FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield Warde girls basketball coach Dave Danko knows his team is going to have growing pains. He hopes the Mustangs can overcome them quickly during the next month as the team tries to qualify for the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference playoffs.
Warde (6-4 overall, 5-3 conference) dropped a tough 59-39 decision to undefeated Stamford on Tuesday, and the Mustangs’ youth was evident. Danko’s team does not have one senior. Five juniors started against the Black Knights, and at some junctures Warde had three freshmen on the court.
“We can say we’re young and we’re building,’’ Danko said. “But we’re also trying to become a playoff team. We want to be one of the eight in the league playoffs.”
Junior captains Tiara Fountain (16 points) and Kaitlin McKenna (13) led the way for Warde against Stamford. They were joined in the starting lineup by Michele Treglia, Rachel Maltz and Kenzie Burns.
They are going to be the foundation as Warde rebuilds after losing five seniors from last year’s team, which went 12-9. Warde has made the state tournament every year under Danko, who is in his 19th season.
Warde’s junior varsity finished undefeated last winter, and the Mustangs have a promising freshman class that includes Sarah Cotto, Lejla Markovic and Mollie Kerrigan.
Warde’s biggest problem against Stamford was shooting and turnovers. The Mustangs had 21 turnovers, and missed a lot of makeable shots. The key sequence for Warde came in the third quarter, when it fought back from a 31-21 halftime deficit to get within 33-27.
The Mustangs had possession and looked to trim the lead. They took five shots, and couldn’t convert. Stamford scored on the other end, and Warde turned it over on three of its next four possessions. Warde went scoreless for nearly eight minutes as Stamford expanded the lead to 46-27 early in the fourth quarter.
Warde entered the game having won four of its previous five. It does not get any easier for the Mustangs on Friday when they visit undefeated Danbury, and travel to meet Wilton (7-2) next Tuesday.
Danko knows how to get the most out of his players. The question over the next five weeks is can he do it quickly enough.
“It’s early January, not February,’’ Danko said. “We still have a good chunk of our season left and we’ve got some tough teams left.”