Playing defense against the St. Luke’s School girls basketball team is, indeed, a daunting challenge.
Against a zone, the Storm can hurt the opposition by converting perimeter shots, especially 3-pointers. When teams play man-to-man defense against the Storm, they have numerous players who can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket.
Sacred Heart Greenwich witnessed how tough it is to stop St. Luke’s in Thursday’s FAA game, as the host Storm had the answers for whatever they defense they faced.
Making shots at an eye-opening pace, St. Luke’s scored 36 points in the first quarter, 51 points in the first half and proceeded to post an impressive 74-58 win over Sacred Heart.
The Storm, which continued their trend of defeating the opposition by double figures, raised their record to a perfect 15-0 overall and 8-0 in the FAA. Junior guard/forward Mackenzie Nelson, a Greenwich resident, scored a game-high 27 points, 20 of which came during the first half to power unbeaten St. Luke’s. Senior forward Caroline Lau recorded 16 points and junior guard Ava Sollenne, who also resides in Greenwich, contributed 10 points for the five-time defending FAA champion Storm.
Senior center Sarah Augustine scored a team-high 21 points for the Tigers, who trailed 36-17 after the first quarter and 51-25 at halftime. The Tigers had a solid second half, limiting the high-scoring Storm to 23 points.
“We settled down, we moved the ball a lot better, we defended better and we got better, cleaner looks,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said of her squad’s second-half performance. “Against a great team like St. Luke’s, you cannot come out asleep for a minute, because they will take advantage of it and you’ll find yourself in a hole and you’re digging out, which is hard to do.”
Coached by Matthew Ward, St. Luke’s had everything working in the first half offensively, especially during an outstanding first quarter. They made 3-pointers, pull-up jump shots, layups off strong moves to the basket and generated points in transition.
“We couldn’t miss anything, our defense was great, everything was rolling for us,” said Mackenzie Nelson, who transferred to St. Luke’s from Greenwich High School last year. “Then the second half came around and we came out kind of slow, we weren’t hitting shots, but I think our defense picked it up for us, which was really good.”
Sacred Heart played man-to-man defense in the first quarter and St. Luke’s displayed quick ball movement and penetrated to the basket to create open shots and layups.
“I said to them all year, once we start shooting the ball well it’s going to be hard for teams to defend us,” Ward said. “If they go man, we went by them, they went zone we were shooting well. We have so many weapons, it’s really hard for teams to defend us.”
Freshman guard Camdyn Nelson added seven points for the Storm, who received 13 points from Mackenzie Nelson in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Madison Hart scored 15 points, while sophomore guard/forward Peyton Sfreddo had nine points for Sacred Heart (8-4).
“We definitely learned that every quarter matters,” Madison Hart said. “We just kind of dug ourselves in a hole in the first quarter and if we learn to start off every game and play every quarter, we’ll just get better.”
After the home team jumped out to a 7-2 lead, the Tigers closed to within 9-6 on a basket by Sfreddo. The Storm then went on a 9-2 run to open an 18-8 advantage with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
Lau banked in a runner in the lane, while Camdyn and Mackenzie Nelson each made layups during the Storm’s spurt. Sollenne swished a 3-pointer later in the first quarter, putting St. Luke’s on top, 27-12. Consecutive baskets by Lau, one of which was a pull-up jumper and a layup by Camdyn Nelson made it 36-17 after the first quarter.
“During warmups, we all had our heads in the game and we all knew what to do once we went in the game and I think that strong start led us through that first and second quarter to the end of the game,” said Sollene, who like Mackenzie Nelson, played on Greenwich High’s 2020 team that advanced to the CIAC Class LL Tournament semifinals.
“So far we’re undefeated, so on the court it’s been great and off the court we’ve gotten closer, which is helping our chemistry on the floor,” Sollene continued. “I’m really happy with our team right now and we’re just going to get better.”
Mackenzie Nelson and Sollene paced the hosts during a 15-point second quarter, which brought the team’s point total to 51 at the half. In the third quarter, St. Luke’s cooled off a bit offensively and Sacred Heart closed to within 61-44 heading into the final quarter. Augustine had eight third-quarter points, while Madison Hart got going offensively for the Tigers.
“They play at a super fast pace and we had to adjust to all their drives and kick-outs,” Augustine said. “They really love driving to the hoop. After the first quarter, we adjusted our defense so me and Kaitlin Robinson could stay in the paint so they wouldn’t get as any drive points. We never lost our hustle and heart throughout the entire game and we never dropped our heads.”
Said Sfreddo: “I think going into this game we knew it was going to be a tough one. We didn’t have the best first half, but we really showed how our team doesn’t get discouraged easily and we always play our hardest and that’s the kind of team we are. I really think this season we’ve had trouble digging ourselves in a hole in the first quarter or first half and it’s really difficult for any team to come back from that and that’s what we need to work on.”
Ward knows his team has high expectations and at this point of the season, he’s pleased with what he’s seen.
“The team’s goal is to win FAAs again and win NEPSACs,” Ward said. “We know how we need to play and what works for us, but we are so physically tough that makes me happy and where we need to be. But we need to be mentally tough. When we’re up 20, 25 points we need to be mentally tougher to be sure we’re always playing with the same type of energy. That showed a little bit in the second half. Sacred Heart always plays hard, they never give up and we find that out every year when we play them.”
St. Luke’s hosts Kent School on Saturday, then plays Rye Country Day School and Loomis Chaffee School next week.
“We want to win it all this year and there are going to be some hard teams ahead of us, but we hope to stay undefeated and win it all,” Mackenzie Nelson said. “It’s my first real full season, so it’s been great.”
Sollenne said: “We’re really happy that COVID is not taking it away from us this year. We’re grateful to be able to play and we’re not taking anyone for granted, so we want to play as good as we can every game. If we play our best and keep working hard we can go really far in NEPSACs and FAAs and hopefully, win them both.”
Sacred Heart, which received seven points from guard Eva Wilkerson and four from guard Victoria Hart, visits FAA foe Hamden Hall Country Day School on Feb. 7.
“We held them to less points in the second half then we did in the first quarter and we turned the ball over less,” Ayo Hart said. “They’re a very good transition team, they’re well coached and they execute well, so we had to take their offense away by playing better offense ourselves.”