NEW HAVEN — Albertus Magnus may have been Liz Falcigno’s second choice in college, but twice has been nice for the Wallingford resident and the Falcons.
Falcigno transferred to the Division III New Haven school after two seasons at Division II Post University-Waterbury and the move proved to be a blessing in more ways than one.
The team was an extended family for Falcigno in her time of need. Her mother Connie died in January after an 18-month battle with breast cancer. Falcigno was then a junior. She is now a senior captain and her bond with the program has only grown stronger.
“It was tough,” Falcigno said. “But I had a lot of support and it made a difference. My mom was my biggest fan. I loved seeing her in the stands. I love having my dad (Tom) there. Knowing the memory of her is still there means a lot.”
This season, Falcigno and the Falcons are off to a 5-4 start. On Tuesday night, Albertus Magnus lit up the scoreboard for a program-record point total in a 117-99 victory over Pine Bluff.
Falcigno was in the middle of the scoring fest with 21 points at the Cosgrove Marcus Messer Athletic Center. She was 7-for-11 from the field and 4-for-6 on 3-pointers.
Albertus head coach J.R. Fredette said Falcigno handled everything with maturity beyond her years. With a heavy heart on the day her mother died, she scored 27 points.
“The court was a sanctuary for her,” Fredette said. “Her mom never missed a game. On the floor, Liz wears her emotions on her sleeve, even more when her mom was there.”
As a junior, Fredette was All-Great Northeast Athletic Conference Third Team. She ranked fifth in the league in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Her free-throw shooting percentage of 81.6 tied her for second in the conference. Her 3-point percentage of 35.8 was third best.
Fredette said the sharp-shooting Falcigno fit right in for the Falcons.
“She was the missing ingredient,” Fredette said. “We could do anything but shoot. She was the missing piece to a team that won 14 games. We made it to the playoffs and it was great. I was excited about having a recruit like her. She’s an overachiever. She’s in the honors program. She’s a very intellectual girl.”
Fredette’s up-tempo style was perfect for Falcigno, who played at a similar high-octane speed at Mercy for four years. Her high school tenure included four state championship appearances and a state title.
After her sophomore year at Post, Falcigno reached out to Fredette.
“She called me and asked me for another opportunity,” Fredette said. “Her mom was dying of cancer and she wanted to be closer to home.”
Fredette didn’t hesitate to welcome Falcigno to New Haven. He said he rolled out the red carpet for her to make her as comfortable as possible.
“We started chatting it up,” the 36-year-old coach said. “I got to know her dad, Tom. I told her she had to check it out. I got a second chance of recruiting her. Since she has been here she has seen nothing but success in her life, even while facing some of the greatest adversity that someone can face.”
Falcigno also had the support of a teammate who experienced the same loss. Former Lyman Hall and Albertus standout Olivia Sutherland lost her father, George, in 2014. Sutherland graduated last spring.
The two Wallingford residents developed a connection they will always share.
“We are still very close to this day,” Falcigno said. “She always knew how I felt every day. It was something I couldn’t express with words, but she understood. It helped me feel more comfortable and we both used basketball as an outlet.”
Through the first nine games of this season, Falcigno is averaging a double-double with 12.2 points and 10 rebounds. The rebounding boost is due to a position change. Falcigno played mainly shooting guard as a junior. This winter, she is in the post on the bottom of the Falcons’ zone defense.
“The goal is to make the GNAC playoffs,” Falcigno said. “We want to make it past the semifinals. The big dream would be the championship. I want to be on the All-Conference team and lead the team to a championship.”
Falcigno, who also played for the Albertus soccer team, is a threat from anywhere on the court. She is shooting 42 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc. Falcigno is almost an automatic from the line. She hits 93 percent from the charity stripe.
“She’s a scorer,” Fredette said. “She makes shots. She can go left and she can go right. She’s a very smart player. She reminds me of Reggie Miller with the way she is able to draw fouls. She’s headsy and knows when we are in the bonus. She can get to 30 points. She can fill up the stat sheet.”
The coach said it will be a proud day when Falcigno, a business major, graduates. He will miss her.
“I do not take for granted having a special player like Liz to coach every day,” Fredette said. “I have a strong understanding of that. It may be a couple years to find another young lady like her.”
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