Wolcott used to playing pressure defense

The Wolcott girls’ basketball team wins with defense.
The Eagles are at their best when their pressure is causing issues for the opposing team’s offense. An offense can go cold, but defense can always be played.
“When we’ve struggled with our shooting, we have to play defense in order to get a steal and get points another way,” Wolcott senior Mayci Abou Arrage after the team’s 48-35 win over Seymour in an NVL tournament quarterfinal on Saturday at Kennedy’s Jack Taglia Gymnasium. “That’s why we mix up our presses, try to do what we have to do.”
The Eagles run a 2-2-1 press, something Abou Arrage and her teammates are very familiar with. She first learned it from her father, Marc, a former state champion boys basketball player at Lewis Mills. Marc Abou Arrage coached travel basketball together with Steven Sullivan, father of Wolcott senior twins Julia and Amanda. Abou Arrage and the Sullivans began playing travel ball together in the fifth grade. Fellow senior Mimi Reilly joined their travel team in the sixth grade.
“We always ran a 2-2-1 press. We called it Arkansas, because the University of Arkansas, that was their press,” Mayci Abou Arrage said.
Pressure defense became popular in the 1990s and was used by college coaching luminaries such as Jim Calhoun of UConn, Rick Pitino of Kentucky, Nolan Richardson of Arkansas, Roy Williams of Kansas (and later UNC), Bob Huggins of Cincinnati (and later Kansas State and West “Press” Virginia), Tom Davis of Iowa and others, according to an Oct. 24, 1995 article by SI’s Hank Hersch.
In that article, Richardson said: “All we’re trying to do is make the [opposing] players make the decisions. If they make good decisions, they can beat you. If they make bad decisions, you’re in control.”
Men’s teams weren’t the only ones to use that style of defense, of course. Louisville, Syracuse and Texas are just a few of the women’s college basketball teams that have used it recently.
The Wolcott girls look to cause chaos in their press. Having athletes helps, and the Eagles have some. Wolcott doesn’t have a deep bench, however, so it will slow the ball down on offense. That can be an interesting quandary for an opposing team to deal with in this, the last year before the shot clock is implemented for the 2023-24 campaign. Wolcott runs out to a lead with its press, but can slow down its offense and wait for the open look.
For Abou Arrage, the Sullivans and Reilly, it’s about advancing as far as possible. The girls have been playing together since town recreation ball in the third grade.
“We have nothing to lose. We just want to go as far as we can,” Abou Arrage. “None of us are playing in college, and we’ve been playing since we started. We just want to do everything we can to keep playing basketball.”
Of course, the old adage says that “pressing teams don’t like to be pressed.” Wolcott will face Holy Cross tonight in the 7:30 semifinal game at Kennedy. The Crusaders employ a suffocating, full-court man-to-man defense where the heat never cools off.
Which team handles the other’s pressure will go a long way toward determining who wins tonight’s semifinal between Wolcott and Holy Cross. Abou Arrage and her fellow seniors hope it will be the Eagles who play for the title on Wednesday night.

Caption: Wolcott defenders Rebecca Wood (2), Julia Sullivan (3) and Mayci Abou Arrage (10) get into position against Seymour during Saturday’s NVL girls’ basketball tournament quarterfinal in Waterbury. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69)