Shelton girls basketball team checking all boxes

Shelton has opened its season with a 12-1 record. Pictured (front row) are Keira O'Connor, Leya Vohra and Devan Wildman; (second row) coach Joe Cavallaro, Clarissa Pierre and Reem Abdel-Hack.

Shelton has opened its season with a 12-1 record. Pictured (front row) are Keira O'Connor, Leya Vohra and Devan Wildman; (second row) coach Joe Cavallaro, Clarissa Pierre and Reem Abdel-Hack.

Bill Bloxsom / Hearst Connecticut Media

The four girls’ basketball divisions in the Southern Connecticut Conference have just crossed the midway point in scheduled games for the upcoming playoffs.

Shelton from the Hammonasset Division finds itself linked at the top with annual favorites Sheehan and Mercy in the Housatonic, Hamden and Sacred Heart Academy in the Oronoque and Wilbur Cross and Daniel Hand in the Quinnipiac.

Coach Joe Cavallaro’s team is 12-1 overall, 8-1 in SCC counting games, and 3-1 in its division. Counting games are the 16 games scheduled by the league and used to determine seeding for the SCC postseason tournament.

Shelton has made states in the last five years of Cavallaro’s six-year tenure, with a high-water mark of 13-7 in 2016. Cavallaro has coached four schools to 350-plus wins. He began with four seasons of boys’ basketball at O’Brien Tech, then went to Seymour High for 16 years where he led the Wildcats to a Houstonic League championship. After a two-year break, he coached St. Joseph girls to an FCIAC title during his six years in Trumbull.

This season the Gaelettes check all the boxes needed for a successful campaign.

Strong Leadership

“All five of our starters played a lot last year,” Cavallaro said. “I like to see them using a basketball, so it was nice that the entire starting team played in the summer (Stratford’s Girls High School League). It makes a difference, especially when you don’t play any ball from one season to another. It’s great for camaraderie.

“Basketball isn’t really the main sport of anyone on the team. Everyone in our lineup plays a fall sport. I’m happy they all play other sports, it is fun. It’s how it should be.

“Leya Vohra is a scholarship soccer player. Reem Abdel-Hack and Clarissa Pierre are volleyball players. Keira O’Connor is a field hockey player. Devan Wildman and Emily Sandin are soccer players. Playing sports in High school is a one-time experience.

“I think they learn leadership from the different sports. I told them recently: ‘Some of you have had six or seven captains since you have been here. Hopefully you pick up from and learn a little from each kid.’”

Common Goals

“Everything is inside with Clarissa Pierre and Reem Abdel-Hack. Or we go to Leya Vohra because she is so quick with the ball. We break a lot more than we have in the past, we run the court much better. But what we do best is we play really, good defense,” said Cavallaro, who is assisted by Kat Ciambriello.

“It’s more for us with transition defense. It’s more about creating turnovers. We’ve had now seven games where we gave up less than 10 points by halftime.

“We’re not scoring a lot of points. We happened to win by a big score the other night (a 43-12 win at Law). We had 43 points, it’s not like we had 70. We’re averaging around 44 points a game, which isn’t a number that anyone would be crazy about.

“But we are only giving up 20-something points a game. We’re more zone press and matchup pressure. Match up zones is our staple because of Leya and Keira O’Connor, who are our two quickest kids at guards. They both can push the ball up court well, along with Devan Wildman. We have Emily Sandin, a guard off the bench, and so is Ashia Askew. They are our main seven.”

If Pierre or Abdel-Hack get in foul trouble?

“We would go with Ashia. She is not tall, but she jumps very well,” Cavalarro said. “The other night four of the starters had between 8 and 12 points. Other than when Clarissa has had some big games, generally we are within that range of scoring.”

Inclusion and Involvement

“We have a Big and Little Sister program that is great for everyone on the team,” Cavallaro said. “The older kids have a little sister and the younger a big sister. The other day was Martin Luther King Sr. Day, Sunday evening the girls had a sleepover party for varsity freshman and jayvee. They all stayed overnight (at Keira O’Connor’s house).”

The players decided it (Big Sister). They’ve done it since I’ve been here. I’ve had really, good kids for captains and players that want to be part of it. The players come back when they are back from a college or whatever. It is always good for all of us to catch up.”

Cause for Concern

“We have dry spells shooting when we don’t move enough,” Cavallaro said. “When we are moving well on offense, then we do well. When we get a little stagnant or get a little tired, then it becomes difficult.

“We don’t really create our own shots. We do a lot off our screens. They are very good talking to each other and running the offense. We try to post up the best we can, everyone screens for each other. We alternate spots for everybody, so everyone will play everyone else’s spot.

“The best thing about this group is that they work together and because their pride is all about defense. We’ve communicated better on defense than any group I’ve had. We encourage the younger kids to talk and follow the leaders. When you are having success, you can run all kinds of things and they are right there with you.

Future Challenges

Shelton will play host to East Haven tonight at 7. The Easties defeated them, 53-51, to end a 6-game win streak to open the season. Alexis Pendziwater made 7 three-pointers for the Yellowjackets (8-5). Shelton didn’t convert a three. Pierre scored 12 points, O’Connor and Vohra 10 each, and Abdel-Hack had 8.

Don't expect more from Shelton other than closing out better on the East Haven shooters.

In his six seasons at St. Joseph before coming to Shelton, Cavallaro’s teams were known for its shooting from the perimeter. Not now.

“We have made eight (3-pointers) this season, so we are playing a different style,” he said. “We are a far more inside team than we have been in the past, even any of the other years here. We haven’t even taken two (3-pointers) a game, and everyone knows that.

“Some things (success) are the product of the schedule. Last year, we had the best (toughest) schedule with Hillhouse twice, Hamden twice, Sheehan twice. That was six losses right there (from a 10-10 season) to teams that either won our league or won or went to the state finals.

“We have no illusions. We are not a powerhouse team. Nobody thinks so. But we get along, we’ve played well enough. As long, as they enjoy playing. We never once mention the record (or being ranked). We just do the best we can every day.” Twitter: @blox354