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After Branford girls' basketball missed the state tournament in Joel Rebhun's first year as head coach, there is no doubt about the Hornets' goal in his second campaign: get back to the bracket. And considering that Branford's nucleus returns with experience, along with the fact that its athletes displayed plenty of offseason dedication, Rebhun feels optimistic about his squad's prospects of doing just that.
"Getting back to the tournament is certainly in the forefront of all the girls' minds. There is no two ways about it," said Rebhun, whose team won two games last winter, both against North Haven. "Our athletes committed themselves to getting better as individuals in the offseason by playing in a summer league and attending camps. We have a well-rounded group of players and are excited to play a better brand of team basketball where defense leads to offense."
The Hornets began this mission by hosting Hand in the season opener on Dec. 5 and then playing at Hamden two nights later. Despite dripping a 56-43 game against the Tigers, Branford bounced back by upending Hamden 59-57 when junior power forward Hannah Zampano hit a basket with 10 seconds to play. Senior captain point guard Gabby Melgar scored 15 points, senior shooting guard Jenna Walsh scored 13, and senior captain power forward Amber Markovitz netted 10 points for the Hornets, who are 1-1.
"It was a great team effort," said Rebhun. "I couldn't be prouder of the girls and I think it's a sign of great things to come."
Against Hand, Branford only trailed 18-14 at halftime and held a 32-31 lead entering the fourth quarter, yet the Tigers ultimately prevailed 56-43.
"Our defense was great in the first half and we caused havoc with our press and man-to-man defense, but we just couldn't sustain it for the whole game," said Rebhun.
Branford was led by Markovitz, who scored 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds; along with sophomore shooting guard Ellery Riccio (11 points, 3 three-pointers), Zampano (7 rebounds), and Melgar (6 assists).
"Gabby is an excellent point guard, Amber is a steady forward with a knack to get to the rim and both are good leaders who are determined to take us far this year," Rebhun, who's assisted by new JV Coach Ally Johnson and returning Freshman Coach Kate Xeller. "Hannah is a relentless rebounder who we expect to be a physical presence down low and Ellery is a pure shooter who we want to provide and offensive spark for us."
The Hornets have three more seniors on the team in Walsh and forwards Tatiana Alvarado and Kelly Vailette. Branford's other junior is guard Jade Maddox and Robin Norko and Courtney Canterbury are sophomore guards on the squad.