As Cheshire High School girls’ basketball opened the season last week, many things had changed since the team last played an official game on March 2, 2020. CHS graduated Ari Perlini, Toni Wetmore, Emma Watkinson, and Rylee Post last season, while Angelica Ariola was hired to coach after Michelle Vieira chose to step down after four seasons.
Additionally due to health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, players and coaches are practicing and playing games in masks this season. During contests, officials stop play halfway through all four quarters to allow players to have mask breaks on the court.
“It is a big change. It was tough to wear masks at the beginning, but we are willing to do anything to play,” stated senior guard Kaylee Clark. “I didn’t expect to have a season, so it is exciting to be on the court with everyone.”
In building a new team, the Rams have been tested immediately with a tough schedule. To kick off the season, Cheshire fell 55-31 to Mercy on Feb. 10 and then lost 45-15 to North Haven last Friday.
Going into the season, Ariola said that the team knew that they would open with up against historically great programs.
“The most important thing is trying to keep the girls confidence up because right now obviously it is a little bit low, but the effort is where we want it to be,” said Ariola. “We know that we can rely on them to give 100% effort. We will praise them on that and keep working on our discipline and execution at practice.”
Ariola, who previously assisted on the staff at Sheehan, looked forward to her opportunity to be a head coach.
“When you’ve played the game for your whole life and coached, I don’t think you get as nervous to start the season as you are excited,” explained Ariola. “It is great to be around the girls and watch them grow as a team.”
In Ariola’s debut, the Rams hung tough early against Mercy. CHS trailed just 7-5 to end the first quarter and then tied the game when junior Tess Givens made a jumper only 15 seconds into the second.
Clark drained a three-pointer to pull the Rams to within 13-10, but Mercy responded with consecutive three-pointers from sophomore Sophie Hedge. The Tigers outscored CHS, 20-10, in the second quarter and went on to earn the opening win on the road.
“They are aggressive and don’t slow down on the court,” stated Clark.
Clark led Cheshire with 10 points, while senior Ella Watson had six. Givens and junior Jenna Stickney both contributed four points.
In her first game, freshman Ella Kulas added three points in the second half. Senior Jordan DeMatteo hit two foul shots and sophomore Amelia Perlini joined her with two points.
For Mercy, Sophie Hedge (18) and senior Lilly Hedge (15) were the game-high point scorers.
Last Friday, a slow start hampered the Rams in their loss to North Haven. The Indians scored the opening seven points and used a 13-0 run to go up 20-2.
With senior Sarah Puzone scoring seven of her game-high 13 points in the opening half, the Indians built a 26-4 advantage. While being frustrated that their shots weren’t falling early, Cheshire players felt it was important that they stay positive as a team.
“We are going to continue to work with each other and build from here,” said senior Sophie Vagts.
Clark scored seven points, including a three-pointer. Stickney had three points, while Watson and Givens both scored two. Kulas made also hit a free throw.
This week, the Rams received a boost with the return of junior guard Grace Lurz. A varsity player since her freshman year, Lurz started practicing this year, but when she was deemed a close contact for COVID-19, she had to quarantine.
“We were looking forward to having her back,” said Ariola. “Grace participated in our scrimmage (against Lauralton Hall), so she was in the flow of our team before she had to sit out.”
On Wednesday, Cheshire returns to action to host Guilford (0-2) at 6 p.m. CHS will next travel to play Shelton (Friday, 7 p.m.), East Haven (Feb. 22, 6 p.m.), and Hamden (Feb. 24, 6 p.m.).