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Cassidy Bundy expects to play relaxed and with more confidence this winter, something that won't provide much comfort to Montville High School opponents.
Bundy, a 6-foot-2 senior, is feeling stress free after making a verbal commitment to play Division I basketball at the University of Hartford, where she also plans to pursue a degree in communications.
"I'm ready to have a big year," said Bundy, who actually accepted a scholarship offer from Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti just before the end of school in June. "A lot of weight has been taken off my shoulders."
Bundy will become the second Montville player to play for Rizzotti and the Hawks. Nikkia Smith, who helped convince Bundy that Hartford was the right place for her, graduated in the spring.
"Nikkia and I did a lot of talking," Bundy said. "Our families are close friends, and she really helped on my decision. She had nothing but good things to say about the school."
Bundy, a two-time Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division all-star, was a member of The Day's All-Area team last season after averaging 14 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots a game for the Indians, who went 18-7 and reached the Class M state quarterfinals before losing to Notre Dame of Fairfield, 50-44.
"Athletically, Cassidy's as good as any big girl that's come through here," said Montville coach Derek Wainwright. "She runs, she jumps and she wants to play defense, which is so rare.
"She has great natural defensive instincts ... she still needs to build a little bit offensively, but with her body and her athleticism I think it's going to come. Academic-wise and with the level of basketball, I think Hartford is a great fit for her."
Hartford assistant Brian Mik, who helped recruit Smith, talked with Wainwright during the Christmas break when Wainwright brought his entire Montville team to see the Hawks play UConn on the Hartford campus.
"I told him I thought we had a kid with Division I potential," said Wainwright, adding Bucknell, Monmouth and other state mid-level Division I programs expressed an interest. "I said, 'she's real raw offensively, but I think she can play here.'
"Cassidy's a freak athletically. Her goal this year is to dunk a basketball, and to my knowledge I don't think a girl anywhere around here has done that."
Bundy, in fact, recently dunked a tennis ball and produced video evidence to her head coach.
She's also added strength and weight by lifting and spending extra time each day in the gym.
"When I get to Hartford I need to be able to move people around in the post and still be able to use my quickness," said Bundy, who opted not to play volleyball this fall and track in the spring "to not put any more strain on my knees and not risk injuries."
Bundy, who missed three games last season after suffering a concussion during a game against Norwich Free Academy, enters her final season with a chance to score 1,000 points for her career.
Not bad for a player still finding her way offensively.
"Offensively, Cassidy is ready to blossom," Wainwright said. "I think you will see her play more consistently at both ends of the floor, but defense will always be her strength.
"I've never had a kid that's wanted to play defense as much as her ... she's faster than any big kid I've ever seen."