29 games stand between Eagles hoops team and its goal

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland - posted Thu., Dec. 8, 2011
Kristin Schatzlein drives toward the hoop in the Eagles' scrimmage vs. East Catholic on Dec. 5. Photos by Steve Smith.
Kristin Schatzlein drives toward the hoop in the Eagles' scrimmage vs. East Catholic on Dec. 5. Photos by Steve Smith.

Every team has high hopes in the beginning of the season, but for the Tolland High School girls’ varsity basketball team and coach Rocco Sansone, this season is all-or-nothing. Sansone’s team has reached the state semi-finals four of the past five years, but has not reached the finals. This year’s starters may give the Eagles their best chance yet.

“Our motto is 29 games,” Sansone said. “If we play 29 games, that means we played in the CCC finals, and in the state finals. Our four seniors have played together since the fifth grade. So this is kind of like their last hurrah.”

Sansone said the previous years’ playoff losses are something the team has dealt with head-on, rather than just trying to forget about them. “What happened last year is something we always talk about,” he said, “because if you don’t, you can’t correct it. You can’t be afraid of it. We actually embrace it. We talk about good things and bad.”

For this year, it’s the small mental hurdles that Sansone and his team are working on. “Physically, I know we’re going to be just fine,” Sansone said. “The kids have gotten better over the summer - shooting the ball better, dribbling and getting stronger. Now, we just have to focus on the mental part of the game. The shots we wouldn’t take last year, we’ve got to take this year. It’s little things we’ve got to tweak.”

With a squad of only eight (all returning varsity players), one challenge for the team will be to play its aggressive style while making sure players don’t foul out. “It’s a catch-22,” Sansone said. “We are physically better - we can trap and press and do all of those kinds of things, but I also can’t afford to get kids in foul trouble.”

The Eagles’ starting five are anchored by senior Kristin Schatzlein, who needs just 20 points to break the school record. The Fairfield University-bound senior scored her 1,000th point as a junior. But Sansone said the individual accomplishments are secondary to the team’s goal of reaching the state finals, which are played at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“We know who our best shooters are,” he said. “We know who our best defensive players are. There are really no more goals to be set. The only thing left on the menu is making that road trip to Mohegan Sun.”

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