NVL team and scored 266 points as a freshman.

Sophomore Kaylee Jackson (125 points) quickly became a regular in the starting lineup. Sophomores Julia Kropo and Kendall Allen saw plenty of time on the court, as well.

That experience will be key as they will look to step into larger roles this season, but it will be the team’s seniors that Cheney will look to for leadership.

“We are definitely going to lean on our seniors to set the example,” Cheney said. “I know some of the younger girls had worked on their game over the summer and you could see the improvement already.”

Cheney is hoping to develop a couple of more younger players, but going into the season Naugy has eight players that have experience under fire and know what it takes to compete with the top teams in the league.

“Sacred Heart, St. Paul, Holy Cross are going to be tough teams to beat. Woodland has improved tremendously,” Cheney said. “It’s going to be a battle night in and night out. But I like our chances with the talent that we have returning.”

Naugatuck opens the season Dec. 16 at Sacred Heart and finishes the first week of the season Dec. 20 at home versus Oxford.