Pickens' Perspective: With Huntington at the helm, Fairfield Ludlowe girls basketball shows substantial improvement
A little more than two years ago, I covered the Fairfield Ludlowe girls basketball team's contest at Darien.
Darien beat the Falcons by 26 that night, en route to 13 wins and an FCIAC Tournament berth. The Falcons -- a wide-eyed and inexperienced bunch who finished 5-15 that year -- were outclassed by the Blue Wave. And first-year Ludlowe head coach Sarah Huntington knew it.
As we wrapped up a post-game interview, she offered me a tip.
"Give me three years," Huntington said, implying that by 2013-14 campaign, she'd have a team to compete with the Dariens of the league.
Based on her squad's progression, her projection is looking pretty good.
The Falcons have improved by exactly three games in each season since that 5-15 campaign. They squeaked into the Class LL state tournament for the first time under Huntington a year ago. They are a state tourney qualifier again this year and narrowly missed the FCIAC tournament.
Ludlowe's 32-21 win over New Canaan Thursday clinched its 11-9 regular season -- the Falcons' first winning campaign 2008-09.
But Huntington's prediction from January 2011 proves she knows what she's doing.
When Huntington took over, Ludlowe's program was in a serious state of flux. The Falcons were just 5-14 in 2009-10 -- their program was pilfered by both graduation and the school's budding girls volleyball team. In Huntington's first year, her only senior and returning player, Emily Armstrong, missed all but two games with a knee injury.
Still, Huntington stayed the course. She played freshmen-- a lot of freshmen. One was Pauline Blatt who, two years later, developed into one of the Falcons' leading scorer, averaging nearly 13 points-per game.
Players like Blatt, Julia von Ehr, Alex Poitras and Sydney Foulk serve as the bridge between the dark days and now. Those four -- along with Brittany Bentivegna, who missed all but six seconds of this season with a knee injury -- are players Huntington developed, leaned on, and ended up being successful.
"These girls are just work horses," Huntington said. "Even if we didn't get 11 wins, I'd still be proud of them."
Poitras, Foulk and Bentivegna will all graduate this June, but Blatt will return a year from now and she won't be alone. Caroline Pangallo, Ludlowe's sharp-shooting sophomore guard, will be back, as will back-court mate von Ehr and six other letterwinners.
"This was a building year, considering we're a very young team," Blatt said. "Just working together, and getting to know each other will help us next year."
Their job is to prove Huntington right by competing for an FCIAC-tournament spot -- and perhaps title -- three years after their coach proclaimed they would.
Don't be surprised if they do either.