After a 1-6 start, Stonington girls are back on even ground

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference requires there be 14 days of practice for teams prior to the start of a season. In the case of the Stonington High School girls’ basketball team, the preseason wasn’t quite long enough.

“I’ll never forget Margot’s reaction when I said that, ‘OK, Margot, you’re going to play varsity and you’re going to play the big girl from Montville, their center,’” Stonington coach Paulla Solar said this week, using freshman Margot Calmar as an example of her team’s inexperience.

“This is her first varsity experience. There’s no replacement for experience.”

The Bears were 1-6 to start the season, following consecutive losses to Waterford (54-39), East Lyme (71-47) and Westerly (58-27), the latter coming two days after Christmas.

Turnovers plagued the Bears. And the shots Solar saw falling in practice were turning into misses during games.

The fact her team didn’t give up is something Solar said she admires about her players.

Stonington is now 6-6 headed into Wednesday’s game with Windsor Locks (6 p.m., at Stonington). The Bears beat Windham 63-37 on Friday for their fifth straight victory, a string that included a tight game against St. Bernard on the road (33-28) and a close win over Chariho (46-41) with a couple members of the team missing during vacation week.

“It was a hard thing,” Solar said. “Being 1-6 and everybody’s letting you know. When you go to the  store and people say, ‘What’s wrong with your team?’ I like how the kids are responding. Actually, I think the kids got me through it as much as I got them through it.

“We changed our offense a little bit; we went back to the drawing board. The kids went right with the flow. They didn’t think it was any big deal. It’s actually been fun. I like working with the kids. They know I don’t sleep. They’d say, ‘How many hours did you get last night?’ I’d say, ‘Not too many, but let’s go.’”

The Bears are getting a team-high 11.3 points per game from junior Amanda Roy, who has 19 3-point field goals. From its pair of 6-footers, Stonington gets 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds from junior Falecia Cabral and 9.7 rebounds per game from Calmar. Solar said she’s also seen a great deal of leadership from senior guard Ryanne Paige.

Stonington’s players got pledges before the season, with friends and family members agreeing to donate a certain amount per win. The proceeds will go to send a child to school for a year in Haiti. Solar reports her freshman team is undefeated and cashing in. But the varsity is on the mend, as well.

“It’s easy to criticize 1-6,” Solar said. “This is a credit to their character. They didn’t take the easy road out. They work hard every day and you want that philosophy to stay.

“They always give 100 percent. That flipped over into winning some games. There’s certain things we corrected, certain lack of experience things I hope we cleaned up. The kids definitely have more confidence. I’m really happy for the girls. We didn’t give up.

“We were just trying to find ourselves, but we really didn’t have time to.”

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