Winter sports

St. Luke’s captures FAA Girls Basketball Tournament title for seventh straight season with a victory over Hamden Hall; Greenwich’s Mackenzie Nelson, Ava Sollenne combine for 29 points in the win

Photo by David Fierro: Ava Sollenne, left and Mackenzie Nelson, both of whom reside in Greenwich, display the championship trophy after they helped lead the St. Luke’s basketball team to a victory over Hamden Hall Country Day School in the title game of the FAA Girls Basketball Tournament on Feb. 25, 2023, at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan.

A league of their own.

That’s what the St. Luke’s girls basketball team has proven to be in, as it entered today’s FAA Tournament final against visiting Hamden Hall Country Day School with six straight league titles to its ledger, behind dominant performances against its league rivals over the years.

Today, the Storm continued their reign of supremacy in the FAA, showing that on the FAA basketball scene, they’re once again, the gold standard.

The streak is seven and counting for St. Luke’s School, which captured its seventh consecutive FAA Tournament title with a decisive 76-41 win over Hamden Hall in the championship game.

Senior guard Mackenzie Nelson, a Greenwich native, scored a game-high 17 points, 10 of which came in the first half, while her sister Camdyn, a sophomore guard, totaled 14 points for the top-seeded Storm (23-2). Greenwich’s Ava Sollenne, a senior guard, added 12 points and junior forward Kayla Weiskopf had eight points for St. Luke’s which stormed to an 18-8 lead after the first quarter and methodically extended its advantage.

Photo by David Fierro: From left to right: Emma Sollenne, Ava Sollenne, Mackenzie Nelson and Camdyn Nelson from Greenwich gather following the St. Luke’s’ basketball team’s 76-41 win over Hamden Hall in the title game of the FAA tourney.

“It feels amazing to have all your hard work pay off, especially during your senior year,” Ava Sollenne said. “I’m really happy, this was our goal for the entire year and we achieved it. Now, hopefully, we have three more games left.”

Sollenne referenced the upcoming NEPSAC Class B Tournament, which saw the Storm advance all the way to the championship game a season ago. They will begin action in the NEPSAC Class B tourney Wednesday against an opponent yet to be determined. Seeding for the tournament will be announced tomorrow.

As has been the case all season, St. Luke’s took control of the matchup by playing tenacious defense, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, resulting in quick baskets and enabling it to carry the momentum.

The Storm also forced their share of second shots, by aggressively hitting the offensive backboards on missed shots. The victors’ shooting improved in the second half, much to the dismay of Hamden Hall, which advanced to the FAA final by topping third-seeded Greens Farms Academy

“We actually didn’t shoot very well today compared to our past few games, but we just keep shooting,” Mackenzie Nelson noted. “We have a bunch of good shooters. In practice, we practice in-game shots, so that’s what translates to the game and that’s what allows us to be consistent and make shots.”

Members of the St. Luke’s girls basketball team and their coaches gather following the team’s win over Hamden Hall Country Day School in the championship game of the FAA Tournament on Feb. 25. 2023, at St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

Senior forward Rayne Durante paced the Hornets with 16 points, including two 3-pointers. With several athletes injured, Hamden Hall played today’s title game with only six players.

“I thought Hamden Hall played great,” St. Luke’s coach Matthew Ward said. “Being down a starter and a couple of players, I thought they played really well, especially in the first half. They made it really tough on us, but in the second half we wore them down a little bit, I think.”

The home team accomplished their pregame goals on their way adding another championship trophy to the school’s display case.

“There’s certain things we need to do every game and if we do those things, we’re going to be really tough to beat,” Ward noted. “Play really good team defense, play at a pace that’s tough for teams to keep up with and move the ball. Those are the three main things. We did all of those today.”

St. Luke’s huddles up after a victory against Hamden Hall Country Day that gave it the FAA Tournament championship.

Senior forward/center Brielle Renwick posted 10 points and grabbed numerous rebounds, sophomore guard/Greenwich resident Emma Sollenne – Ava’s sister – had four points and juniors Emma Boolbol (Greenwich resident) and Kathleen Coffey had three points apiece in the winning effort.

“Today, we had great offense, we moved the ball well, everyone was knocking down shots and we had great energy,” said Camdyn Nelson, who swished two 3-pointers. “They were good, we played them in the regular season and it was a close game. We just knew that we had to play together and get the win.”

