MERIDEN — The 2021 basketball season is unlike any other. Masks on while playing and mask breaks built into each quarter amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the intricacies the pandemic brings, Maloney senior forward Garrison Kunst remains positive and grateful that the season is even happening.
“The mindset we kind of went into was just take every practice like it was going to be our last because we weren't guaranteed to have a game at first,” the 6-foot-3 senior said.
So far, Kunst and the Spartans have gotten four games in the books, including two played inside a span of 24 hours at home this weekend. After beating Newington 53-38 on Friday night, Maloney returned to Benjamin Nessing Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon and beat Rocky Hill 47-34.
That puts the Spartans 4-0 heading into Monday showdown at 3-0 Middletown.
It’s a nice place to be for Maloney, which finished last season on a bitter note, losing to St. Paul Catholic 64-61 in the first round of the Class L tournament.
The next day, with the state on the verge of shutting down in the face of the pandemic, the CIAC canceled what remained of the winter postseason. So, whether the Spartans had won their first-round matchup or not, Kunst wasn’t guaranteed to lace up his shoes and put on his Maloney jersey ever again.
But now he and his teammates have the opportunity to complete unfinished business.
“And now that we kind of have the momentum — four wins straight — we got to kind of get greedy with it, keep going,” Kunst said. “We want to put our number on the wall when we’re conference champions. That’s the ultimate goal here.”
The Spartans are playing in Region D of the Central Connecticut Conference with Platt, Berlin, Wethersfield, Bulkeley, Middletown, Newington and Rocky Hill. Along with this weekend’s wins over the latter two teams, Maloney has also topped Platt (60-46) and Wethersfield (52-49).
With the delayed start to the winter campaign, the teams will play an abbreviated 12-game regular season. Postseason play will be handled by the individual conferences. There will be no state tournament.
All that is down the road. For now, the Spartans confront a fellow unbeaten team for early supremacy in Region D. Middletown has defeated Wethersfield (50-48), Berlin (64-44) and Rocky Hill (50-31).
“It’s a talented team,” Maloney coach Dave Parness said of the Blue Dragons. “They’ve been good the last few years, so we just have to be mentally ready.”
Furthermore, Parness agreed with Kunst about aiming high this season and hopes the Spartans capitalize on the chance that they have to play.
“They’ve got a great opportunity here; we didn’t know if we were going to be playing,” Parness said. “Everybody came out; nobody’s playing that we didn’t expect to play. They’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity. We talk about that all the time.”
It’s critical to realize that the season is still just beginning. The Spartans are 4-0, but have eight more games scheduled for the regular season.
Maloney seems ready for the long-haul, though. Kunst mentioned that the team has had a chip on its shoulder since losing to St. Paul Catholic nearly a year ago.
“We want to go in like we’re mad that we lost that game,” Kunst said. “We don’t want to go out like that again. We want to make sure we get put in a position where we win every game we can.”