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By Kim J. Harmon



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By Kim J. Harmon

Even though Lori Iwanicki led the Newtown High School girls’ basketball team in scoring (was, in fact, the only one to average better than 10 points a game), it was kind of hard to notice her because the team was nine deep and unbelievably balanced.

But someone noticed because Lori, a junior, recently was named to the CIAC Class LL All-State team – the first Newtown player so honored since Lynn Lattanzio.

“I was completely surprised,” said Lori, who finished with 288 points for the season and 544 points for her career, putting her 12th on the all-time list behind Melissa Eigen and Jacquie Smith. “There were so many talented players out there – even just in the SWC.”

Yet she stood out among all those talented players.

And for good reason – Lori, 16, not only became the Newtown’s most consistent scorer (12.0 points per game pretty much meant 12.0 points every game) and one of its strongest rebounders. For those reasons, too, Lori was named to the Connecticut Post Super 15 Team, the Danbury News-Times’ All-Area team, and the South-West Conference First Team.

This is a high level, to be sure.

And she reached this level in a relatively short period of time, having taken advantage of an unfortunate situation that arose during the 1999-2000 season when center Amanda Marsilio was lost to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“That was really my first year,” said Lori, “and before Amanda got hurt I knew I wouldn’t be starting or anything – probably just be third or fourth off the bench – and when I got in I’d just try as hard as I could.”

But Marsilio went down in a pre-season scrimmage against Ridgefield and all of a sudden Lori’s role had changed dramatically. All of a sudden, a starting position had opened up.

“We knew everyone had to step up,” said Lori, “everyone had to contribute in different ways.”

And as unlikely as it would have seemed at the time, the Nighthawks went on to defeat New Fairfield for the SWC championship – the first championship in over 50 years.

Lori, who saw just a scant few minutes on the varsity floor as a freshman, became somewhat of an overnight sensation. She scored 254 points for the season and averaged 10.4 a game in her first real action and all she could say in the way of explanation is, “It just happened.”

But it probably happened because Lori – who started playing when she was in second grade, back in New York – comes from a basketball family. Dad was a youth coach, her sister Julie saw time in about a half dozen varsity games, and her sister Christie was a big part of the girls’ sixth-grade traveling team.

Carly, the youngest of ‘em all, is probably not far behind, either.

Lori’s experience as a sophomore not only provided her with a solid foundation for her junior season, but also provided her with a chance to test her maturity.

“We knew we had already reached our first goal (a championship),” she said, “but we didn’t want to settle for that. We wanted to do more. Our whole idea was to DEFEND.”

And it seemed, right away, as it if would be very, very possible. In the second game of the season, the ‘Hawks defeated Norwalk, the defending CIAC Class LL champions and one of the top 50 teams in the country.

The win, though, might have been a devil in disguise.

“That was a great way to start the season,” Lori admitted. “It was one of the best accomplishments we’ve ever had – but after it, our expectations skyrocketed.”

And this was right before the Nighthawks discovered how perilous the SWC was going to be.

“We knew the SWC was a growing conference,” Lori admitted, “but this year might have been its strongest year.”

That might have been part of the reason why the ‘Hawks started falling into a rut – coming out slow in the first half only to have to scramble back in the second half to win (or being unable to scramble back far enough to win).

Besides that, players started having problems shooting.

And Lori was one of them.

“It was hard,” she said. “A lot of times I would get down and if it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t think I’d have gotten back to it. ‘Just keeping shooting,’ they told me.”

The pressure to find a way out of her occasional slumps could have been devastating, too, if there weren’t players like Jayme Beckham, Lisa Masella, Marsilio, Morgan Haines, Ally Gellert or Kelley Haines out there shooting as well.

“Any one of us could go out there and score and help the team tremendously,” Lori explained. “Whoever was hot, we just kept feeding them the ball. So there was no pressure to score.”

Even though the Nighthawks did not realize their goal of defending their league championship (although they did finish 18-6 with a trip into the CIAC Class LL quarter-finals), Lori got quite a bit out of it.

“It was a fun season,” she said. “We definitely learned a lot. We really learned the idea of TEAMNESS. Jayme came up with it and I really think it held us together.”

And gave Lori Iwanicki – only a junior – a chance at being named to the CIAC Class LL All-State Team.

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