No. 1 ranked Wamogo in uncharted waters
LITCHFIELD - You never know what the state high school basketball tournament is going to offer up to its participants and its fans. That’s part of the magic. Are the big boys with their glossy records and league titles ready to add the crowning glory with a coveted state title? Is Cinderella lurking out there somewhere ready to make a memory to be carried for a lifetime?
For Wamogo, who opens up its tournament by hosting Shelton Thursday at 7, this time around there is more mystery than most. The Warriors are in the most uncharted of tournament waters. They are the big boys with an unblemished 23-0 record while, and let’s be honest here, decimating the Berkshire League by an average margin of victory 34 points.
Ah, but there is more than a bit of Cinderella here or at the very least an underdog role also. The Warriors would have been a heavy favorite to capture a state title this season after advancing to the Class V finals a year ago before losing to Cromwell and the entire cast returning. But a funny thing happened on the way to that thought.
Check out the brackets and rub your eyes and then rub them again. Familiar names like Canton, East Hampton, Cromwell, Litchfield and the likes are nowhere to be found. Instead you see names like Shelton, Farmington, Prince Tech, Naugatuck and Torrington to name a few. All schools at least twice as big as Wamogo, some three or four times larger.
By the way let’s just stop here and note that should Torrington and Wamogo take care of business they would meet in the semifinals which would be terrific except that somebody has to lose. The idea has a lot tongues a-wagging.
What happened? Simple, in an effort to find equity in the system that has too often been dominated by schools of choice (i.e., Catholic and magnet schools), the CIAC has moved those schools up the ranks. Wamogo is a vo-ag school. Combine that with recent success in the tournament and they ended up jumping two divisions.
Wamogo coach Gregg Hunt was not looking to rent a hall for a party when he found out the news last year but Hunt is also a member of the basketball committee that made the decision. It is based on points not judgement so he has accepted his team’s lot.
“I just hope the CIAC is right,” said Hunt.
To Hunt and Wamogo’s credit there has been no whining, no tantrums. Instead of lamenting leaving Division V or not being moved up just one division, the Warriors have embraced the challenge in front of them.
“We know the talent in Division III and we’re not going to be intimidated,” said the Warriors’ Sean Coffey.
“We know everybody will be tough, but we play hard and we’re prepared and ready to go,” echoed Wamogo’s best player Garrett Sattazhan.
Hunt has coached a lot teams over a 36-year career including Nonnewaug and Terryville. There is no fear here. He calls this team, “generational,” and it will be a long, long, long time before another club wearing the red and white will be able to match up with this team in both accomplishment and method. He knows the Warriors of 2018-19 are special.
“I have seen nearly every team in this division and there is not a team we can’t play with if we play well,” said Hunt.
The savvy Sattazahn is one of the school’s all-time greats and equally adept as a shooter and passer while his running mate Reid Turtoro has a major explosive element to his game. Coffey is strength down low and can drain it from any range while Ethan Collins will make it a miserable night for you if you don’t pay attention or even if you do. There are more but you get the idea. The Warriors can hurt you in many ways.
Without the ball the Warriors are irritating. They using a trapping defense to create pace and push the offense.
And then you wonder what Division V is thinking. Coaches are assuredly telling their teams that 23-0 needs to be respected no matter where you are from. But deep down is that sticking or will opponents be sucked in by the idea that this is a small-school team from a rural area that beat up a lot other small schools.
Mixed in with the Warriors’ 23 wins are victories over the No. 2 seed in Division IV, Classical Magnet, and the No. 2 seed in Division V, Somers. There was also a preseason scrimmage with Torrington. All of which indicates if you underestimate the Warriors you will pay a price.
Come state tournament time you never know and this year we know less than usual. Uncharted waters. So, let’s toss up the ball and get in going.