NAUGATUCK — Hard work and preparation are always key ingredients to athletic success, but a little luck never hurts.
For some its superstitious rituals, like not stepping on the foul lines in baseball or bouncing the basketball a specific number of times before taking a foul shot. And then there are the old-fashion good luck charms.
Enter Larry the Llama, a stuffed animal and the Naugatuck girls basketball team’s unofficial mascot and good luck charm.
Larry watches the Greyhounds play from a courtside seat on the scorer’s table.
“The pre-game ritual is different for everyone,” senior tri-captain Hailey Russell said. “Most of us will just go up and give Larry a little tap on his head for good luck.”
“Now we need to sew him a little Naugy uniform,” she added with a laugh.
Larry came to be the team’s good luck charm by chance.
“Originally we wanted to get a pet fish and keep him in the locker room but didn’t think that was the best idea,” Naugatuck senior tri-captain Brielle Behuniak said. “So one day we went to TJ Maxx and found this llama on a random shelf for $5 and we decided to get him.”
Behuniak watches over Larry between games. He sits patiently on her night stand waiting for the next game on the schedule.
“Larry has been part of our season since day one,” Behuniak said. “I actually forget him for our first game and we lost to Sacred Heart.”
Even head coach Gail Cheney has taken a liking to Larry. She showed up for an ugly sweater game around Christmas wearing a sweater with a llama on it.
The Greyhounds are 11-4 and one of six teams in the Naugatuck Valley League with ten wins or more. Naugatuck’s success probably doesn’t have as much to do with Larry the Llama as it does with the play on the court.
Behuniak, Russell and Alissa McNeil lead the team as senior tri-captains
Sophomores Kaylee Jackson and Sara Macary give the starting five a 44-point per game average through the first 14 games.
Naugatuck also has plenty of strong options off the bench with Lindsey Walsh, Felicia Salvati, Kendall Allen, Nadia Cestari, Julianna Magalhaes, Jourdyn Brown, Saige Winslow and Lauryn Ramalho.
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” Behuniak said. “We all bring something different to the team and there is a real good chemistry going on. We had a few setbacks but we are very confident in one another.”
“We are working together as a team,” Russell added. “It’s not just all about one scorer. We are all stepping up and contributing to the team’s success. We are still a very young team and we are trying to get better each day and be competitive.”
The Greyhounds dropped back-to-back games for the first this season against a couple of fellow NVL contenders.
The Greyhounds held a 28-7 lead early in their game against Seymour (11-4) Jan. 24, but the Wildcats clawed back to earn a 74-71 win.
Seymour’s Alyssa Johnson finished off a 3-point play with six seconds left to give the Wildcats the win.
Macary led the way for Naugatuck with 23 points. Behuniak and Jackson had 12 points each, and Ramalho added seven points.
Naugatuck held a 39-32 halftime lead over Holy Cross (12-2) Jan. 30, but the Crusaders outscored the Greyhounds by 10 points in third quarter to go ahead. Alyssa Hebb’s putback off a missed free throw at the buzzer gave Holy Cross a 63-61 victory.
Russell led Naugy with 19 points. Ramalho added 11 points, Jackson had 10 points and Behunialk chipped in nine points.
Naugatuck bounced back with a 53-42 win over Torrington (6-9) Jan. 31. Behuniak led the Greyhounds with 17 points. Macary added 14 and Jackson chipped in 11.
The Greyhounds will visit Watertown on Tuesday and Woodland on Friday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the Feb. 6 edition to include information from the Torrington game played Jan. 31, after press time.