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ORLANDO, Florida - It was an extremely rewarding AAU season for Newtown's Kelley Haines and the U-13 Connecticut Starters National AAU girl's basketball team.



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ORLANDO, Florida - It was an extremely rewarding AAU season for Newtown’s Kelley Haines and the U-13 Connecticut Starters National AAU girl’s basketball team.

It was a year of records being set and of records being broken. The team witnessed a 44-game winning streak, a fourth-consecutive state championship, wins over five of the top 13 teams in the nation, a U.S. Junior National Championship title (the first Connecticut team ever to win), and the first Connecticut Starters’ team to reach the Elite 8, without a loss, at a National AAU Basketball Tournament.

The team ended its season with a strong fifth place finish at the AAU National Championship games held in Florida, July 13th through July 21st.

AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball has become a grooming court for college basketball. It involves high-level play and competition for those individuals willing to give their time, energy, and effort to develop their basketball skills to perhaps one-day play college ball. UConn’s Sue Bird and the WNBA’s Nykesha Sales are two of the many female athletes that participated in AAU programs, prior to beginning their college and professional careers.

The CT Starters is the oldest girls’ AAU basketball program in Connecticut, harboring exceptional players such as Jen Rizzotti (UConn), Marci Glenney (Clemson), Nykesha Sales (UConn) and UConn’s newest guard, Maria Conlon from Seymour High School.

This is Kelley Haines’ second year with the CT Starters organization. In 1999, she was selected out of approximately 80 players from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, all trying out for a position on the 12-and-under National team. The past two years have been a great learning experience for her, but have also required a tremendous amount of hard work and sacrifice.

From March through July, strenuous 21/2  hour practices were held two to three days a week in Cheshire and Manchester; and between travel time and homework, Kelley had her hands full, but she still maintained a high honors average at the Newtown Middle School.

Kelley, 5’8”, has earned a position on the starting line-up for the past two years, and is the team’s leading 3-point shooter.

“It’s been tough,” says Kelly, who has played a guard position or small forward on the Newtown’s travel basketball and Middle School teams. On the Starters team, however, Kelley was asked by her coach to fill a big forward position (the four), matched up against other players who were four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. “But it’s a team sport and you do what the coach wants you to, for the good of the team.”

On defense, she’s had to work harder to rebound and box-out that bigger player next to her. On offense, she has learned to shoot over her opponent, and has developed a true pull-up jump shot that most high school players yearn for. At the National Tournament this year, Kelley used all her skills to lead the team to a 51-42 victory over the #4 seed Indiana State champions.

Kelley scored five 3-pointers (and a season high 21 points) to seal the game and advance the team into the Sweet 16 bracket.

Head coach Joe Ticotsky, Cheshire High School’s girls’ varsity coach, was determined to better his team’s 17th place finish at the 1999 Nationals. He candidly admits that this team is special. Since March, when the AAU season officially began, he has worked the team hard, 2-3 practices a week, scrimmages against out-of-state teams and older teams, and tournaments every weekend. Since April, the team has traveled to cities such as Albany, NY; Monmouth, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; and Richmond, VA for tournaments, playing five and six games with two-day timeframes.

But the wheels were really set in motion in October of last year, when Coach Ticotsky, who also coached the girls as 12-year olds, decided to “move up” and coach the team as 13-year olds. (traditionally, Starter’s coaches remain with the same age group each year, so that players can experience a variety of coaching styles as they grow).

To begin the preparation for the level of competition that he knew the team would face at the 2000 Nationals, coach Ticotsky modeled many of his strategies after some of the top 10 teams in the country – like, play older teams to stiffen the competition. In October, the team traveled to Montreal, Canada to compete in a 14- and 15-year-old tournament – and they won it!

The 2000 AAU season saw the team enter the majority of tournaments in the 14-year old bracket. In fact, the only loss that the team suffered during its regular season play was to a 14-year-old Georgia team, early in the season, during their very first tournament in Richmond, VA.

On July 12th, with a record of 41-1, the team was anxiously off to the prestigious 13-and-under AAU National Championship Tournament, held at the Walt Disney Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando, Florida. A total of 86 teams were entered in the tournament, state champions from cities all over the United States.

But, as the coach said, it just didn’t make a difference how many games had been won during the season. Each and every team began this tournament at ground zero. Tournament play proved to be tough, games as early as 8:30 am in the morning and as late as 9 pm in the evening. The Starters worked hard and earned a nice fifth place finish, winning six of eight games, and defeating teams from Tennessee (#13), Michigan, Washington DC (#5), Oklahoma, and Indiana (#4).

In their game against the Ohio Dayton Lady Hoopstars (#7 seed), the Starters fell just two points short of advancing to the Final Four.

In October, excerpts of the game will be televised on the Disney Channel’s Wide World of Sports, in a program featuring girls’ AAU basketball.

The team’s assistant coach this year was Jen O’Brien of Middletown, who played point guard for Division I Davidson College in North Carolina. She achieved the distinction of being second in the country for steals during her four-year college career.

Other members of the 13-and-under National Starters team include Tiffany DeRosa (Hamden), Claire Sullivan (Wallingford), Jean Dabrowski (Plainville), Brianne Edwards (Bloomfield), Abbey Maguire (Southbury), Cody Astyk (Woodbury), Anne-Claire Roesch (Westport), and Laura Menty, Mia Rothweiler, and Marisa Barone (MA).

Kelley Haines just loves the game! She is looking forward to playing Newtown High School basketball under Coach Gregg Simon and looking forward to next year’s AAU season under Coach Eric DeMarco, the girls’ varsity coach at Seymour High School.

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