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SWC GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW Talented squads out to dethrone defending champ Kolbe

December 8, 2018

If recent seasons in the SWC are any indication, it is to expect the unexpected.

Few predicted Kolbe Cathedral would be the last team standing when last season ended, and almost no one thought Bethel would go from a .500 team to winning its first ever title the year before.

Five different schools have claimed the title in the past five seasons, and several who haven’t are capable of ending a drought this time around. A handful of teams are capable of dethroning the Cougars, but with most of their squad back that will be a difficult task.

5 TEAMS TO WATCH

NEWTOWN: Though the Nighthawks lost All-SWC point guard Rylee Mulligan, most of the roster returns. Sharpshooter Nicki DaPra will lead a deep and athletic group while guard Amy Sapenter will also provide a scoring punch along with sisters Cailin and Cyleigh Wilson. The Nighthawks were the top seed in the conference a year ago.

Newtown’s last crown came in 2011.

ND-FAIRFIELD: With potentially the best player in the conference in Yamani McCullough, the Lancers will be a dangerous out in the postseason. Gabby Joseph departs from last season’s finalists, who hope to claim a first title since 2016.

Seniors Vanessa Joseph and Mia Dunn also return while Erin Harris will be a key contributor. A trio of new freshmen will add depth and could provide an immediate impact.

KOLBE: The defending champions came of age last season, avenging defeats to Newtown and ND-Fairfield to claim its first title since 2009.

The Cougars will head to battle with a new coach as Devin Parker replaces longtime coach Lisa Hodges. Kolbe returns the bulk of their offense to ease the transition. A pair of four-year starters — Gracen Kerr and Trinity Stackhouse — will lead the Cougars’ chase for back-to-back titles.

WESTON: The Trojans will have to replace three key seniors in Claire DeMarco, Georgia Burkhard and Grace Toner, but an 18-7 effort least year provides hope of competing for a title. Senior Katie Oreface is a once-in-a-generation player at the school while Katie Joyce and Jennifer Welsh are experienced starters.

Coach Dan Rosen noted size and rebounding may be the biggest road block between the Trojans and a deep run as the tallest player on the roster stands 5-foot-10. Guard-orientated play with Orefice and Joyce could take them far, though.

BETHEL: Coach Anderson Rawlins has transformed the Wildcats into a perennial contender, a status that won’t change in 2018-19. Bethel is on the younger side this year but senior Gabi Mendconca and junior Maranda Nyborg form one of the strongest 1-2 punches in the league.

Bethel hadn’t won more than 10 games in any season in the previous decade, but won 22 games in 2016-17 and 19 last year.

5 PLAYERS TO WATCH

Katie Orefice, Weston: Was named second team All-State by USA Today as a junior, leading the Trojans to the Class M semifinals. First team All-SWC selection. Already eclipsed the 1000-point mark in her junior season. Averaged 17.5 points, five rebounds and four assists per game last year.

Maggie Lee, Pomperaug: The lone senior for the Panthers, Lee will be the top threat this year. The 5-foot-8 forward can shoot from the outside and take it to the rim. Averaged 11.7 points per game in 2017-18. Committed to play at Weslyan.

Yamani McCullough, Nd-Fairfield: With an incredible feel for the game well beyond her years, McCullough will once again lead the Lancers to a lot of wins. The sophomore point guard could be one of the best players in the conference this winter.

Trinity Stackhouse, Kolbe: The MVP of last winter’s triumph, Stackhouse is a dominant force inside for the Cougars. The 5-foot-10 forward is a rebound machine.

Maranda Nyborg, Bethel: The 6-foot-2 center averaged 18 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season and will be one of the key leaders for the Wildcats, who have suffered heavy graduation losses the past two seasons.

5 GAMES TO WATCH

Masuk @ Pomperaug, Dec. 21 7 p.m.: Many are tabbing Masuk as a potential darkhorse this year and to break up the top-heavy nature of the conference. An early test in Southbury will shed more light on how much Masuk — who went 10-12 last year and reached the playoffs — have improved.

Brookfield @ Barlow, Jan. 8, 7 p.m.: Two teams that missed the playoffs but have a great chance to qualify this fall. The Bobcats sport one of the best players in the conference in Jenna Joshi while the Falcons are loaded with experience.

Bethel @ Newtown, Jan. 11, 7 p.m.: Could easily be the two teams that are playing at the end of February for the title; the Wildcats have claimed the last three meetings.

Kolbe Cathedral @ ND-Fairfield, Feb. 6, 7 p.m.: A rematch of last season’s conference final should be just as competitive; the Cougars will be far more experienced this time, though.

Bethel @ Weston, Feb. 12, 7 p.m.: Two teams that squared off in the SWC quarterfinals last season both have high hopes again. Could help determine who gets a home quarterfinal in the postseason. The season finale for both.

rlacey@bcnnew.com, twitter.com/ryanlacey11

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