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    Friday, March 31, 2023

    Now coaching the state championship-bound Whalers ... former Whalers

    New London graduates Cora Sawyer, left, and Jada Lucas have joined the Whalers’ coaching staff under head coach Tammy Millsaps and are help preparing for this weekend’s Class MM state championship game against Mercy at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
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    Southington — If there was ever a place to transition from playing girls’ basketball to coaching it, this is the place for Cora Sawyer, Jada Lucas and Kendra Ferraro.

    New London High School.

    “It’s literally like the same thing,” Lucas, a 2017 New London graduate, was saying Wednesday. “It’s like the time changed. That’s it. It still feels as if when we were playing. The gym’s still the same. We have our banners up there. It’s nice to look at.”

    “It kind of calmed my nerves going into the position of being a coach instead of going into a new environment,” said Sawyer, New London Class of 2018. “Like, you walk in and you see friendly faces. You’re like, ‘No. I played here. I know how this court works.’”

    Sawyer and Lucas, both members of New London’s 2017 Class LL state championship team, are assistants this season under head coach Tammy Millsaps. (Lucas, a 1,000-point scorer and all-state selection, also played for the Whalers’ Class M championship team as a freshman).

    Ferraro, a member of the Class of 2010, is also on the staff.

    The sixth-seeded Whalers (20-6) will play No. 4 Mercy (20-6) for the Class MM state championship either Saturday or Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The players and coaches from all five girls’ basketball championship games gathered for a media luncheon Wednesday at the Aqua Turf Club.

    Millsaps called all three of the assistants “sponges.” They’ve learned to scout and to break down film. They’ve also been called on to practice, with New London carrying just seven players on its roster.

    Lucas (Hartford) and Sawyer (Utica) played collegiately. Ferraro attended Norfolk State. She lived in Virginia initially, but returned home and began coaching in New London’s recreation league.

    “I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere else,” Ferraro said. “The sense you get being from New London is like nothing else because of the sense of home you get. There’s nothing like being a Whaler.”

    Lucas smiled as she admitted that she now knows the meaning behind what her coaches have been saying to her all these years.

    “For real,” she said. “Seeing the other side of things ... I think you understand that it’s more about the little things when you’re in the coaching perspective. Don’t hang your head over a play. You see that they were right.”

    Said Millsaps, crediting her young assistants: “It wasn’t as much of a transition as far as their social skills. It was more of a transition of what it takes to coach. The kids bought into them. The kids love them. The kids respect them.”

    Straight from the Heart

    • New London senior Nalyce Dudley will play next season at Sacred Heart in Fairfield, the same Sacred Heart which played a First Four game Wednesday night in the NCAA tournament.

    Sacred Heart, coached by Jessica Mannetti, won the Northeast Conference tournament to earn its fourth NCAA bid and its first since 2012. The Pioneers took on Southern late Wednesday at Stanford.

    “I’m just really excited knowing I’m going to be there and hopefully be able to do the same thing,” Dudley said. “Knowing they just won their conference and the championship, it was just great and now seeing them into March Madness, it’s just a really huge accomplishment for them.”

    Dudley plans to major in criminal justice. She received an offer from the Pioneers last May.

    “Something I always look for in a coach is are they caring?” Dudley said. “I had to start narrowing it down. ‘Is this a school that cares about me?’ I can’t wait for next year just to be a part of the team and see where it takes me.”

    In the middle

    • Norwich Free Academy coach Courtney Gomez is familiar with New London and Mercy, having matched up with both. The Wildcats lost to New London 55-24 on Jan. 3 and fell to Mercy, where Gomez was once an assistant under head coach Tim Kohs, on Dec. 29 (57-41) and Jan. 28 (53-28).

    Gomez calls Dudley and New London teammate Serenity Lancaster one of the best duos in the state and said that it’s difficult to rattle the Whalers.

    “Everybody’s got a scheme to try to beat them,” Gomez said. “But they’re very disciplined. They played their whole season with (seven) kids. It’s a long season. To have that amount of toughness and determination and passion all the way until the end of the season is amazing.”

    Gomez chuckles at having played Mercy twice with her young team — “I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. Gomez said to watch for the Mercy defense, which forced her team into an extraordinary number of turnovers.

    “If there’s anybody that can defend New London ...” she said. “Their defense is suffocating. It’s relentless. They’re in great shape.

    “I think it’s going to be one of the best games (of the weekend) to watch.”


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