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On the rebound: Montville's Hillman a monument to effort

Montville — Banners on gymnasium walls are eternal reminders that sustain Churchill's line about how history is written by the victors. Among the popular hallmarks trumpet 1,000-point scorers, the beloved basketball benchmark.

But now along comes Maya Hillman, whose grand accomplishment perhaps necessitates a unique marquee for Montville High. Hillman recently grabbed her 1,000th rebound, a monument to effort, that six-letter abstraction more frequently preached than practiced.

"I don't know that I've ever heard of anyone having 1,000 rebounds in high school. Even when I was doing some research on Google, I couldn't find any," Montville coach Becky Alfonso was saying earlier this week. "I think it's easier to be a thousand-point scorer, especially if you practice your 3-point shot. I've never seen a rebounding banner up in any gym. Hopefully we'll have it up soon."

Hillman, a senior post player, will likely finish her career somewhere around 900 points and 1,200 rebounds. Lest we forget both numbers would be into four digits were it not for last season's abbreviated schedule.

Hillman is listed at 6-foot-1. Ah, but to suggest that height is the primary factor in rebounding is to believe good cuisine depends merely on a hot oven.

"I get scratched a lot," Hillman said. "Elbows to the gut. Sometimes it gets old. But I like to be physical. I'm super competitive and like to fight for things. Rebounding is creating another opportunity for your team. It's a lot more than grabbing a ball. It's fighting for that chance to win the game."

Alfonso: "It's being able to read where the ball is going to come off the rim or backboard. Being in the right spot and knowing angles."

Hillman bears a familiar surname here in our corner of the world. Her  mother, Mary, coached her in youth basketball. Her late father, Charles, is a member of the UConn-Avery Point Hall of Fame and coached girls' basketball at Fitch. Hillman never knew her dad who died just before she turned two.

"I know he was a really good athlete," Hillman said. "My mom helped me a lot, too. When I was young I was taught to grab the ball and keep it high. My mom was a coach for most of my younger years. Her and a family friend, Lynn Macione, taught me from a young age."

Hillman's genes and ability, especially in today's surroundings, make her fodder for prep school. Except that she stayed at home and chose to play for her high school (pause here to weep tears of joy).

"I wanted to be surrounded by my friends and play in front of people I know," Hillman said. "Being able to do that brings me a sense of home."

Her impact extends beyond the banner that will bear her name. Alfonso, who also coached Hillman's sister, Emma, a lacrosse player at Post University, might reach for the tissues on Senior Night.

"I've known Maya for a long time," Alfonso said. "She was a shy kid coming in. But she's opened up. Very funny kid. My favorite thing about her is she's so humble. She's been a really good player since I can remember. But I've never heard her brag about her stats. She never knows how many points or rebounds she has. Very coachable. Gets along with everybody. Two-year captain. A leader in school, very good student and involved in a lot of things."

The Indians are 7-7 heading to Friday's home game with ECC Div. III rival Plainfield. Alfonso has slowly and steadily built her program, likely a state tournament participant in 2022. And now she has a history-maker, too.

"We've had some years where we've struggled," Alfonso said. "Obviously, Maya has been a huge part of this. Now he have Jada (freshman Jada Cheung), a legit ballhandler. Grace (Sanford) can make threes for us. Christyna (Winstead) and Ava (Collins) have given us really important minutes. It's been a fun year."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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