After Long Run of Success, Time For Tigers To Regrow

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Mercy Tigers At A Glance

Division: Class LL

Last season: 17-7, SCC tournament first round, Class LL quarterfinals (lost to eventual champion Norwalk 51-49).

2019-20 opener: Dec. 17, home vs. Notre Dame of Fairfield, 7pm.

Key players lost: Kameryn King, Lexi Leon, Sophia Finkeldey.

Key players returning: Jr. F Lilly Hedge, Jr. G Kaila Lujambio, Sr. C Lily Sokolowski.

Season Outlook

“We are starting from scratch,” coach Tim Kohs says. “This is the most inexperienced team I have ever coached.”

Mercy won 15 games last season and pushed No. 1 Norwalk to the brink in March, losing by two in the Class LL quarterfinals. Norwalk went on to the win the championship.

This season will be about making progress day to day and game to game, while facing the caliber of competition equal to Mercy’s championship squads of this decade.

Junior forward Lilly Hedge (left) is one of the few players with significant varsity experience.

The Tigers will have to grow into themselves. Only two (junior ballhandler Lilly Hedge and off-guard Kaila Lujambio) played meaningful varsity minutes in 2018-19.

Kohs’ 13-player roster breaks down like this: one senior, two juniors, two sophomores, eight freshmen. The freshmen — Melina Ford, his daughter Avery, brother (and Xavier coach) Mike’s daughter Lauren, and more — will get a lot of floor time.

“There is very good ability in the freshman class,” he said. “Fast-forward two years and this will be a very good group.”

He added: “The expectation is to play good, winning basketball every time out, even if we don’t win the game,” he said. “I think we will be a good group by the middle of the year. It will be about putting kids in the right spots and learning their strengths and weaknesses. We will be figuring it out as we go.”

That’s how it looked in a scrimmage against a veteran Pomperaug team. The Tigers needed time to get comfortable against the bigger, quicker Panthers. Mercy fell behind by 19 after two quarters before settling in for the third and fourth.

“We are going to have to do all the little stuff,” Kohs said. “We cannot turn the ball over and give up easy baskets and we have to make shots.”

Center Lily Sokolowski, who did not play last season, is the only senior on Mercy’s roster.

Kohs’ goal will be to go nine or 10 deep with his roster and play an up-tempo game, especially on the defensive end. “We’re going with it and we will see how it flies.”

Mercy once again will face a schedule packed with top-tier competition in and out of conference play. Out of the gate, the Tigers play Notre Dame of Fairfield (19-1 last season) and 15-game winners Holy Cross and Wilbur Cross. The latter gets Kohs’ vote as the Southern Connecticut Conference’s top team.

“We’re up against it, but it is what it is,” he said. “I think we will be a solid team, but we are playing top 10 teams. There are not a lot of easy games. It will be a challenge, but we are looking forward to it.”