The Career Magnet (New Haven, Conn.)
girls basketball team headed into this season being told by others how good they were going to be. They returned four starters from last season's Southern Connecticut Conference champions,
and were the preseason No. 1 team in the state in the New Haven Register's Top 10 poll.
Once the season began, however, the Panthers lost two of their first four games to fellow state powers Capital Prep of Hartford and Mercy of Middletown.
"People were trying to make us sound better than sliced bread before the beginning of the year," Career coach Steve Bethke
said. "I knew we were good, but jeez, they had us going all the way to the championship with no one giving us any competition."
The early losses forced the Panthers to bear down. Since then, they've they've won 15 straight games.
"I do think that woke them up a little bit," Bethke said of the early losses, "that if they did really want to be the best that they had to bust their butts a little bit more."
Career is currently 17-2 and ranked second in Connecticut behind Capital Prep.
Career lost to Mercy, 64-53, in its third game of the season. Mercy has played in three straight Class LL finals and are ranked fourth.
Capital Prep thrashed Career in their next game, 76-57. It's also the state's top-ranked team.
"The kids kind of got caught up in the press clippings," Bethke said. "They were being told that we're the best, everybody knew we were the best, everyone was saying we were the best. We just have to show up.
"The work ethic has been better since the Capital Prep game, and I think we're gelling more as a team," he added. "I think they realize now that instead of being individuals that they have to be a team to be successful. They're playing better team ball, especially on the offensive end. They're sharing the ball better instead of relying on a few people."
The Panthers are the state's top-scoring team (67.8) based on statistics provided to MaxPreps, using their skill and speed to compensate for their lack of height. They don't have a player over six feet, and junior guard-forward Tanaya Atkinson
is their tallest starter at 5-foot-9 1/2.
"We're very, very athletic," Bethke said. "I believe in pushing the ball. We get the ball up-and-down the floor well."
Senior wings Nicole Anderson
and Kelsey Gibbons
, junior forward Charleese Smith
, sophomore Alyssa Alston
and Atkinson start for Career.
Anderson (10.6 points, three steals) just signed with Manhattan. Atkinson has drawn a lot of interest from Division I programs. She's one of the state's leading scorers (20.3) and averages 7.9 rebounds and 3.6 steals. Alston averages 12.8 points, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals.
"Since (Atkinson) is not a senior, she will defer to the seniors," Bethke said, "but in crunch time, she will look to take over. She's just a super, super athlete. She could play post if we needed that, and sometimes we do because that's been our deficiency.
"Alyssa, her personality is more where she doesn't really care if she's a sophomore. And that's good and bad. She'll look to take over."
Career concludes its regular season at eighth-ranked Bacon Academy (Colchester, Conn.) in an intriguing non-conference game. Bacon is the defending CIAC Class L champion.
"They're very good," Bethke said. "They have three or four weapons. I expect that to be a really good, tight game."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 firstname.lastname@example.org