Two were point guards who deftly ran their team’s offense and made it nigh impossible for opposing teams to press.
The other was the area’s dominant front-court player, a returning All-Stater who did nothing in her final season to diminish her status. In fact, she only enhanced it.
Liv Pizzitola from Southington and the Sheehan tandem of Caitlyn VelezandCaitlyn Hunt: They are our finalists for Record-Journal Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
The title is Hunt’s to defend. The 5-foot-11 center took last year’s R-J laurels after leading the Titans to the Class MM quarterfinals, at which point the 2020 state tournament was cancelled by the pandemic.
Ditto for the 2021 postseason, which meant the only rings out there to grab were league titles and conference tournament crowns.
Led respectively by Pizzitola and the “Two Caitlyns,” Southington and Sheehan each wound up with a share of a division banner — Southington (11-3) in CCC Region B, Sheehan (12-2) in the SCC East.
Each team’s hopes for a conference tournament topper were dashed in the semifinals.
Yet all three of our individual finalists came up with signature moments that illuminated their value to their teams.
Such as on the night of March 18, when Pizzitola and the Lady Knights traveled to Farmington with a share of that CCC Region B title on the line. With injuries decimating the ranks, the 5-foot-4 Pizzitola rose to the occasion and scored a season-high 25 points in a 47-38 victory.
Or the afternoon of Feb. 21, when Velez chalked up a triple-double with 14 assists, 13 points and 10 rebounds in a 60-49 victory in Milford against Jonathan Law. The 5-foot-6 Velez was first and foremost a playmaker, but could also score and crash the boards. She played aggressively all over the court.
As for Hunt, pick a night. Virtually unstoppable in the low post, she scored in double figures in every game except for two. At 12.9 points a night, she was the area’s leading scorer for a second straight season.
Interestingly, even though they do play basketball beyond the traditional high school season, all three of our finalists hardly specialize in the game.
Velez was All-RJ in field hockey. Pizzitola broke Southington’s 100-meter record in track, the sport in which she’ll compete at Central Connecticut State University.
Hunt, along with being an All-Conference and All-RJ volleyball player, dabbled in track for the first time this spring and wound up winning the Class M championship in shot put.
Score that Diversification 3, Specialization 0.
All three of our finalists returned to the All-RJ team and earned All-Conference recognition in their final season of hoops.
Pizzitola led her team with 11.9 points a game and 3.9 assists. Howie Hewitt, who oversaw Maloney boys basketball for 33 years before taking up the reins in Southington, ranked Pizzitola among the top leaders he’s ever coached.
Hunt was the 2021 Player of the Year in the SCC East and made All-State for a second straight season.
She’s going on to play at Western New England in Massachusetts. Velez will play at Randolph Macon in Virginia.
In combination with fellow senior Hayleigh Lagasse, the Two Caitlyns were part of a four-year run in which Sheehan girls basketball went 68-22 and reached the 2019 Class M state final.
Hunt, then a sophomore, got hurt in that championship game. Arguably, it might have been the difference between victory and defeat.