St. Joseph hoping for some fun in the Sun during tomorrow's CIAC finals

The long wait is nearly over for St. Joseph High School, as Chris Lindwall, the rest of the girls basketball team and the St. Joe's community couldn't be more excited for Saturday to finally arrive.

The press conferences are over, the practices are winding down and studying the opposition is coming to a close. All that's left is for the Cadets to take hardwood court at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

"Our alumni are really into this and we are getting a great response," Lindwall said. "We have a fan bus full of people. Everybody is pulling for the nine seniors we have that have been in the school for four years. There's a buzz with this team that  goes beyond Trumbull right now. People in Stratford, Shelton, Fairfield and Milford are excited for this and it's been an exciting time this week."

For the first time since 1979, the St. Joseph High School girls basketball team will be playing for the class M state championship. The No. 11 seeded Cadets will be battling No. 4 seed Cromwell tomorrow afternoon at 12:30 p.m. and the excitement is certainly at a fever pitch around Trumbull.

"The school has been ridiculous about this," Lindwall said. "I walked around the hallways and the teachers, guidance councilors, nurse and students are just so happy. We have a great group of kids that work so hard and I think people respect hard work. It's been great."

And the well-wishes have extended far beyond the St. Joe's campus, as Lindwall has been receiving words of encouragement nearly everywhere he goes.

"I've been in Trumbull a long time," Lindwall said." Even though I was born and raised in Fairfield, everybody knows me from St. Joseph or Joel Barlow. Everywhere I go, people are wishing me good luck and telling me that they are so happy for my kids. It's been a great feeling. I love the support and can't be thankful enough for it."

The calendar says that today is the first day of spring. However Mother Nature has other plans, as snow is in the forecast. Good thing the Cadets decided to practice just as the sun was rising, as due to the early dismissal throughout Trumbull, the Cadets would have been unable to hold its usual practice.

However, it's funny how a change of schedule some times brings out the best in people.

"Because of the early dismissals, we aren't allowed to practice after school, so we had the kids in at 6 a.m. for a two-hour practice to prepare for tomorrow," Lindwall said. "We didn't want to take the chance of not having practice. My kids are not morning people and they were so ready to go that it brought a different energy. We probably had our best practice of the year today."

Tough, efficient practices have been what has helped the Cadets throughout the season. Despite starting strong and losing talented players to injury during the season, St. Joe's has come back strong and stepped up its game throughout the postseason.

Leading the way is senior Bridget Sharnick, who leads the Cadets with 16.9 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game. She also has added 2.1 steals per contest.

Not to be outdone is senior Shannon O'Meara, who is averaging 9.6 points per game and 4.3 rebounds. In addition, O'Meara has 60 three-pointers on the season, nine of which came during her emotional class M semifinal game against Enfield High School.

Junior Jackie Jozefick was injured during the team's game Ridgefield High School on Jan. 23, but has come back during the state tournament run and has been a huge factor. This season she's averaging 11.8 points per game and has 8.9 rebounds per game. Jozefick also leads the team with 2.1 blocks per game.

Senior Ana DoCarmo has been a strong force throughout the season, but especially during the class M run. In the team's four games in the state tourney, DoCarmo has only had six turnovers. In the season she's averaging four points per game, 5.3 assists and leads the team with 2.9 steals per game.

Bridget Sharnick's twin sister, Caitlin Sharnick has also been strong throughout the season. She has been averaging 8.9 points per game and 7.2 rebounds. In addition, Caitilin Sharnick isn't afraid to dish the ball, adding 2.4 assists this season.

As a team, St. Joseph has been quite stingy on defense, as the opposition has only averaged 38 points on the Cadets this season. Offensively, SJHS has been shooting 40.8% from the floor.

"We are executing on both sides of the floor so well and doing so many good things that I am expecting the same thing tomorrow," Lindwall said. "I am expecting us to play fundamental basketball and to do the things that got us here. That's the most important thing. I don't want them to do stuff that we normally don't do. It's not like that we have to revamp an offense or defense."

And that's good because the Cadets are going to be playing a tough Cromwell team. Led by head coach Kelly Maher, the Panthers upended top-seeded Morgan High School 52-49 in the class M semis and enter the game with a regular season record of 17-3.

"They are a very good man-to-man team and play very good team defense," Lindwall said. "Cromwell is very good with offensive rebounds and are efficient on their offense. They are extremely well coached. Kelly does an excellent job and is a former player there. She's done a great job shaping those kids. They go through a pretty tough conference where they have to face Morgan all those times. They also came down here and played Pomperaug and Newtown in a tournament. They went out to play some better teams and they are going to be very prepared. It's going to be a challenge and they are an exceptional team."

While it's been an exciting week for the Cadets and Lindwall, once the team hits the locker rooms at Mohegan Sun, it's all about game time.

"We will be in game mode," Lindwall said. "I come out at that eight-minute mark and I'll be in game mode by then and so will the team. Emotions will be in check. The bus ride will be exciting, pulling into the arena will be exciting and getting into the locker room for the first time will be exciting. But we know the reason we are there."

Lindwall said that he would love nothing more that to hoist a championship trophy on center court of Mohegan Sun. But win or lose, the head coach can't say enough about how great his team is.

"I couldn't be more proud of this team," Lindwall said. "I have coached a lot of good teams and I've been to the dance twice with my Barlow teams. They were special kids and I'm still close with some of them, and it's the same thing with this group. This is the first group that has gone through my program for four years. When I started they were freshmen and we instilled a program and a positive philosophy.

"These kids are now young ladies and I think they are ready to go on to college in a lot of ways," added Lindwall. "After walking out of Morgan's gym last year, they know they have unfinished business. They've worked very hard to get to this point and it's a good time right now for St. Joseph basketball. We are having a lot of fun."