For the first 31-plus minutes, Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team was playing from behind. But it’s the final score that counts, and Haley Ryan’s go-ahead 3-pointer with just 26 seconds left stood up as the host Nighthawks shocked the Hillhouse Academics 48-45 in the consolation game of the Threes For Charity Tournament on December 20. Ryan drained a shot from downtown for Newtown’s first lead, 46-45, and the Hawks hung on to improve to 3-1 this winter. The Academics, who led 22-6 after one quarter of play but saw a scrappy Nighthawk squad climb back, fell to 2-2. Newtown lost to Cromwell and Hillhouse fell to Pomperaug of Southbury in tourney openers the night before. After a tough start, the Nighthawks fought to within 30-19 at halftime, hung around in the third quarter, showed grit and determination, and also capitalized on Hillhouse’s foul shooting woes to complete the comeback.
Newtown High School’s girls’ and boys’ indoor track teams warmed up for the season in cold conditions, practicing at the Blue & Gold Stadium track throughout the preseason. They’ll continue to run outside as long as the weather permits, but welcome the warmth, and competition that comes along with it, of the competitive season. The girls are coming off a fifth-place finish in the South-West Conference last winter, and the boys were sixth in the SWC a year ago. Both squads have plenty of experienced runners and some unproven but strong newcomers as they look forward to another successful winter.
Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball and wrestling teams began their winter seasons with victories, and the hockey and swim teams fell against tough opponents, on December 17. On the basketball court, the Nighthawks used a turnover-fueled 12-0 run to turn a slim fourth-quarter lead into a 16-point advantage en route to a 55-38 victory over visiting New Fairfield. The Hawks scored each of those game-changing dozen points off steals, a traveling call, and a backcourt violation — all caused by Newtown’s pressure defense. In the game, Jeremy Doski had six steals, and Charlie Huegi and Will Dalton came up with three thefts apiece. Newtown’s scoring was led by Harry Depuy’s 16, Dalton’s 11, and Jacob Burden’s 10. Newtown’s wrestling team went to Bunnell High in Stratford and, behind 11 pins, rolled to an 81-0 triumph. The hockey and swimming and diving teams also kicked off the campaign on the same night. The hockey team fell 7-2 to New Milford at Danbury Ice Arena; NHS goals were scored by Matt Pelison and Scott McLean. In the pool, South-West Conference and state standout Pomperaug of Southbury defeated the Nighthawks 99-81. The girls’ basketball team, coming off wins over Lauralton Hall of Milford on December 10 and Nonnewaug three days later, is home for three more games before Christmas.
Newtown High School’s boys’ swimming and diving team begins the campaign with several strong returnees in the lineup, but lots of positions open for rising competitors and newcomers. The Nighthawks lost seven key postseason point-getters, including Richard Huffman — who set three school records — to graduation. “We’re a younger team this year,” said Coach Zach Gauvin, adding that he’s interested to see what his freshmen newcomers bring to the table.
Free agency, contract disputes, and player retirement may not be an issue for a defending champion high school team trying to maintain its winning ways, but graduation certainly is. And the Newtown High School hockey team, because of last year’s high number of graduates — ten to be exact — is in rebuilding mode as the puck drops on the 2014-15 campaign. The Nighthawks, coming off their Division III state championship and runner-up in the South-West Conference/ Southern Connecticut Conference D-III finish a year ago, have an eye on the future with hopes of repeating success in the short term.
A win in the Class LL state championship certainly did a lot to ease the pain of narrowly missing out on a South-West Conference title last winter. But while the Nighthawks may be on top of things and be the hunted in the state, they are every bit as much hungry for success and the hunters in the conference. “We’re absolutely not hiding from anybody right now, so that means everybody’s going to come at us harder,” Coach Chris Bray anticipates. “Everybody here has a good understanding of what they need to do.”
Cohesion and athleticism are strengths of the Newtown High School boys’ basketball team, and Coach Tim Tallcouch is hopeful that those traits will help his team have some success as what stands to be a rigorous schedule unfolds this season. “Every night’s going to be a challenge for us,” Tallcouch said. The South-West Conference has plenty of tough teams, said the coach, reeling off the likes of Notre Dame-Fairfield, Joel Barlow of Redding, Weston, New Fairfield, New Milford, Stratford, and Bunnell of Stratford. “I think every night is a game. Somebody I forgot to mention is going to come back and beat me,” he said light-heartedly. Likewise, Tallcouch believes his team will upset somebody along the way. “I think we’ll surprise some people, but we’re going to have some growing pains,” said the coach, whose team lost five players from a year ago between graduates and players not returning.
It’s time to select the winner of the Newtown Bee’s Harmon Award For Sportsman of the Year — named in honor of former Newtown Bee Sports Editor Kim Harmon. The award will go to someone who has had a significant impact on Newtown sports within the last year. Selections may include volunteers and those who have dedicated countless hours to athletics in town.
Personnel dictates a team’s style of play and, this year, Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team returns to its familiar fast-paced, run-the-floor approach to the game. “I feel like this year we can get back to playing up-tempo, pressure basketball,” said Coach Jeremy O’Connell, whose lineups throughout the years have leaned on overall speed and athleticism, along with strong defenses to create turnovers and push the flow of the game before playing a bit more of a half-court brand of basketball last year.
Cheering along the local sidelines at football games takes plenty of skill and an ability to focus and perform in front of a crowd. But doing so on the big stage, among the best cheer squads from around the country and with a national title on the line, is something else for a group of 13-year-olds. Members of the Newtown Youth Cheerleading D13 team managed to overcome their nerves and rise to the top. They jumped, tumbled, and danced to a title at the American Youth Cheer National Championship, in Lakeland, Fla., on December 13. Newtown was tops among a dozen teams representing nine regions that competed at Lakeland Center Arena, about an hour outside of Orlando.