Great run to the Sun by Holy Cross girls

Holy Cross’ starting lineup huddles with head coach Frank Lombardo before Sunday’s Class L final.

The final game of the 2016-2017 Holy Cross girls basketball team went down as a loss.

It happened to come in the Class L state final against Daniel Hand at Mohegan Sun Arena, and that’s hard.
All of the above is true, but the Crusaders had a great run to the Sun. Holy Cross was coming off of a rough NVL Tournament final loss to St. Paul, but was still the top seed in Class L. The Crusaders coasted past Crosby in the first round, then downed Sheehan in the second round.
The first of a tough stretch of games awaited in the quarterfinal round. Guilford, battle-tested by the SCC, gave Holy Cross all it had up until the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter. Then the Crusaders broke away with a booming 20-0 run to end the game.
Just like that, Holy Cross was in the semifinal. Alas, an even bigger challenge awaited. Four-time defending state champion Capital Prep, a program with several Division I players to its credit, stood in the way of a ride to Mohegan Sun Arena.
And then it happened. Holy Cross took down Capital Prep. Unbelievable.
The Crusaders had reached the Sun. Yes, the final didn’t go Cross’ way, but that takes nothing away from what this team did. Credit goes to the Crusaders, who put in the hard work, from the players to head coach Frank Lombardo and assistant coaches Meg Dwyer and Marguerite Heyward.
“They deserve it,” Lombardo said of his players. “They worked really hard.”
A team doesn’t reach the state title game without hard work. Hand proved to be the ultimate foe, but Cross worked hard as it always does. Senior Meghan Villano was tasked with halting Gabby Martin.
“Meghan Villano did a tremendous job on Hand’s No. 3,” Lombardo said.
Villano also put in five points, including a 3-pointer. Senior Idalis Miranda led the team with nine points in her final game, and she did so facing a ton of pressure from Hand. Senior Isabel Plant, not counted upon to score, contributed seven points.
Junior Century McCartney had five points, but more importantly battled her way to 12 rebounds. McCartney needed to be more heavily relied upon with the foul trouble that plagued fellow juniors Aiyana Ward and Meah Austin.
“[Hand] packed in their zone trying to stop Aiyana and Meah,” Lombardo said.
Were there calls that could have gone Cross’ way inside? Sure, and that happens.
“When you don’t get a close call, it hurts because it takes time off the clock,” Lombardo said.
Foul trouble also forces others to play roles they are not accustomed to playing. Lombardo, however, gave credit to Hand, especially its defense. The Tigers forced the Crusaders to take outside shots, and not enough fell.
“I thought it was a tremendous game,” Lombardo said. “I thought it was a well-played game.”
Miranda, Plant and Villano are gone next season, as are Gabby Goldman, Allison Orsini, Andrea Pettinico and Nevya Vermette. Holy Cross will need to replace scoring, ball-handling and leadership. These seniors helped produce 25 wins and a state title game berth. That will be a tall target to aim for.
On the flip side, McCartney will be back for a full season. So will Ward and Austin, who were a tough 1-2 inside punch all season long. There’s also sisters Hannah and Allie Brown. Both put in significant time this season, with Hannah playing 17 minutes in the state championship game as a sophomore (6 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal).
Devan Eason and Julia Mecca had valuable experience as juniors and will be asked to take on more of a role next season as seniors. Also expected to return as a senior is Meghan Mazzatto. Natalie Hodak saw time as a freshman and will be a sophomore next season.
It was a great season for Holy Cross girls basketball, and next season has promise in it as well.