FAIRFIELD - Ludlowe girls’ basketball coach Sara Kinsley sat in the front row of the bleachers watching as Trumbull and Warde went through their warm-ups before they faced off against each other in one of the FCIAC girls’ basketball semifinals at the Falcons gym.

A few minutes before, one of her players had come into the gym, holding a freshly cleaned uniform, and handed it over to Kinsley before waving goodbye and disappearing through the doors.

Ludlowe’s season, you see, is over.

It was a long year. A tough year, as the record will show just four wins but for Kinsley, a first-year coach, this season was all about setting a foundation, building blocks for the future.

“We came into the season with specific goals and one of our goals was that we wanted to end the season stronger and more confident than at the start, so that’s something we definitely accomplished,” Kinsley said. “The girls really clicked together on the court, they played really well together, they know how to find each other on the court and they never gave up.”

Never. Not even during a nine-game losing streak when a 1-1 start turned into a 1-10 struggle. The young Falcons - they had just two seniors on the roster - kept fighting and eventually won three of their next four games and continued to battle to the end, going 3-6 in the last nine games.

“It definitely was a group effort to end the season on a positive note despite the record and some of the scores of the games, we never hung our heads,” Kinsley said. “Before every game, we talked about playing with the mentality that we wanted to play with the entire game and in every game, we were successful.”

Taking over for Sarah Huntington, Kinsley was bringing in new expectations, a new offensive and defensive philosophy and different a tougher practice attitude. She also needed to replace seniors Julia Pangallo, Alex McKinnon and Regan Steed, players that helped the Falcons win 15 games and reach the second round of the Class LL tournament.

“This being my first season, I really wanted to set expectations for the program in general and set some guidelines for what I expect at practice with attitude and effort and looking forward,” Kinsley said. “I think we have a lot of strong girls coming up, a strong sophomore class, a strong junior class who are all coming back so that just builds the philosophy of creating a strong program.”

While Kinsley loses senior captains Peyton Brown and Kelly Kiremidjian, everyone else will return for next season, led by junior captain Bridget O’Leary, her sister Erin O’Leary, seniors-to-be Gabrielle Colica, Julia Colica, Erin Capodanno and juniors-to-be Olivia Serlin, Bridget Paulmann, Paige O'Connell, Grace Hanrahan, Grace Vino and Lilly Traum.

“Bridget O’Leary and Erin O’Leary, two guards who are definitely coming back, two returning starters for us,” Kinsley said. “Julia Colica, Bridget Paulmann are also both returning starters and we’ll just continue to build and grow with what we have.”

What needs more growth is the Falcons’ offense as 12 times Ludlowe was held under 40 points (they averaged 38.4 for the season) and look to get stronger on defense (the Falcons allowed 49.5 points).

“We have a really athletic group of girls and we want to push the ball up the court more next year and in the future and really play to our strengths as a team,” Kinsley said. “I think definitely, defense is where a lot of our strength comes from, so that’s something that I really look to instill next season is a strong defensive intensity.”

And while officially, there are no more games, the Falcons season is not over just yet. Kinsley and the squad decided to continue to practice for the next three weeks, until the end of the CIAC tournament, on March 20, to get a head start on next year.

“We’re going to continue to work on our offense and defense and over the summer, we’ll be working out in the mornings,” Kinsley said. “We have a strength and conditioning coach that will be working with the team. Many of the girls play in summer leagues, so the off-season is when I’m looking for a lot of the girls to step up and show me their commitment to the program.”

And as Kinsley watched Warde and Trumbull warm-up for their FCIAC semifinal game, she couldn’t help but think ahead to next season and perhaps, coaching the Falcons in the postseason.

“Every team looks forward to playing in the FCIAC tournament. It’s such an exciting time,” she said. “I think that we definitely want to be here in the future and we will continue to work toward doing that.”

celsberry@ctpost.com

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