Greenwich High

Strong first half sparks Greenwich High girls basketball team to decisive win against visiting Brien McMahon

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman Photography: Greenwich guard Carolyn Frankle shoots a layup while being defended by Catherine Dragotta of Brien McMahon (No. 2) during a high school girls basketball game at Greenwich High School on Jan. 6, 2023, at Greenwich High School. The Cardinals won the FCIAC game.

Making 3-pointers at an impressive pace is one way a basketball team can build a sizeable lead early and that’s exactly what Greenwich High School’s girls team did Friday before its home crowd against Brien McMahon.

The Cardinals began the FCIAC game with a flurry, thanks to converting five first-quarter 3-pointers and swishing seven shots from beyond the arc in the first half – a shooting display that enabled them to seize a commanding 20-point first half lead.

Strong backcourt play and stellar defensive play kept the Cardinals in control in this matchup, which saw them register a convincing 54-34 victory over visiting Brien McMahon.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman Photography: Sophia Sergio of Greenwich, left, takes a 3-point shot against Brien McMahon.

The triumph snapped a three-game losing streak for Greenwich, which dropped a tough 43-42 decision to New Canaan on the road on Tuesday night. Coached by Megan Wax, the Cardinals began the season with a win against Wright Tech, then lost to non-conference foes Bethel and Brookfield, before being edged by FCIAC rival New Canaan.

Senior guard Laura Smego paced Greenwich’s balanced scoring effort with 11 points, while senior point guard/captain Carolyn Frankle scored 10 points. Junior forward Riana Xhekaj also had 10 points, while senior guard/captain Sophia Sergio and sophomore forward/guard Lara Young added six points apiece in the winning effort.

Greenwich (2-3) bolted out to a 20-2 first-quarter lead, before taking a 33-12 advantage into halftime against the Senators.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman Photography: Greenwich’s Alyssa Gath, left and Laura Smego, react during pregame introductions before the Cardinals’ home game against Brien McMahon on January 6, 2023, in Greenwich.

“I’m really happy, we came into this game strong, we had a really good mindset coming into this game,” said Sergio, who converted a 3-pointer. “We fought to the end and we had a lot of excitement coming into the game.”

Frankle and Smego each made three 3-pointers to help GHS get off to a fast first-half lead.

“The thing we talked about before the game was we needed to play all four quarters,” Frankle said. “We came out fired up and we scored over 20 points in the first quarter. Our goal is to score 15 points, or 10 points per quarter, so for us to double it – it gives a lead that we need and then they have to play frantic and we don’t, which gives us the advantage through the entire game.”

Photo by Dylan Goodman: Riana Xhekaj of Greenwich, left, goes in for a shot against Brien McMahon.

Freshman guard Sahni Kinlock scored nine points, while teammate Jade Martin, a senior, totaled eight points for Brien McMahon, which is coached by former Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez. A Brien McMahon graduate, Hernandez served as Greenwich’s coach for 10 seasons, before stepping down prior to the team’s 2021-2022 season. Hernandez guided Greenwich to the CIAC Class LL state championship game in 2016 and to an FCIAC title game during her successful coaching tenure with the Cardinals.

On target from beyond the arc, Greenwich wasted little time in setting the tone of Friday night’s game, which was titled, ‘Youth Night’ at GHS, as numerous young basketball players in town attended the matchup and participated in a halftime shooting contest.

Sergio, Smego and Frankle made 3-pointers, giving Greenwich an early 9-0 lead on McMahon. Following a pair of free throws by Martin, Greenwich ended the opening quarter with an 11-0 run to take a comfortable 20-2 advantage.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman Photography: Madi Utzinger of Greenwich, right, dribbles the ball while being defended by Jade Martin of Brien McMahon during FCIAC girls basketball action at Greenwich High School.

“Our team came out with intensity right from the get-go,” said Greenwich coach Megan Wax, who is in her first season at the helm. “We want to come out and push and get the ball moving quick and we did a good job of that.”

A 3-pointer from the top of the key by Frankle, followed by a jump shot from the short corner by Young made it 16-2 with 1:50 remaining in the second quarter. After Sergio made a foul shot, freshman guard Madi Utzinger swished a 3-pointer against McMahon’s zone defense, putting the Cards in front, 20-2.

