The North Haven girls’ basketball team entered this season with designs on making the state tournament for second straight year while improving upon the eight victories it notched last winter. Six games into the campaign, Chris Barry’s squad has put itself in position to achieve both those feats for the Indians are out to a strong start with a record of 4-2.
North Haven prevailed in its season opener at home against West Haven 33-19, took a 47-36 defeat at Foran and a 61-51 road loss versus Hand, after which the Indians rattled off three consecutive home victories by defeating Platt Tech 59-13, Barlow 47-34, and Hamden 52-39.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but I like the character of this team. We are a physically tough team, but more important than that, we’re a mentally tough team that doesn’t like to lose,” said Barry, who’s in his third season as head coach. “We definitely have more depth this season with eight to 10 kids who are seeing varsity minutes and we’re also getting more points from our post players. Another thing is that everyone has embraced the team-first mentality by being accountable and eliminating excuses and that builds cohesion. We have a hard-working team that’s a pleasure to coach.”
Leading North Haven’s cohesive effort are its three captains in Brie Melillo, a 5-foot-7 guard; fellow senior Kyle Searles, a 5-6 guard/forward; and junior Jill Johnson, a 5-4 point guard. Melillo and Johnson are three-year starters for the Indians with Johnson making All-Oronoque and earning North Haven’s MVP Award last winter. Johnson scored a career-high 40 points in the Hand game.
“Brie is one of the top defenders in the Oronoque Division, both on and off the ball. She’s a tough kid who’s averaging about five steals per game and has also picked up her offensive game by getting to the basket more,” Barry said. “Kyle is a versatile player who does well with anything we ask. She’s a solid defender and just had her best game the other night [against Hamden with 6 points and 3 steals]. Jill has been our leading scorer the last two years and has elevated her game in all aspects, from offense to defense to leadership. She’s one of the best all-around players in the area.”
Johnson certainly proved that statement true on Dec. 20, when she put up 40 points and snagged three steals in North Haven’s game at Hand. The Indians fell behind 19-10 early, yet only trailed by a point with just a few minutes left in the game before the Tigers iced the victory. Johnson’s outpouring was complemented by five points with seven boards, one block, and one steal from Melillo; plus five points, seven rebounds, and three steals by sophomore forward Julia Puzone. Coach Barry additionally credited junior center Nina Poloukhine for her showing on the glass, as well as junior guard/forward Haley Arnaoutis for dishing out some assists.
After nearly a week off, North Haven was back in action on Dec. 26 for a duel against Platt Tech that the Indians won with ease. The Indians stormed out to a 13-0 lead and held a 33-6 halftime advantage en route to victory. Johnson scored nine with six steals, Puzone had nine points with five boards and a pair of steals, Melillo scored eight with four rebounds and seven steals; and freshman guard Arianna Delvecchio added seven points.
The Indians came right back to play Barlow the next night and came away with a 13-point victory. Barry’s bunch actually trailed 24-22 at halftime, but then broke loose with a 17-2 run in the third quarter to ultimately emerge victorious. Poloukhine scored 11, pulled down nine boards, and took two charges; Melillo had 10 points with nine rebounds and four steals; Johnson scored 14 to go with five rebounds, three steals, and two assists; and junior forward Toni Velez played a key role off the bench by grabbing seven boards.
The Indians then wrapped up their winning week by upending the Hamden Green Dragons 52-39 on Dec. 30. North Haven led by five after one and by 12 at halftime to pick up its fourth win. Johnson hit eight of her 10 free throws and scored 20, Melillo had eight points with seven rebounds and four steals, Arnaoutis scored nine and added five boards with two steals, and Searles scored six with three steals.
The rest of North Haven’s varsity roster consists of sophomores Marissa Thomas (guard), Jillian Oestreicher (forward/center), Samantha Kwieraga (guard/forward), and Christina DeFalco (guard); along with freshmen guards Bella Delvecchio and Julissa Maldonado.
Coach Barry also welcomes some new assistants to the program in JV Coach Ray Degnan, Freshman Coach Lindsay Michael, Varsity Assistant Anthony Benvenuto, and Volunteer Assistant Jenn Merck.