BRISTOL - With teams not being able to spend as much time together due to the pandemic, this high school sports season has put a greater premium on experience than normal.
Returning a total of six rotation players from last season’s team that reached the second round of the Class L state tournament, the Bristol Eastern girls basketball team is off to a 3-0 start this year and is clicking because the players’ chemistry provides something familiar in a season of uncertainty.
“We know each other well,” senior Alyssa Kehler said. “We’ve played since freshman year together. We played AAU together so we’ve just always had a lot of chemistry and we’re able to work well together. We know what to do and we all know each other well so it works out good.”
Kehler is coming off of a 14-point performance in the Lancers’ 77-33 win over Plainville on Wednesday. One of four players from last season with experience consistently starting, she emerged as a strong scoring option for a team that already has two wins by more than 30 points.
“Alyssa has really come a long way since last year, she’s really stepping up this year as a senior,” head coach Tony Floyd said. “I’ve got those four back from last year that really helps the nucleus. They’re the core and the other kids are able to develop around them.”
The other returning starters from last year are junior Ciara Collins, and seniors Sage Scarritt and Cali Doyon, and all four of them scored at least 10 points in both of the last two games while also playing strong defense and displaying strong leadership.
Floyd is running a tight eight-person rotation that also features junior Janessa Gonzalez and sophomore Taigan Parent, who both bring experience that creates a strong learning environment for freshmen Emma Stavens and Audrey Tice, who are also seeing minutes this season. The Lancers were without Gonzalez in their last game because she was part of the covid-19 protocols, but were fine building a giant lead using just seven players for most of the game. Floyd expects Gonzalez to be back for the team’s Saturday game against Southington.
“Our core of eight have really gotten better and they’ve grown together,” Floyd said. “They’ve really been great with those kids, calming them and being mentors to those kids and that’s helped me a lot.”
Already having this rhythm has been advantageous for Eastern this season because building on-court relationships this strong takes time teams will not have this year. Being able to fine tune their games together while their opponents are still trying to figure things out should make them one of the better teams in CCC Region B, a schedule that is not as challenging as what they would schedule under normal circumstances.
“I think it’s been really helpful because coming into the season we all already had an idea of what was going on,” Collins said. “Just having all those people coming back was helpful knowing the plays, the cuts, all the things we do as a team. It just helps with the camaraderie too.”
Having such a strong foundation would be greatly beneficial no matter what, but it is especially helpful now so the younger player on Eastern roster can build an understanding of how an experienced team runs.
The Lancers have nine games left on their schedule and next up is Southington on Saturday, which has two blowout wins like Eastern and a one-point loss to Plainville. With both teams coming off big wins, they should be refreshed to play a more competitive game.
“Right now we’re just trying to get better every single game we play and have some fun and get some of these younger kids to develop with the older kids,” Floyd said.
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org