For high school athletes, there is often a special feeling that comes with ending your career at the top. On Sunday afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Cheshire resident Carina Carina celebrated an emotional basketball moment that has been in the making for years.
As Sacred Heart Academy’s senior co-captain, Ciampi helped his team hold off a late rally to claim a 52-50 win over St. Joseph in the MM class final. The Cadets had a chance to win at the buzzer, but a three-point attempt by senior Katherine Rudini rebounded.
“I thought it (the ball) was going in, but luckily it’s not,” Ciampi said. “We worked so hard for this moment and now we can say we are state champions.”
Finishing the season at 26-1, the top-seeded Sharks captured their first state crown since winning back-to-back titles in 1992-93.
“It’s surreal and so special,” Ciampi said.
Twice, the Sharks had a 16-point lead in the second half, but the Cadets (second seed, 24-3) came back to tie it at 48-48 with just 2:55 to go. However, just 16 seconds later, SHA regained the lead when junior Emma Kirck pushed through the middle and then found senior guard Sydney Rossacci for a three-pointer on the touchline.
“Luckily she found me around,” recalls Wallingford resident Rossacci. “I was very happy for the ball to fall in (the hoop). I knew I had to do that one for the team.
The Sharks didn’t give up the lead from there, but they still had to fight in the last minute. Senior Isabelle Cassucci scored a lay-up to reduce the deficit to 51-50.
After securing a rebound with seven seconds remaining, Kirck fired a foul shot to give SHA a two-point lead. Kirck missed his second free throw, but after St. Joseph missed final possession, the SHA players stormed the court in celebration of the championship.
“The girls fought hard throughout the season and embraced our culture,” SHA head coach Jason Kirck said. “It’s great that they can bring this title back to school. I’m proud of them.
Right off the bat, the momentum shifted into the title match. Ciampi went four-for-four at the foul line to help the Sharks take an 11-4 lead.
“It was big,” Ciampi said of a fast start. “It’s hard to adapt to the size of this pitch and the big crowd, but I think we did a great job.”
St. Joseph responded with a 9-0 surge to take a 13-11 advantage, but sophomore Lauren Thompson sank three straight points to put SHA back in the lead. Thompson had three long-range shots in the first quarter.
“She always comes and gives us a boost,” Ciampi said. “We have a lot of girls who can score in the team.”
The Sharks extended their push to 10-0 in the second quarter, taking a 21-13 lead on a three-point shot from senior Rosa Rizzitelli. The Cadets ran for five points, but Ciampi had a three-point play and a backhand to give the Sharks a 26-18 advantage.
In the first half, Rizzitelli scored 12 of his game-high 19 points to propel SHA to a 35-22 lead. Thompson (11) and Ciampi (nine) scored during the first half.
In the third quarter, SHA went up 39-23 and 41-25, only St. Joseph refused to give up. Seniors Kayleigh Carson and Kirsten Rodriguez both scored four points on a 12-0 run.
Sophomore Morgan Miller scored a layup to put SHA into a 43-37 lead late in the third. Rizzitelli hit a jumper and made a three-pointer to put the Sharks ahead 48-42, but the Cadets scored six to tie the game. Rodriguez had three of his team-high 16 points, but Rossacci’s three-pointer broke the tie and the Sharks secured a narrow victory.
“We had to keep pushing. We had to step up at the end and give that last push,” Ciampi explained.
Along with leading the game in scoring, Rizzitelli led in rebounds with 15. Rossacci and Kirck had five and four points respectively for SHA. Senior Gianna Pye joined Miller with two points.
Ciampi felt the state crown was a great end to his high school career. As a freshman, she recalls the Sharks winning just two of their 20 games, but after Kirck took over as head coach, the Sharks went 58-7 over the last three seasons.
“Under Coach Kirck we have become so close as a team,” Ciampi recalled. “He boosted our confidence and our chemistry. We thought this (national final) was going to be a tough game, but we knew we could do it.
Ciampi will graduate from the Sharks program along with Rizzitelli, Rossacci, Pye, Isabelle Jadach and Elizabeth Carchia.
“They (the seniors) meant everything to the team,” coach Kirck said. “When I arrived, I was able to take this trip with them. They played a big role in getting us to this point.
While Ciampi is sad to say goodbye to close friends, she looks forward to continuing to play basketball at the University of Rochester in New York.
“I’m so excited,” Ciampi said. “The Rochester coach (Jim Scheible) came to my (State) game against Berlin. I can’t wait to play there.