Cora Sawyer is doing all the little things to help Whalers succeed

New London's Cora Sawyer get a shot off against Cromwell's Kelsea Corcoran during an early-season game in New London. While New London relies on the talents of senior stars Jada Lucas and India Pagan, Sawyer serves as the Whalers' third captain despite being only a junior. (Tim Cook/The Day)
New London's Cora Sawyer get a shot off against Cromwell's Kelsea Corcoran during an early-season game in New London. While New London relies on the talents of senior stars Jada Lucas and India Pagan, Sawyer serves as the Whalers' third captain despite being only a junior. (Tim Cook/The Day)

Southington — The last thing New London High School coach Holly Misto needed was another captain. Really. She had seniors Jada Lucas and India Pagan, 1,000-point scorers, Division I recruits and perfectly capable of communication with their teammates and coaches.

Except then there was Cora Sawyer, who distinguished herself as a leader from the second Misto met her three seasons ago, when Sawyer was a freshman.

“Cora's such a great teammate and a tremendous leader,” Misto was saying during Thursday's CIAC Girls' Basketball Championship Luncheon at the Aqua Turf. “I couldn't NOT make her a captain. She's just that kid you have to have on your team.

“She has a tremendous basketball IQ. She leads all the time, on and off the court. Cora does all the little things you need to do on the court. She plays because she loves the game.”

Early in the season, when Misto was forced to miss the first couple of games due to illness, she reportedly told her brand new coaching staff to “ask Cora” if they needed anything.

“Our saving grace,” assistant Missy Parker said of Sawyer, a 5-foot-7 junior guard. “It's coach (Arianna) Dolock's and my first year under her at New London (Dolock coached under Misto previously). We were still learning her systems, especially me.”

Third-seeded New London (25-2) takes on No. 1 Trumbull for the Class LL state championship at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Most likely, Sawyer won't lead the team in scoring the way her all-state brother Collin once did for the New London boys' team, averaging 21 points per game for the Whalers during the 2014-15 season, in which they posted a perfect regular season.

Cora, for instance, was the seventh New London player to break into the scoring column during Monday's 57-36 victory over No. 2 Enfield.

Other strengths of Sawyer's, however, according to Misto: cheering for her teammates, diving after loose balls, boxing out and taking the toughest defensive assignment.

“I was born into it,” Sawyer said of her basketball acumen. “I was always at my brother's games and practices. My dad (Scott) played at St. Bernard and Conn College. My mom (Corinne) didn't play … but now her basketball IQ is right up there with if she did play.

“It's part of who I've always been. … I'm naturally good at picking up plays. I take it as, like, an outlet to get away from stress and go play.”

Sawyer's season took a difficult turn this year when, driving down Colman Street in New London on the way home from a game, she swerved to avoid a person who fell off a bike. She hit another car and received a concussion from the accident, as well as whiplash, causing her to miss three weeks of the season.

“In the beginning it wasn't as bad because I couldn't stay awake that long,” Sawyer said. “But as I was getting better, ask coach, I was trying to convince her that 'I can do this.' I would do two miles on the treadmill because I wasn't cleared for contact.”

Parker, whose husband Craig is the boys' basketball coach, first got to know Sawyer because she was “always around” when Collin played for the Whalers. Parker also noticed her during a middle school game in which her daughter Marissa's team opposed Sawyer's (Sawyer grew up in Stonington, but now splits time between Stonington and New London).

“She stood out to me then, too,” Missy Parker said. “It's not just how she carries herself during games, but practices, games, in school. As a person, she deserves that role (as co-captain).”

“She's really organized,” Lucas said with a smile of Sawyer. “We had a car wash as a fund-raiser and she took control of that. … Freshman, junior, senior, sophomore, it doesn't matter any. As coach says, everyone contributes to the team. We are three captains. We all agree on stuff.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

New London's Cora Sawyer (15) pulls up and makes a pass between a pair of Stamford defenders during the Whalers' 58-56 quarterfinal win on March 9. Sawyer, a junior, serves as a team captain and will help lead New London against Trumbull in Saturday's Class LL state final at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
New London's Cora Sawyer (15) pulls up and makes a pass between a pair of Stamford defenders during the Whalers' 58-56 quarterfinal win on March 9. Sawyer, a junior, serves as a team captain and will help lead New London against Trumbull in Saturday's Class LL state final at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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