Valley Regional (Deep River, Conn.)
boys basketball team faced an unusual dilemma when choosing its captains for the 2012-13 season.
"We have four captains, which you'd never do," Valley coach Kevin Woods
said. "That's a lot of captains for basketball, but it's really a unique group of kids. There was such parity across the board that you couldn't put one above the other."
So far, Valley has separated itself from the rest of the Shoreline Conference. It hadn't lost a league game heading into Thursday's regular-season finale against Old Saybrook. It'll also be the top seed in the Shoreline tournament.
The Warriors' success is made more impressive given the state of the program years ago. They didn't make states from 2004-08. They finished 10-10 during the 2008-09 regular season.
Woods and Jeff Bernardi had to become co-coaches in January 2010 after Bob Mayer resigned due to personal reasons. Valley went all the way to the Class S semifinals before losing to eventual champion Hyde of New Haven.
Woods became head coach the following season, and Valley won the 2011 CIAC Class S championship, its first state title.
Winning that championship bumped the Warriors up one division last season, even though they had an enrollment of just 234 boys. They lost to eventual Class M champion Waterford in the quarterfinals, 52-50, with a last-second shot rolling around and out of the basket.
Valley is 17-2 this season.
"It's been a combination of things," Woods said of his team's recent success. "We do have quite a bit of talent in the program. We have a very cohesive coaching staff. It seemed like there was never any consistency there. There was always a new coach. I think it helps that a staff stays in place. I have good assistants in Jeff Bernardi and Scott Harger.
"(The success) also says something about the youth program," he added. "They changed a few things up, and the kids coming up to the school, their skill level is a lot higher than it has been in the past, so give them some credit as well. And the kids have really bought into what we do."
Valley began this season without senior guard and co-captain Jonathan Luster
because of a high ankle sprain. Luster was the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year last season.
Woods said that Luster was at about "50-percent" when he returned to play Xavier of Middletown in the latter's Art Kohs Christmas Classic. Xavier, a Class LL school, won in double overtime, 65-59.Valley lost its next game to Glastonbury, one of the state's biggest schools, 57-36.
"We battled (with Xavier)," Wood said. "We took it on the chin against Glastonbury, but we were not at a point to play with them. They're loaded.
"Since then, we've just been on a run in the Shoreline. We're 17-0, and we do it night-in and night-out with defense. Some nights (the shots) don't fall, but our kids have bought into what we do defensively. We battle. We play man-to-man. We play full-court. We get after it."
Senior co-captain Chris Connor
has averaged a team-high 17 points and Luster 13.8 points. Guards Mason King
and Sten Spinella
are the other captains.
"Spinella has been a role player, but he's had huge shots for us, especially when we played Cromwell," Woods said. "He made five 3-pointers (in a 60-55 win). He's come up real clutch."
Senior guard Sean Cunningham
has been the first player off the bench. Senior forward Chris Polo
and sophomore guard Chris Jean-Pierre
have helped the team compensate for a lack of large bodies.
"Chris is a tough kid," Woods said. "He's only six feet tall, but he plays like 6-5. He gives us help on the boards and scores for us a little bit. Chris Polo brings some intensity. He's a shot blocker. He's not a huge kid, he's 6-4, but he's really physical. He can get after it with the bigger kids."
The Warriors success has extended to the classroom as well. Five of their six seniors are members of the National Honor Society.
"They're really invested in the program and work extremely hard, but they don't short-change stuff outside of the program," Woods said of the team. "They're committed to their families and their schoolwork. They're one of the
most polite group of young men I've ever come across.
"Everyone wants kids like that as sons."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