MIDDLETOWN — Minutes after a gut-wrenching state tournament loss to Middletown last week, Naugy head coach Mike Wilson took a moment to reflect.
He spoke about the game, the season and the team’s senior class that have helped turn the program around. Seniors Matthew Bradley, Husani Foote, Brandon Kuczenski, Jerome Love and Mick Pernell played their final games in a Naugatuck uniform on March 5.
“That’s been their career,” Wilson said of the seniors. “I just told them in the locker room they’re the reason I feel we may have a turnaround in this program because of their commitment and hard work and dedication they’ve given us over the last four years.”
Two years ago, the team finished with a 3-17 record. Each of the last two years the Greyhounds have finished a respectable 11-11 in the challenging Naugatuck Valley League conference.
“My freshman, even my sophomore year was rough, our record wasn’t that great,” said Pernell, the team’s point guard. “Everyone just put in the work we didn’t want to keep having the seasons we were having.”
The exertion paid off and the Greyhounds brought a higher level of respect back to the program.
This season the team featured quality wins over Wilby and Kennedy, and for the second straight year led for most of the game on the road in the first round of the state tournament.
“My freshman year we had one win, my sophomore year we had three wins,” Kuczenskk recalled. “We came in with a great group of guys, we believed in ourselves, we worked hard everyday. The coaching staff believed in us and it showed.”
The squad’s 2012 finish led to higher expectations. Naugy endured a slow start this year and regrouped.
The Greyhounds turned an under .500 beginning into an 8-4 mark over the last 12 games of the regular season.
“In the beginning of the season, things really weren’t going as we planned,” Pernell said. “We began to fold, but had a sort of intervention with the team, we talked and we were on a big run coming into the state tournament.”
Kuczenski noted the fight the ‘Hounds showed.
“Everyone kind of sucked it up, we kept going and we finished on a real good note, knocking off Kennedy and knocking off Wilby, playing Crosby hard, but just came up short in the NVL and state tournaments,” Kuczenski said.
While Wilson said he was “proud” of his team, the end result left more work to do for the program in general.
“It’s great feeling, but it’s not enough for me,” Wilson said. “I’m not satisfied with that effort. We’ve got more to achieve. It’s good, it’s a great start, but I told everyone in the locker room that I expect more.”
As for this season, Wilson said the team came a long way from the first practice to the final horn.
“The biggest thing for me to judge a team is from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” Wilson said. “I felt from the beginning of the year to the end of the year we were two different ball clubs and we improved greatly. I couldn’t be happier with these guys.”