Some coaches might be, but E.O. Smith coach Kirk Murad wasn't exactly happy that Hillhouse, the three-time Class L champion, had moved up to Class LL this season.
"I'm almost sad about that," he said. "I would have liked another crack at them."
E.O. Smith lost 77-50 to Hillhouse in last year's Class L championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. And while the Panthers lost leading scorer Maggie Sundberg to graduation, they have a solid returning group of players that could lead them back to the title game.
Morgan Olander, the Panthers' 6-2 senior center who averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds, is stronger in the paint.
"I don't think people will be able to push her off the block," Murad said. "And if they double her, we have enough other kids to shoot it."
Senior Ashley Forand, who missed last season because of an ACL tear, is back to play point guard. Junior guard Murphy Murad can score and will likely make up some of Sundberg's points.
E.O. Smith opens Wednesday at Berlin, the only team to beat the Panthers in the regular season last year.
Manchester a contender: The Indians lost only three times last year and every time, it was to Glastonbury – once in the regular season, once in the CCC tournament and once in the Class LL quarterfinals. Ashley Perez (who is going to St. John's) and Miofania Garcia are seniors and have one more shot at the state title.
"We've got a lot of pieces, so hopefully it all comes together," Manchester coach John Reiser said. "I think we have a chance to do something special."
Manchester added transfer Keirstyn Schumpert, a 5-10 senior forward/guard who is UConn freshman DeAndre Daniels' sister. Megan Cardarelli and Arianna Rivera, the State Open runner-up in the 100 and 300 hurdles, are also seniors.
The rest of the CCC: Glastonbury point guard Kaley Watras is starting for Central Connecticut and leading scorer Cara Manfredi is playing for SUNY-Geneseo, but the Tomahawks return senior forward Liza Otto, fresh off the school's first Class LL soccer championship, and junior guard Courtney Latham, a top defender who averaged 12 points last year. Glastonbury, which went to the Class LL semifinals before losing to Mercy, will be tough again this year. Junior Ashley Mulryan will replace Watras at the point. Glastonbury opens against Hall, another Class LL semifinalist last year. Hall graduated leading scorer Sara Binkhorst but has senior post players Moira Honyotski and Shannon Griffith back. … Tolland and Weaver are both leading contenders in Class M. Weaver, which lost to Windham in the championship last year, has most of its team back, including senior forward Kenya Stewart and senior guard Fifi Walcott. "I'm glad we did what we did last year," Weaver coach Wendell Williams said. "But they have to realize that was last year." Tolland, which saw an 18-point lead evaporate in the last quarter of its Class M semifinal game against Windham, returns almost its entire team, including seniors Kristin Schatzlein (who is headed to Fairfield) and top defender Jess Olson.
Mercy loses Edwards: Two of Mercy's key components in its runs to the Class LL final the last two years – Amber Bepko (University of Hartford) and Sadie Edwards (transfer to Nazareth in Brooklyn, N.Y.) – are gone. Bepko and Edwards averaged 33 points a game, but Mercy still has plenty of good players, including junior guards Maria Weselyj and Jordyn Nappi. "We're going to be a good team," coach Tim Kohs said. "I wouldn't be shocked if we win 19 or I wouldn't be shocked if we win 13."
NCCC: Avon lost three players before the season started – leading scorer Carolyn Jadovich to Miss Porter's, its starting center decided not to play and a promising freshman tore her ACL — so coach Frank Waters isn't sure what to expect. Chelsea Foster, who averaged 5 points last year, is the lone senior for the Falcons. … Ellington, which lost to Weaver in the Class M quarterfinals, returns leading scorer Kelly Conley, a senior guard who averaged 18 points. … Senior guard Mariah Brown (13 ppg) leads Windsor Locks, which advanced to the Class S semifinals. … Senior forward Morgan Murphy, an All-Courant honorable mention player, transferred from Wethersfield to SMSA.
Shoreline: Coginchaug returns three top seniors – guards Audrey Biesak and Samantha Mancinelli and forward Lauren Esposito – from last season's 20-4 team, which lost in the second round of the Class S tournament to Windsor Locks. … Cromwell, which lost to Portland in the Class S championship game, graduated five starters but its junior varsity was undefeated (18-0) last year. … Portland has three starters back – Meaghan Rodgers, Alyssa Unkiewicz and Sarah Bierly – from its Class S championship team but lost All-Courant post player Kelly Coleman to graduation.
ECC: Windham graduated 11 seniors, including all five starters from its Class M championship team. "I always tell them the tradition never graduates," Windham coach Ken Valliere said. "In my 16-17 years of coaching, we've never not made the tournament." … Bacon Academy, whose undefeated season was ended by Hillhouse in the Class L semifinals, graduated All-Courant guard Katie Mahoney (now at Brown) and 70 percent of its scoring from last year. Junior forward Taylor McLaughlin, a two-year starter, is the top returning player.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times