Boston High School: Kiah Gillespie

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- They were all knotted at eight early-on in this contest between two high-profile programs, and Capital Prep (Conn.) coach Tammy Millsaps couldn’t have been less pleased.

In the grand stage of the Hoophall Classic, on the campus where the very game was first invented nearly 125 years ago, the two-time defending CIAC state champs looked gassed, and she let them hear it as they broke for a timeout.

“We looked exhausted out there. We do enough conditioning in practice where we shouldn’t,” she said.

And almost on cue, the Trailblazers stormed out of the gates to finish off the quarter, ending the opening frame on a 15-5 run and never looking back, eventually taking down highly-touted South Medford (Ore.), 82-50, in what ended up a dominant showing for their two stars, Maryland-bound senior forward Kiah Gillespie (36 points, 19 rebounds) and Syracuse-bound junior Desiree Elmore (28 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, five steals).

“We knew if we took our foot off the gas pedal, they’d come back,” said the 6-foot-1 Gillespie, the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Connecticut.

After four lead changes in the first four minutes, Gillespie came out of that first timeout and sparked a 10-run with back-to-back three-pointers, the second one off a terrific cross-court dish from Dazha Ward. Gillespie then finished off the quarter with a coast-to-coast layup making it 22-11.

Elmore followed up in the second with some heady play, first lofting a 40-foot outlet pass off a defensive rebound that Angelique Rodriguez finished, then coming back a few possessions later with a backcourt steal against the flow of transition, laying it in for a 26-13 lead.

Two possessions later, Gillespie came up with one of her most outstanding plays of the night, first catching her own block of a South Medford forward then carrying the ball over halfcourt to start a fast break. From the elbow, Gillespie fired the ball over her shoulders to Lizahya Morgan, who broke to the hole from the baseline for a 28-13 margin.

“We just started out playing extremely well, we were able to get the high-low look and some easy penetration,” Millsaps said. “Any time you get a few passes for some open three’s, you’re going to open up a lot of opportunities. We were very unselfish today.”

Capital led 38-22 at the break, and 66-39 after three. They shot 52 percent from the floor – including 40 percent from three-point range – held a 46-36 rebounding advantage, and recorded assists (18) on more than half of their field goals (34).

Julissa Tago led South Medford with 18 points, while UC-Irvine commit Keyari Sleezer lit up the scoresheet with 14 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three steals.

No sidekick: With regards to the attention on Gillespie, the No. 27 overall player in the Class of 2015 in the latest ESPN Hoop Gurlz rankings, Millsaps was asked what kind of safety valve Elmore provides. She made it clear her thoughts on the apparent disparity in attention between the two.

Make no mistake, if the Trailblazers are to three-peat as state champs after winning Class S and Class L in 2013 and 2014, respectively, Elmore is every bit as crucial.

“I look at them equally. I think a lot of times, it’s unfair that Kiah gets a lot more attention than Desiree because they’re both heck of players,” Millsaps said. “Two kids that are in the top 20 in their class in the nation should get equal attention, but it is what it is. Kiah is a year ahead of Desiree, so sometimes that’s how it works out. But both of them are extremely important to our program, and they are no doubt the reason we’ve been so successful in the last 3-4 years.”

At times it is perhaps easy to overlook the immense value of the 5-foot-11 Elmore. Whereas Gillespie jumps out at you for the way she sometimes makes the difficult look so effortless, Elmore is so consistent at all of the small things that sometimes it gets under-appreciated.

Tonight, for instance, Elmore was remarkably efficient from the floor, shooting 66.7 percent -- including a 12-for-16 effort inside the painted area.

Elmore also had 10 second-chance points, while 16 of her 28 overall came off turnovers.

“Like you said, I get a lot more attention than her, and I don’t understand,” Gillespie said. “Sometimes she does get overlooked, and she does all the little things. Sometimes she’ll get a steal in the backcourt when everybody’s running down the court, and those will end up being the two points that spark us in the game. It’s all the little things she does that make the difference in the game.”

