GIRLS BASKETBALL: Platt Panthers welcome back Coach T.J., then beat his Wilcox Wildcats

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MERIDEN —Tina Gonyea and Tom Johnson have known each other for 40 years, but they had always been on the same side.

Until Monday night.

Gonyea played for Johnson, then coached under him. Then Johnson coached under Gonyea.

Then came Monday night, when Gonyea’s Platt Panthers met Johnson’s Wilcox Tech Wildcats at Platt High School and beat them 46-24.

Prior to the game, Johnson was honored by the Platt Athletic Department. He received gifts during a brief ceremony led by Platt Athletic Director Rich Katz. Johnson was given a Platt sweatshirt with with the words “Panther for Life” emblazoned on it. He also received a Wilcox Tech hoodie.

“Welcome home at Platt High School,” Katz said. “If you look the wall to where I'm pointing at the banner for the 1988-89 (Class L) state championship in basketball. Tom coached that team. Wilcox Tech is lucky to have him.”

Johnson and the Wildcats fell to 4-8 with Monday’s decision, while Gonyea and the  Panthers improved to 8-5.

“I’ve known Tina since 1981,” Johnson said. “She was a great player for me. Then she came back to Platt and coached with Tommy Wodatch and then with me. We have developed a nice friendship over the years.”

Johnson described Gonyea as a quick guard who could shoot and was great on the fast break. 

“She was really tenacious,” Johnson said. “When I would scrimmage with the kids, every time she would box me out. After three times she boxed me out , I couldn't walk.”

As a coach, Johnson said, Gonyea is always prepared.

“She comes in every day with a plan," Johnson said. “She's pretty good on the sidelines. She adjusts really well to the game. She’s savvy.”

Gonyea graduated from Platt in 1986. She played three sports on the West Side — soccer, basketball and softball — and earned All-State honors in all three. She was the first athlete at Platt to earn that distinction.

Gonyea played guard for Johnson and was the first female basketball player at Platt to score 1,000 career points.

Gonyea duplicated that feat with 1,195 points at Keene State in New Hampshire, where she helped the Division II school win ECAC championships in 1988 and 1989.

Gonyea graduated Keene State in 1990 as its all-time career assists and steals leader. She is a member of the Keene State Hall of Fame, as well as the one at Platt and the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Gonyea was an assistant coach at Keene State from 1991-93. Returning home, Gonyea was a 13-year Panthers assistant who eventually replaced Johnson in the 2011-12 season.

Johnson spent 24 seasons on the Platt bench, in all, going 245-269 in two stints. He served as the Platt freshman coach after stepping down from the head varsity post in 2011. He took the Wilcox Tech job this winter.

Gonyea said coaching against Johnson was bittersweet.

“I’ve played for T.J., coached with him, coached under him and he’s coached with me and now I'm coaching against him," Gonyea said. “It’s really amazing. It’s bittersweet in a way. He’s a mentor I've known my entire adult life. Forty years is a long time. I have a lot of love and respect for him. He’s like having another dad.”

Gonyea said she’s more of a risk-taker as a coach than Johnson. She added that he was much more demanding when she played under him as a coach than he is now.

Gonyea added that she had to change things up on Monday because the two teams run many of the same plays.

“I told the kids that he’s going to know the plays and we are going to run the plays, and one of the girls said, ‘Didn’t Coach T.J. invent those plays’” Gonyea related. “Everyone started laughing and I said, ‘He did.’

“He was my mentor; I was just trying to be respectful of him. This is exactly how I thought it was going to be.”

Both coaches were gracious before the game. On the floor, it was all the Panthers, particularly on the defensive.

“It’s strange to coach against him," Gonyea said. “I never wanted him to leave Platt, but I wanted him to be happy. Whatever it takes to be happy.”

Platt led 22-11 at the half after holding Wilcox Tech without a field goal in the second quarter. 

Khrystina Campbell had six points and 11 rebounds in the game. Each of her points came in the first quarter, which ended with Platt up 15-8 on a banked 3-pointer by Vianna Alcantara (10 points) at the buzzer.

“It was good to go against our old Coach T.J.,” Campbell said. “He was a good coach and I learned the fundamentals to play varsity from him. It was different playing against him. We are used to him being on our side. When we went against him and tried to run plays, he knew. He cut us off immediately.”

Kaylani Cruz, who scored a game-high 14 points, had two buckets for Platt in the second quarter. Sammia Ortiz added a 3-ball for the hosts.

Wilcox Tech didn’t score from the field in the second quarter and went 3-for-8 from the charity stripe. Tatiana Robles had seven points at the break and a team-high 12 points for the game. Sophomore forward Aliah Biro had five points and 11 rebounds for the visitors.

Platt started the third quarter on a 10-1 run. Cruz hit a trey and Antwanette Tann (9 points, 2 blocks) added an old-fashioned 3-point play as the Platt lead grew to 28-12.

Cruz then added a jumper and a steal and a transition layup to cap the 10-1 run with Platt up 32-12.

Biro produced Wilcox Tech’s first field goal since the first quarter with a 12-footer. The bucket broke a 12-minute WT drought without a bucket. It was the Wildcats’ lone made shot of the third until Grace Speeg banked in a buzzer-beater to end the frame with Platt ahead 34-17.

Platt outscored Wilcox Tech 12-7 in the final quarter, highlighted by 3-balls from Alcantara and Cruz.

The Panthers will be right back at home on Tuesday to host Maloney (8-1) at 6:45 p.m. It’s the first of two meetings for the rivals this year.

But Monday was all about the return home for Johnson.

“Platt is a very good team with some good athletes and some good shooters; they played well tonight,” Johnson said. “Platt has always been nice to me. I had a really good run here.”


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