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West Hartford Girls Basketball Rivalry Going Strong

WEST HARTFORD – In 1977, the Hall and Conard girls basketball teams played each other for a shot at the conference championship. Hall won, finishing the regular season undefeated and winning the Central Connecticut Interscholastic League title. That year, Conard’s only two losses were to Hall.

The crosstown rivals from West Hartford played each other every year after that, but it wasn’t until last February – 40 years later – that the two teams were playing once again for a chance at a conference title. Conard had won the first game in January but Hall won the second game and ended up tying Glastonbury for the CCC Central Division Blue title.

Hall had some good years, advancing to the Class LL semifinals in 2011, while Conard didn’t have a winning season from 1996-97 to 2014-15. But after losing to Hall 17 straight times from 2004 to 2013, Conard had beaten Hall five straight times until Feb. 13, when Hall won, 49-43.

The rivals both expect to be competitive once again this season. Hall finished 20-5, losing to Southington in the second round of the Class LL tournament last year. Conard finished 17-6, losing to Mercy in the second round of the Class LL tournament.

The teams are similar in their makeup. Both lost post players to graduation. Both teams had first-year coaches last year. Both have a good core of returning seniors (Conard has five, Hall, three).

“I think it’s exciting,” said senior guard/forward Delaney Connors, Conard’s leading scorer, who will play at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland next season. “It’s exciting to have good competition on both sides of the town. It’s fun to play. Now it’s an even game.”

It was Mike D’Angelo’s first season coaching at Conard last year. He had been an assistant women’s coach at Trinity for 11 years prior to coaching in high school, and he honestly just didn’t get it when it was time for the first Hall-Conard game last January.

“I don’t know the history, and it’s a good thing because when we played the first Hall game, these kids were wound so tight,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Listen, it’s just one game of 20.’ They’re like, ‘You don’t understand,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I don’t understand, just go out and play.’”

He laughed.

“Now, I know,” he said.

Hall assistant coach Liz Stich gets it. Her dad, Bob, went to Conard.

“My aunt disowned me,” she said, laughing. “I mean, we talk now. They all gave me a hard time. They both went to Conard.

“I work for a company and our sweatshirts are red [Conard colors]. I wore a red sweatshirt last year and the girls couldn’t stand it. You could see them get uncomfortable so I stopped wearing it. Then there were games where I would try to get in their head and try to fire them up and I’d wear it at practice. They literally see red.”

The players all know each other from playing in the same town leagues and it’s a friendly rivalry.

One of Hall’s three seniors – leading scorer Amber Raisner – tore her ACL in June. Until she returns (and she’s not sure when she will be back, but hopefully soon), senior teammates Maddy Mandyck and Lexi Gellerman have to lead the team. Speedy sophomore point guard Jenna Zydanowicz was a top cross country runner, winning the CCC and Class LL championships.

Hall had a tendency to fall apart late in games last year. The Warriors were leading Middletown by a point after the third quarter of the CCC tournament semifinal game and lost 62-47. They were leading Southington at halftime of the Class LL tournament game and lost 63-60.

“I still haven’t watched that game tape,” Hall coach Brittany Huggins said. “We were up like 25 at halftime. We had a talk after that game, a couple weeks later, little exit interviews, and we said as a team, ‘We don’t want to feel like that again.’

“It’s not to say they didn’t work hard. There were just things that didn’t go our way at the end of that game. Shots that went in in the first half didn’t go in later and we didn’t find another way to score, or be aggressive, or get stops on defense. We just didn’t make those adjustments.”

Conard has five senior starters, including point guard Lena Proietti, forwards Abby Capone and Maggie Venora and guard Gillian Haverty. All have played together since fifth grade.

Last year, Conard went 14-1 in the first 15 games of the season, but only won three of its last eight.

“We won 14 games and we weren’t really expecting to,” Proietti said. “I think this year we have in our minds we know we can do good and we’re going to do good. Once we got to that 14, we lost our heads a little bit. We have a lot of varsity experience. That helps a lot.”

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