“We’ve been practicing so much on finishing, making our layups, making our shots and playing as a team and overall, playing as a team and I think we executed really well today,” Sergio said.

Photo by Dylan Goodman: Greenwich High School girls basketball coach Megan Wax and the team reacts during the Cardinals’ game against visiting Brien McMahon on Jan. 6, 2023.

Smego carried her impressive shooting from the New Canaan game into Friday’s contest.

“I was feeling it, in the first quarter, we knocked down a couple of 3s and that got us fired up,” Smego said. “When you make the first basket, all of your nerves and jitters go away and we start building each other’s confidence as well.”

Greenwich mostly played a 2-3 zone and was effective defensively throughout this conference game. Wax is pleased with the team’s competitiveness.

“It’s always hard starting this season with those three tough games in a row and we battled, battled, battled and we just haven’t been able to finish,” she said. “After the New Canaan loss where we were in it, they came out intense the next few practices and were determined to work on finishing at the rim and at the foul line and they did that today.”

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman Photography: Greenwich’s Ayanna Davenport, right, looks to control the ball.

A 3-pointer off an inbound pass by Smego and a basket off a strong move in the low post by Xhekaj gave GHS a 28-7 edge at the 2:30 mark of the second quarter. The Cards went into halftime up, 33-14.

“I thought it was a really good win,” Greenwich junior forward/captain Julia Monteiro said. “We’re trying to become a fourth quarter team and I think we did a good job today of achieving that goal and keeping the energy throughout the four quarters.”

McMahon’s best moments came during the third quarter, as it began the second half with a 9-0 spurt to cut Greenwich’s lead to 34-22. A 3-pointer by senior Deja Smalls, followed by baskets from Kinlock and sophomore Jess Sanchez paced the Senators’ run.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman Photography: Laura Smego shoots a 3-pointer against Brien McMahon.

Greenwich regained the momentum, however. Young and Monteiro each grabbed offensive rebounds and scored and Smego ended the third quarter by nailing a 3-pointer from the right side, making it 45-24.

“I feel like there were some good cuts and passes – today was a big win for us,” Smego noted.

“Today we did a much better job of communicating,” Wax said. “We’re making good strides.”

Photo by Dylan Goodman: Greenwich guard Sophia Sergio lines up a foul shot during a game against Brien McMahon.

Monteiro and Utzinger scored five points apiece, while junior guard Ayanna Davenport added a free throw for Greenwich, which is right back in action today.

The Cardinals host non-conference opponent Amistad this afternoon at 2 p.m.

“I’m so proud of how we kept up our energy,” Sergio said. “We’re working on becoming a four-quarter team and we’re focusing on that.”

Photo by Dylan Goodman Photography: Carolyn Frankle of Greenwich takes the ball up the court vs. Brien McMahon.

After playing Amistad today, Greenwich visits Fairfield Ludlowe on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game, then travels to Staples on Jan. 13 for a 7 p.m. matchup.

The Cards then host Norwalk on Jan. 17.

Photo by Dylan Goodman: Greenwich defeated Brien McMahon in an FCIAC matchup, 54-34.

“I feel like we’re starting to practice how we want to play,” Frankle noted.

“The team’s play is really good,” Monteiro said. “Games like today where we keep the energy up and keep pushing, we’ll be successful.”

Photo courtesy of Dylan Goodman: Greenwich’s Madi Utzinger dribbles the ball to the basket against Brien McMahon.
Photo by Dylan Goodman Photography: Greenwich’s Julia Monteiro looks to shoot while being tightly guarded by Deja Smalls of Brien McMahon on January 6, 2023, in Greenwich. The Cardinals won, 54-34.
Photo by Dylan Goodman: A big crowd turned out to watch the Greenwich High School-Brien McMahon girls basketball game.

Photo by Dylan Goodman Photography: Greenwich’s Riana Xhekaj is greeted during pregame introductions.
Photo by Dylan Goodman Photography: Lara Young of Greenwich, left, tries to dribble away from a defender.

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