NAUGATUCK — Immediately after the Naugatuck girls basketball season ended two years ago, coach Jodie Ruccio and her staff went to work trying to find answers for a season that ended at 3-17.
It was the first time since Ruccio took over the program from longtime coach Keith Raczkowski that the Greyhounds failed to make the state tournament.
All that hard work paid off last season as Naugatuck rebounded with a solid 12-8 season, making both the Naugatuck Valley League and state tournaments.
No one expected the Greyhounds to put up much of a fight in the league tournament as everyone eyed a Torrington-Holy Cross shootout for the title. No one, except the ‘Hounds.
Ruccio, who led her high school team to a New Jersey state championship, has preached since taking over the reins that anything can happen in a tournament. The Greyhounds stunned Brass Division champion Watertown in the league quarterfinals on a buzzer-beater and came within a point of reaching the title game in a semifinal loss to Torrington.
Naugy comes into this season minus leading scorer Lauren Piroscafo, point guard Carla Pellicia, and rebounder Amber Kuczenski. But what the Greyhounds do return is a solid core of players who gained valuable experience in a high-pressure situation and a taste for victory that will not go away.
“We ran with six or seven different lineups at the start of last year,” said Ruccio, entering her sixth year as head coach. “By season’s end we inserted a few of the younger players knowing we were going to lose Piroscafo, our point guard Pellicia, and a solid rebounder in Kuczenski. The experience some of these younger girls gained in the NVL tournament was crucial and gives us a solid core coming into this season.”
Leading the way will be senior captains Amy Dietz, Steph Lima and Sydney Cotto and junior Angelina Piccirillo.
Senior Felicia Gullotta and juniors Emma Colucci and Jessica Butler not only gained experience in the NVL tournament but they made key plays down the stretch that helped the Greyhounds reach the semifinals.
Junior Christina Batista and sophomore Taylor Campos will also see quality minutes as Naugatuck is intent on raising the bar this season.
“This group of girls is more ready for the higher expectations than any other team I’ve had,” Ruccio said. “We didn’t have to get them fired up at all. They came in putting these expectations on themselves. After experiencing what winning was like last year they want to experience that again. They know it won’t be easy. There will be nights when our shots are not falling and our opponents’ shots are. But they are very confident that no team will outwork us on the court.”
To pick up the slack on the scoring end, the Greyhounds will look to Lima to hit the outside shot and for Dietz to establish herself under the basket. Piccirillo will be the third option, and if Naugatuck can get a handful of points from the hardworking and energetic Butler and Colucci, teams will have a problem holding back the Greyhounds.
Naugy held opponents to fewer than 50 points in 15 games last season and held opponents under the 40-point mark 10 times.
“We will rely on our defense to set the tone,” said Ruccio, who is assisted by Karl Evangelista, Kara Caron, Sean Dunn, Stephanie Escobar and Heather Yablonski. “We have a full slate of preseason scrimmages against Bristol Central, Trumbull, Notre Dame of Fairfield and an eight-team jamboree at Wamogo.”
Naugatuck gets the season underway on Dec. 5 with a home game against Crosby and Dec. 7 at Torrington.
“We will study the films and put the best five players out there when the season starts,” Ruccio said. “The girls are ready and wished the season started today.”