Whalers have some new faces, but results are the same

New London's Tai Pagan (30) pulls down a rebound over Torrington's Amelia Mierzwinski (33) during the Whalers' 74-25 win on Saturday at Conway Gym. Pagan had 21 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and four blocked shots. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
New London's Tai Pagan (30) pulls down a rebound over Torrington's Amelia Mierzwinski (33) during the Whalers' 74-25 win on Saturday at Conway Gym. Pagan had 21 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and four blocked shots. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — The players who helped capture last season's Class LL state championship banner that was unveiled Saturday and the players on the floor for the New London High School girls' basketball team for the ensuing game against Torrington were not quite the same.

The notable absences: former all-staters and current Division I players India Pagan (Stony Brook) and Jada Lucas (Hartford).

But it was two games into a fresh season, following a 74-25 victory Saturday, when Leilani McClennan — the new point guard (replacing Lucas) — was asked her thoughts on the unit that's now on the floor.

"We're going to be fine," said McClellan, who finished with nine points and five of the Whalers' 29 steals, which came in furious stretches. "As New London, we always have to prove something. We always have to prove what we have. We've been working since the end of the year for this. It's just hard work and dedication."

Tai Pagan, New London's junior center and India's younger sister, had 21 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and four blocked shots for the Whalers (2-0), who ended last season ranked No. 1 in the final state poll after a magical run.

The returning starters played with a great deal of conviction and hustle, too. Cora Sawyer had 12 points, nine rebounds and team highs in steals (8) and assists (5), Rosalee Nicholson had eight points and five steals and Spencer Roman eight points, as well.

"We're just getting back into the swing of things," said Pagan, who also had 20 points and 11 rebounds in New London's opener earlier in the week. "We played together since we were little. We all know our playing styles.

"I knew what I had (prior to this year). With Indy gone, it was my chance to make my mark now, to live up to her name. ... I think people like hearing hearing, 'Pagan.'"

In true point guard style, Lucas guided the cord that dropped the state championship banner hanging from the end of the New London gym nearest the Whalers' bench. New London then took off on an 8-0 run to start the game and went on a 47-12 blitz as of halftime.

The Whalers scored the final 19 points of the second quarter, beginning with a 3-pointer by McClellan and ending with six straight points by Nicholson. A number of times, Torrington, which was 15-5 in the regular season last year and reached the second round of the Class L tournament, didn't make it past halfcourt before being derailed by a New London steal.

Nicholson reversed direction on the front end of a fast break with 25.5 seconds left in the first half, leaving her unguarded for a layup that made it 47-12.

New London coach Holly Misto used her starters sparingly in the second half, with Nicholson and Roman on the bench to begin the third quarter. Sophia Torres scored eight of her nine points in the fourth quarter for the Whalers, who face Hartford Capital on Wednesday in the first meeting of the teams since the 2016 Class L state championship game, won by Capital.

"Cora's always aggressive, playing her hardest. Rosi, too. She just keeps going. She doesn't have a stop button," Pagan said.

"Coach is always hard on us to make sure we get everything done," McClellan said of the Whalers' preparation for a new season, "to keep our intensity up."

v.fulkerson@theday.com 

Editor's Note: A photo caption in a previous version of this story mispelled Jada Lucas' name in one instance. It has been corrected.

Former New London all-stater Jada Lucas smiles after unveiling the Whalers’ 2016-17 Class LL state championship banner before Saturday’s 74-25 win over Torrington on Saturday at Conway Gymnasium. Lucas is now a freshman at the University of Hartford. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Former New London all-stater Jada Lucas smiles after unveiling the Whalers’ 2016-17 Class LL state championship banner before Saturday’s 74-25 win over Torrington on Saturday at Conway Gymnasium. Lucas is now a freshman at the University of Hartford. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
New London's Rosalee Nicholson (2) steals the ball from Torrington's Maggie Thompson (32) during the Whalers' 74-25 win over Saturday. Nicholson had five steals and eight points. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
New London's Rosalee Nicholson (2) steals the ball from Torrington's Maggie Thompson (32) during the Whalers' 74-25 win over Saturday. Nicholson had five steals and eight points. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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