Millsaps isn’t one to throw around compliments liberally, but has been pretty pleased with Elmore’s play as of late. Still, the junior was deferential when asked about her success in 2015.

“I am pleased,” she said. “This year, everybody was a little nervous because we lost our point guard Taylor Williams, so we were all concerned about who was going to step up and play the role of point guard. I feel that Lizahya Morgan is doing great job of doing that. She is our floor general. She’s very vocal on the court.”

New England Roundup: Connecticut

January, 30, 2013
The Fairfield Prep ice hockey team has had some impressive starts in Matt Sather's 14 seasons as the program's head coach, but nothing that can match what the Jesuits have accomplished at the start of the current season.

ConnecticutFairfield Prep improved its record to 11-0-0 and remained the only unbeaten team in the state when it beat New Jersey power Don Bosco Prep, 4-2, Thursday at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport. Don Bosco entered the game as the No. 2-ranked team in New Jersey.

It was a 2-2 game after two periods, but Fairfield Prep senior forward Tim Edmonds scored the go-ahead goal at 4:28 of the third. The Jesuits doubled their lead on a Kenny Kochiss goal.

Fairfield Prep held Don Bosco to three shots on goal in the final period.

“This is a huge win for us,” Edmonds told MSG Varsity after the game. “Don Bosco's a great team. We were able to come out flying, and now we've got our confidence boosted. Coach [Sather] said this is a landmark day for us. I think we proved we can beat anyone we play if we play our game.”

Juniors Matt McKinney and Matt Wickman also scored for Fairfield Prep, which received 15 saves from Matt Beck.

Don Bosco (10-5-0) was playing without Robby Marsanico and Dylan Healy, two top-line forwards who were injured. Marsanico and Healy had 49 points in Don Bosco's first 14 games.

“I think they're a little better than that offensively,” Sather said. “But that's as fast a team as we've played all year. And I thought they were more physical than anyone we played this year. That was the most physical game we've played in, and I was pretty happy with the way our guys stood up to that.

Twenty Connecticut high schools entered last week looking for a varsity football coach. That number was reduced by one Friday, when Bacon Academy hired Erik Larka.

Larka, a 35-year-old West Haven resident, was one of seven applicants brought back for a second interview. He spent four years as the freshman head coach and a varsity assistant at Law High School – his alma mater – but then left the coaching world until last season, when he was an assistant coach at Western Connecticut State.

Bacon had to find a head coach last summer, after Duane Maranda left to become the head coach at New London. The school selected Brian Enrique – an assistant under Maranda – but reopened the position after Enrique guided the Bobcats to a 2-8 record last season.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference is exploring the possibility of moving the state's championship football games from the University of Connecticut's Rentschler Field, which has hosted the title games for the last four years.

Poor attendance and below-expected revenue were the reasons cited for the possible move.

Rentschler Field can seat 40,000, but the largest crowd for the four championship games last year was the 4,576 that watched the Class LL championship game between Xavier and Norwich Free Academy on a Friday night. The following day a combined 5,189 showed up for the Class S, Class M and Class L championship games.

Central Connecticut State's Arute Field is reportedly being considered as a possibility for this year's title games. Arute Field has a seating capacity of 5,800 and has a turf playing surface. Rentschler Field has a natural grass surface.

The CIAC fined Harding High School $500 and forced the school's boys basketball team to forfeit two games for using an academically ineligible player.

The player participated in five games, but Harding lost three of those five contests. The team forfeited victories over New Canaan and Fairfield Warde.

East Lyme senior Allison Stoddard collected the 1,000th point of her high school career during a 55-16 victory over Killingly on Jan. 19. … Capital Prep remained No. 1 in the Hartford Courant's girls' basketball rankings despite a 66-64 loss to Bishop Ford – one of the top teams in New York City – last week. Sophomore forward Kiah Gillespie scored 26 points for Capital Prep in the loss. … Junior Tyshon Rogers, a 6-foot-3 forward on the Crosby boys' basketball team, scored 64 points in victories over Wolcott and Seymour last week. Rogers entered the week as the state's leading scorer (30.5 ppg.).

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and has been covering high school sports throughout New England since 1992.