Girls Basketball: Champions and stars and Avengers

Photo of Scott Ericson

For the first time, the CIAC crowned five girls basketball teams champions this past weekend at Mohegan Sun.

There were star performances, stellar teams efforts and even some of the Marvel Universe sneaking in.


A lot of teams were left hanging in 2020 when COVID-19 halted the CIAC winter sports tournaments. In the case of girls basketball, the tournaments were either in the semifinals or quarterfinals when the end came.

Last year there were no winter state tournaments at all.

While most of the players from two years ago are no longer in high school and many of the teams left standing in 2020 were eliminated before the 2022 state championships, a few teams kept state-tournament winning streaks intact going back two years.

Most notably, Notre Dame-Fairfield and Newington, which seemed destined to meet in the 2020 Class L final and finally got a chance to get on the court together at Mohegan Sun this weekend, with Notre Dame winning 60-45.

Holy Cross had been in the Class M semifinals and on Sunday took home the Class M crown with a 61-38 victory against Bacon Academy.

In the final moments of the game, one by one, Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo sent in substitutes for his seniors, hugging them tightly and even lifting Nyasia Smith off the ground with a bear hug.

It was about more than this one state title.

“This is a special group of seniors,” Lombardo said. “Everyone knows two years ago we were in the state semifinals, with a lot of those seniors being key players on that team, when it was cut short because of the pandemic. Last year, we were undefeated but there was no state tournament, and I felt for them. They really wanted to make it here. We said all week, it was not good enough to make it. We accomplished so much the last two years, we’re going to go and try to win the game.”

Thomaston was also left hanging in 2020 in Class S and like Holy Cross also went unbeaten in 2021 with no state tournament to finish off the perfect year.

The Bears got back this year, beating Coventry in the final 42-38.

The players and coaches never stopped reminding themselves of the players who never go their shot.

“Our kids brought up last year’s team many times,” Thomaston coach Robert McMahon said. “They always brought up those names in the locker room and at practice. They wore the brown and gold as proudly as anyone else and never got their chance. We did it for them, too.”

Since Thomaston and Notre Dame were only in the quarterfinals in 2020 and Holy Cross had reached the semifinals, the Crusaders now hold the record for most consecutive state tournament games won with only one title to show for it at eight games.


Last season Notre Dame-Fairfield coach Maria Conlon wore a T-shirt of a different band every game.

This season, Conlon went with movie T-shirts.

Before every game, she would send a quote from the movie to her team to inspire them, and then she would reveal the T-shirt at the game.

Many of the movies were from her youth and the players many times had never seen them, but the point of the quotes still resonated.

In the Class L semifinals, Conlon wore a “Rocky” shirt as the Lancers knocked out Simsbury.

The shirt she wore in Saturday’s Class L state championship was one she bought before the season began, hoping she would get a chance to wear it at Mohegan Sun as she coached the Lancers in a state final.

The T-shirt was even from a movie some of her players may have seen: “Avengers: Endgame.”

“I have been wearing a movie T-shirt all year long and I actually bought this T-shirt before the first game of the year thinking that today would be the end game. It’s ‘Avengers: Endgame’ not just ‘The Avengers’; it’s the ‘Endgame’ movie. I’m a big comic nerd behind the scenes, I love superheroes and all that stuff. In this movie they assemble to go save the world and do something that has never been done, and that was our theme today. We have done something that Notre Dame has never done before but we did it together as a team. We knew our mission and we came out and got it done.”

The Lancers did indeed finish off Newington like Iron Man stopping Thanos in “Endgame” with a snap of his fingers.

Conlon even ended her interview session with the media following the game with a snap of her fingers, a la Iron Man.


Sometimes in championship games unheralded players step up and grab the spotlight on the biggest stage.

While role players made some big plays, it was the stars shining at Mohegan Sun this weekend.

Up first was Marquette-bound Notre Dame-Fairfield guard Aizhanique Mayo, who played perhaps her best game Saturday evening in front of a huge crowd.

After LIU commit Kayla Tilus went down with an injury, Mayo turned up her game.

Mayo went off, scoring 12 of her 22 points in the third quarter, adding 8 rebounds and leading Note Dame to the Class L title.

“People have been saying Lilly (Ferguson) is the best player in the state and I felt like I had to prove something tonight, which I did. We got it this time and we made history,” Mayo said. “When I saw (Tilus) go down, I knew I had to step up a lot. We got this for her. We knew they were a good team like us. We followed the scouting report and we got it.”

Up next on Sunday morning, Cayla Howard and Mya Zaccagnini of Holy Cross took their turn to show the state what the NVL knew all too well.

Zaccagnini had 20 points, slashing to the hoop and knocking down outside shots, while Howard added 16 of her own, delivering the Class M championship.

Then it was Rosa Rizzitelli’s turn, as she led Sacred Heart Academy to a thrilling win in Class MM over St. Joseph. Rizzitelli finished with a double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds.

Having seen all of those performances, last year’s GameTimeCT MVP Shailyn Pinkney (a Seton Hall commit) of East Hartford knew what she had to do in the last girls championship game of the weekend.

Pinkney went off, thrilling the Mohegan crowd with her smooth ball-handling, pinpoint passing and ability to knock down 3s from all over the court.

Pinkney staked her claim to be the 2022 MVP with 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting and making 4 of 6 from the beyond the 3-point line.

“(Mayo) is a killer, she’s a killer,” Pinkney said. “I’m a killer, too. We’re both great players. She’s a great player, and I wanted to show that I was too.”


A few teams and coaches made history over the weekend.

 East Hartford coach Jonathan Myette won a title in his first year as head coach, and it was also the first girls basketball title for the Hornets in their first appearance in a title game.

The East Hartford wrestling team was co-champion in Class LL wrestling this winter but before that, no team from East Hartford had won a state title since 1996, when the baseball team won the second of its back-to-back championships.

“It’s just about time,” Myette said. “We raised the standard and we have high expectations. East Hartford is full of great kids and great athletes. This is hopefully just a starting point to turning the school in the right direction.”

  The Class L title was also the first state crown for Notre Dame in girls basketball. The Lancers had reached the championship game six times previously, coming up short on each occasion, with the last appearance coming in the 2016 Class M final.

 Coach Jason Kirck of Sacred Heart Academy won his first state championship and the first for the school since 1993.; @EricsonSports