is the state's top-ranked girls' basketball team, so one expects to see a menacing bunch.
Upon first impression, the Hatters won't instill fear in anyone. They're not blessed with much size, or with wing players who can hit shots from all over the court.
"We're not exactly the intimidating team," Hatters' junior Rebecca Gartner
chuckled. "It's not like we have that one player who's going to UConn.
"All together, we're making it. I know what you were expecting (to see)."
Danbury passes the eye test once the game begins. It's passed every challenge it's faced on the court this season. The Hatters beat neighboring Ridgefield Thursday night, 50-40, to remain one of only three unbeaten teams in
"We've just been playing together for such a long time, Gartner said. "We know what our weaknesses are and we know what our strengths are. We just know each other well and work really well as a team."
"These kids have a lot of heart," said Danbury coach Jackie DiNardo
, now in her 26th season as the team's head coach. "A lot of heart."
Danbury (14-0), ranked No. 1 in the New Haven Register Top 10 poll, won't wow anyone with flash. It hustles and plays defense, making its lack of size irrelevant.
"You win it on the defensive end," said DiNardo. "And how big do you have to be on the defensive end?
"The other thing you've got to do is out-rebound them, and that's what I preach every day," she added. "Defense is going to win you the game, but those rebounds are going to win you championships. And if you can out-rebound them and not give them second shots, and you get a few rebounds and get seconds shots, you're going to win. That's been our motto ever since I've been coaching. And they now believe it."
The Hatters have been on a good run the past two seasons. They won the program's first Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference title in 2011-12, and did so after losing center Casey Smith
to an ACL injury in the league semifinals.
Danbury finished 25-1. It's only loss was to eventual CIAC Class LL champion Newtown in the state quarterfinals. The core of last season's team is back, save Smith, now a freshman at St. Joseph University.
and Rebecca Gartner
have led the Hatters offensively. Rachel, a 5-foot-8 point guard and co-captain, has averaged 14.1 points. Rebecca, a 5-8 forward, has averaged 13.7 points.
"They love the game," DiNardo said. "And the more the competition, the happier they are. They don't get frazzled. We had a couple of girls who went in tonight (and) got a little frazzled because we weren't used to that type of competition all year. Ridgefield gave us a lot of competition. I could tell they were a little nervous. And Rachel and Becca, they're the ones saying, ‘relax, relax'. (I said), ‘wait a minute — that's my line.'"
"They're very, very relaxed ball players."
Senior Uniqua Tucker
plays alongside Rachel at guard. Forwards Kayla Handberry
(junior) and Allie Smith
(sophomore) have been leading rebounders. They're also the only two players taller than 5-9.
"Every practice, we go hard," Rebecca Gartner said. "Every practice, when we slack, we get yelled at, we run. All together we're working hard, pushing. We're not satisfied where we're at right now. We want to get even better."
DiNardo said of her team, "They're very mature (people). They're very mature basketball players. These kids are in the gym. They're not a parties — they're at the gym shooting extra shots, and that's the key."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at email@example.com