Holy Cross girls return to Mohegan Sun Arena, will play in first CT-RI hoops challenge

The Holy Cross girls’ basketball team returns to the place where it captured the second state championship in program history less than a year ago.

The Crusaders face the St. Mary Academy – Bay View Bengals on Tuesday at noon at the Mohegan Sun Arena in the opening game of the inaugural Jiggs Cecchini Holiday Basketball Challenge. The games pit Connecticut teams against squads from Rhode Island. The tournament is named in honor of Robert “Jiggs” Cecchini, a retired school administrator, athletic director and coach who was a longtime chairman of the CIAC Boys Basketball Committee and the driving force behind the moving of the state championship games to Mohegan Sun, according to the CIAC website.

It’s very early in the season for both teams. Holy Cross is 2-1 after blowout wins over Crosby and Oxford. The Crusaders lost their season opener at Mercy of Middletown by five points. Holy Cross is led by senior star Mya Zaccagnini, one of the top players in the state.

The Crusaders last played against Oxford on Dec. 22 and emerged with an 81-51 road victory. Zaccagnini led all scorers with 26 points. Shania Howard joined her in double figures with 18 points. Holy Cross outscored Oxford, 41-20, over the second and third quarters to seize control. Zaccagnini may be the team’s only senior, but the Crusaders have some height on the roster with freshmen six-footers Quinn Barry and Corinne Lomax. There’s also junior six-footer Rachel Healey, who is recovering from a knee injury sustained during the fall soccer season.

St. Mary is 1-1 entering the game. The Bengals lost a tight season opener, 44-41, at Rogers before claiming a 48-40 win over Barrington in the home opener. St. Mary has five seniors on its roster – Ahtiana Benway, Ella Wasylow, Olivia Mattos, Siera Baptista and Maggie McKitchen.  

Photo caption: Holy Cross head coach Frank Lombardo embraces daughter Isabella in the final moments of their team’s state championship win last winter. The Crusaders return to the Mohegan Sun Arena and will play in the inaugural Jiggs Cecchini Holiday Basketball Challenge, a slate of games between girls and boys teams from Connecticut and Rhode Island. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69, file)