— Will Aldam (@AldamWill) February 9, 2021
WALLINGFORD — In 2019, the Sheehan girls basketball team played the role of underdog en route to a Class M final as the 13th seed.
As sophomores that season, Caitlyn Hunt, Hayleigh Lagase, Dempsey Lajoie, and Caitlyn Velez busted the bracket to climb to the top, but what was once a pleasant surprise has developed into an expectation.
Ranked No. 10 in the GameTimeCT Preseason Poll, Sheehan and its four senior starters found themselves with a target on their back as the season opened Monday.
“Honestly I think the girls are kind of feeling the weight of the expectation, so we have to learn how to play with that,” Sheehan coach Mike Busillo said. “That is not a situation our program is used to being in. We are a little bit more used to being an underdog, but we are going to have to grow into this role.”
The season opener went exactly as planned for the Titans, who handled a less experienced Hamden team, avenging its SCC tournament loss last season.
Hunt (15 points), Lagase (10), and Velez (12) each scored double digit points to lead Sheehan past Hamden 60-36.
“We got a lot of scoring from a lot of different places tonight,” Busillo said. “That’s why it’s good to have seniors. The big difference tonight was that I’m starting four seniors and they are not, so our experience was very helpful tonight.”
The lone non-senior starter for the Titans, junior Molly Smolenski, knocked down a pair of early 3-pointers to push Sheehan to an early 10-0 lead from which it would never look back.
“I thought the level of play was higher than I expected,” Busillo said. “It was good for us. We came out and hit a couple of 3s and that helped everyone relax a bit.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, two time defending SCC Champion and 2020 Class LL semifinalist Hamden finds itself as a bit of an underdog.
As the 19th seed last year, Hamden was meant to face off with Newtown before state tournaments were canceled.
With only one returner who saw regular playing time remaining, it will be difficult for Hamden to replicate its success.
“They are a team of veterans, they have been together for a while and they’ve made runs at state tournaments in recent years,” Hamden coach Amanda Forcucci said. “I think at one point I had four freshmen on the floor, so I am proud of the effort that we gave. I know we can only go up.”
One silver lining for Hamden was freshman standout Gianna Donnarummo, who scored 18 points in her first career game.
Though Sheehan and its seniors will be unable to compete for the state title, the Titans are hoping to make a run at their first SCC title.
Sheehan 60, Hamden 36
Diamond White 0 1 0-1 3, Gianna Robert 2 0 0-1 4, Leila Smith 1 0 0-0 2, Thailyn Geter 1 0 0-2 2, Caroline Ennis 1 0 0-0 2, Gianna Donnarummo 4 2 4-8 18, Leah Philpotts 0 0 0-4 0, Alana Philpotts 2 0 1-2 5
Hayleigh Lagase 3 1 1-2 10, Caitlyn Hunt 5 0 5-6 15, Caitlyn Velez 4 0 4-4 12, Dempsey Lajoie 2 0 2-4 6, Molly Smolenski 0 3 0-0 9, Jocelyn Petrillo 1 0 0-0 2, Darla Jagrosse 0 0 2-2 2, Madison DiPasquale 1 0 0-0 2, Maya Wresien 1 0 0-0 2
Hamden (0-1) 9 11 9 7 — 36
Sheehan (1-0) 15 17 14 14 — 60
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