After being down by nine points at halftime, West Hartford’s Northwest Catholic girls basketball team launched a huge comeback effort in the third quarter to beat Kolbe Cathedral and win the Class S state championship.
By Ronni Newton
The Northwest Catholic girls basketball team’s “Run to the Sun” seemed to be mired in cloudiness when the team headed to the locker room at halftime, trailing Kolbe Cathedral 33-24, but the sun certainly shone for them on the Mohegan Sun Arena court in the second half.
“We got off to a slow start in the first half trying to get acclimated to the arena-style gym but got the game to under 10 points and went into the locker room at halftime where we took a couple deep breaths,” head coach Allison Connors said Sunday. “We reviewed our game plan and talked about getting back to doing the little things that got us to this point like rebounding and team defense. Throughout the second half we did those things. I just kept saying to play smart and confident.”
That’s exactly what the girls executed in the second half, which started off with two big 3s from Maeve Rushin – the daughter of former UConn star Rebecca Lobo, and a junior on the Lions’ team.
By the time the third quarter ended, the score saw an 18-point swing, with the Lions ahead by nine.
Two freshmen – Maeve Staunton (24 points) and Abby Casper (25 points) – combined for 49 points in the win. Both notched double-doubles with Staunton adding 10 assists and Casper grabbing 12 rebounds.
Rushin also ended the game with a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and was 4-for-4 at the free throw line.
“This was a team win with contributions from everyone,” Connors said, with Casper, Rushin and Susanna Schaub doing a great job controlling the boards in the second half when the team really got going on offense.
“Maeve Rushin hit two huge 3s, Lily Pare had another perfectly-timed 3, and Abby Casper and Maeve Staunton were really able to get going offensively,” Connor said.
Overall, Northwest shot 44%, while Kolbe Cathedral shot 39%.
“Yesterday was a surreal experience for the girls and I am so proud of them,” Connors said.
Connors, a West Hartford native and 2013 graduate of NWC, is in her third season as head coach. She took over the program in the COVID-shortened season of 2021. The Lions reached the post-season in 2022, but lost in the first round.
The last time the Northwest Catholic girls reached the CIAC championships was in 2015, when they lost to Capital Prep in Class L. They previously reached the finals in 2002 and lost to East Catholic in Class M. In 1999, the NWC girls won the Class M championship, defeating New Fairfield, 58-40.
The Northwest Catholic boys were also playing for a state championship Saturday night, taking on No. 1 seed East Catholic. Other than a loss to Newton North (Massachusetts) in January, the Lions’ only previous loss this season was to East Catholic on Feb. 14.
Unfortunately for the boys, the tale of two halves had a different ending. Leading 30-18 at the break, the Lions couldn’t hold off East Catholic, which made a huge run in the fourth quarter for a 49-47 win in Division I. London Jemison led the Lions with 23 points.
This was the second year in a row that the Northwest Catholic boys, under the helm of veteran coach John Mirabello, played in the championship game – this time in the CIAC’s top division. Last year they lost to Bristol Central, 56-36, with 25 of Bristol Central’s points scored by 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan, now a UConn freshman.
This is the first time in more than 20 years – since 2002 – that Northwest Catholic has had both the girls and the boys teams playing in the championship game.
Saturday’s win was East Catholic’s third straight Division I state championship (2019, 2022, 2023), and the school’s eighth overall state title in basketball.
For Northwest Catholic overall, Saturday’s win by the girls was the school’s fourth all-time state title in basketball, and the first since the boys Class L win over Wilbur Cross in 2003.
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