A fastbreak layup by Okwuosa gave the Hornets an 8-6 lead midway through the first quarter, but the Storm ended the frame with a 12-0 run to claim an 18-8 advantage. Driving down the left side of the lane, Mackenzie Nelson converted a layup, then Ava Sollenne buried a 3-pointer from the left corner, putting St. Luke’s ahead, 13-8.

Another layup from Mackenzie Nelson, followed by a 3-pointer from Weiskopf put the home team on top, 18-8, after eight minutes of play.

Photo by David Fierro: Camdyn Nelson, left, had 14 points, while her sister Mackenzie Nelson had 17 points in St. Luke School’s triumph against Hamden Hall Country Day School in the FAA finals.

The Hornets started the second quarter strong, closing to within 18-14 and 21-16 on baskets from Okwuosa and Durante, yet the Storm capped the second quarter with a 14-0 run to open a comfortable 35-16 cushion. Panian, Coffey and Camdyn Nelson each hit 3-pointers during the Storm’s second-quarter spurt. Stellar man-to-man defense, which extended to full court pressure, also sparked St. Luke’s offense.

“They are a good team, they are strong, athletic and they have guards that can handle the ball,” Mackenzie Nelson said of Hamden Hall. “We were really keen on being able to pressure the ball and use our press and keep pushing and pushing.”

In the second half, the Storm notched leads of 46-23, 53-29 and 59-33, on baskets by Mackenzie Nelson, Camdyn Nelson and Renwick.

Sisters Ava Sollenne, left and Emma Sollenne show the FAA championship trophy after St. Luke’s win over Hamden Hall.

“Our thing throughout the entire year has been, don’t let your foot off the gas pedal,” said Ava Sollenne, who is in her third season on the squad. “So, we’ve been working on that and I think that this game we definitely showed that. We came out strong, we finished strong and played a full game.”

Said Ward: “Those shots we missed in the first half, started to fall in the second half. If you are playing with this relentless type of energy, it’s difficult to match it for 32 minutes. Even though Hamden Hall played well and the score wasn’t indicative of how the game was, I think we kind of wore them down with that energy.”

Sophomore Payton Collins had five points for Hamden Hall (10-2 in FAA play, including the postseason). With the win, St. Luke’s finished a perfect 12-0 against their FAA foes (including the playoffs) this season.

Brielle Renwick of St. Luke’s School goes in for a shot in traffic under the basket during the FAA Tournament final.

“This is my third year here and I love it here so much,” Ava Sollenne said. “I love the winning culture and environment. Everyone shares the same mindset of wanting to win and being the best and we work hard to be the best.”

Mackenzie and Ava’s younger sisters have learned a lot about competing for a program with a championship pedigree.

“Since this is my second year here and the seniors are leaving, it felt especially nice to have this win for them,” said Emma Sollenne, who scored two points and tallied 21 points with seven 3-pointers in the team’s FAA quarterfinal-round win against Masters School. “Playing together helps us get better, we have good chemistry.”

“It’s great, I love playing on the same team as my sister, she’s a great player,” Camdyn Nelson said. “Learning from her is amazing. Hopefully we can finish out these last few games and end the season on a winning note.”

Camdyn Nelson of St. Luke’s gets ready to dribble around a pick set by teammate Brielle Renwick during the FAA Tournament championship game against visiting Hamden Hall Country Day School. The Storm won, 76-41.

Mackenzie Nelson, Ava Sollenne, Panian and Renwick are the Storm’s four seniors.

“They’re a great group and we’re going to miss them,” Ward said. “They lead the charge in every sense of the word. It is going to be the leadership that we are going to miss.”

St. Luke’s is hoping to have three games left in its season. That would put them back in the NESPAC Class B Tournament final. They were edged by one point in the championship game a year ago for their lone loss of the 2022 season.

“We don’t know who we play yet, but we’re excited whoever it is,” Mackenzie Nelson said. “All of the NEPSAC is good, so we’re going to have to prepare and watch film and come back next week ready to play.”

Ava Sollenne of St. Luke’s School looks to make a pass while being defended by Hamden Hall Country Day in the FAA finals.
St. Luke’s School scores in the halfcourt against Hamden Hall. Click to watch video.

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