When the Farmington High girls basketball team sat down with head coach Russ Crist before the season started, the players signed a mission statement to win the Central Connecticut Conference West regular season title.
It’s hard to believe, but up to that point, Farmington High had never won the CCC West.
But the Indians can now cross that off the list, as Farmington secured the conference regular season title with a 62-35 victory over Conard High on Feb. 7. With the victory - their ninth straight - the Indians ran their record to 15-4 on the year.
“It’s been a long time,” said Crist of the conference title in a telephone interview. “We’re just playing well. The girls have learned how to win and are following through every night.”
The road to the title has not been an easy one, with two victories over conference rival Northwest Catholic and a 48-46 buzzer-beater over second-place Southington on Feb. 7 that secured a share of the championship.
Farmington showed its mettle against Southington on Senior Night, with Courtney Hofer avenging a January loss with a last-second basket to complete a comeback in which the Indians trailed the Blue Knights by 6 points with 2:14 left in the game.
“They never blinked,” Crist said of his players. “During the timeouts on the floor, the players never thought we were going to lose. We played well during the game, but they played their best when it really mattered most. It was great. It was a special night.”
And Crist said the Indians have a chance for more special nights, as they are one of the best team’s he’s coached in his 8 years in Farmington.
High praise, considering one of his teams played for the state Class L title, and another one advanced to the state semifinals.
Crist said this year’s Indians are strong because of their depth - their rotation includes nine players - and their “absolute commitment” to team defense.
“They push each other,” Crist said. “They’re at the point where they want to win and they will do anything to win. It’s been a pleasure to coach them.”
Leading the way is the team’s only returning all-conference player, senior point guard Jamie Bartucca, a terrific athlete and All-State field hockey player, who is averaging 10.1 points, 4 steals and 2.7 assists per game.
Complementing Bartucca is all-purpose freshman guard Cheray Saunders, the team’s leading scorer with 10.4 points per game. She also averages an astounding 3.8 steals per contest.
Up front are forwards Sophie Borg (10.3 points per game 4.7 rebounds 1.4 steals) and Hofer (10 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game).
But the numbers only tell part of the story, Crist said, as five or six other players have the ability to defend and push the ball up the floor as part of the Indians’ up-tempo game.
If the Indians get on a roll and get a favorable matchup or two in the state tournament, they have the ability to go a long way come state tournament time. Crist said that there are about 16 to 18 teams in Class L that have the ability to win the tournament.
“It really comes down to … getting breaks to fall your way,” Crist said. “I know they will play hard every night. They can play an extremely physical style. … They can play full court, they can execute in the half court.
“We have a chance to do something pretty special.”