A Red Storm wreaks havoc at the Mohegan Sun Winter Championships

The Monroe Red Storm, a seventh grade travel basketball team, won their division at the the Mohegan Sun Winter Championships last weekend.

The shooting touch of Tyler August and tenacious team defense and rebounding led the Monroe Red Storm to victory in the seventh grade division of the Mohegan Sun Winter Championships last weekend.

In the first half, August made four three-pointers for his travel basketball team, helping Monroe build an early lead against Agawam, Mass., in the championship game Sunday Night.

Agawam chipped away at the Red Storm’s lead, pulling to within one point before Johnny Angelopoulos drew a foul and sunk two free throws to ice the game and Monroe’s 34-31 triumph with four seconds to go.

“I told the team after the game that I am proud of them for the energy and tenacity they play with on the court, but more importantly that the bond and appreciation they truly have for one another is what sets them apart,” Head Coach Jay Farrer said during a telephone interview Tuesday night.

Farrer said the 12 teammates, who all go to Jockey Hollow Middle School, spent a lot of time together at the casino and swimming. All of the families went out to dinner together on Saturday night, and Farrer said the boys had their arms around each other while they ate.

Monroe won all four games in the tournament, which was sponsored by Vertical Hoops.

On Saturday, the Red Storm beat Brookfield 34-17 and the Norwalk Youth Club 47-20. Then they beat Brookfield again, 35-17 in the semifinals Sunday to advance to the championship game.

Farrer said his team was the number one seed in the tournament, which mostly featured Connecticut teams, but also teams from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Quebec.

Tyler August was the Tournament MVP, scoring a total of 62 points through the weekend, while averaging 15.5 points per game and making eight three pointers. He scored 18 points in the championship game.

Ethan Jarries was the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 8 points per game. Jarries also dominated on the boards, grabbing rebounds at both ends of the court, according to Farrer.

Monroe’s stifling defense was led by CJ Wassmann.

“Dylan Valle also played a key role throughout the tournament with his precision passing and always finding the open man for easy baskets,” Farrer said.

From the gridiron to the hardwood

Farrer knew a lot of his players from his time as an assistant coach for the Monroe Lions seventh grade youth football team.

“We started the season not knowing what to expect as coaches,” he said. “We only had three returning players that played travel basketball together last year: Tyler August, James Farrer and CJ Wassmann.”

“I knew that we had a lot of good athletes, but was not sure about their basketball expertise,” Farrer continued. “Many of the players have never played travel basketball before and came from the Monroe Lions football team that I helped coach this fall — unlike most of our competition that have players that have been playing together for years.”

The Red Storm only had a couple of practices before the Milford Knights Preseason Tournament on Nov. 10 and 11. Monroe went 1 and 2, but both loses were by a total of four points, with one decided in overtime.

Despite losing two-out-of-three, Farrer and his assistant coaches Brian Wassmann and Eric August liked what they saw out of their young team.

“At that point, we knew as coaches that we were going to be ok,” Farrer recalled. “We had a lot to work on and clean up as expected, but the things that you cannot teach that our players possess at a high level is their intensity and determination.”

A full court press

Monroe Red Storm players bond over dinner.

The coaches decided to use their players’ aggressiveness to their advantage, swarming opposing offenses with a full court press. The defensive strategy led to forced turnovers, which created easy baskets for the Red Storm.

Since the Milford Knights Preseason Tournament, the Monroe Red Storm compiled a 13-2 record with 11 of those wins by double digits. The two losses were by a total of five points.

“Our tenacious defense, specifically our full court press, has been the recipe for our success,” Farrer said.

The coach credits Johnny Angelopoulos, Tyler August, Keith Belden, Gavin Brito, Ethan Jarries, Dylan Murphy, Dylan Valle and CJ Wassmann for leading the charge.

The Red Storm’s top rebounders were James Farrer, Jarries, John Kearney, Mikey Naughton, Austin Patti and Wassmann.

“They have dominated the boards on both ends of the court all season,” Coach Farrer said. “Their perseverance as a group has created extra opportunities on the offensive side with getting three and four offensive rebounds at a time regularly.”

Going into the championship game, Agawam had bigger players, but Monroe’s players out hustled them to loose balls, played swarming defense and were physical under the basket.

“They just possess a tremendous amount of energy,” Farrer said. “It’s based more on desire than basketball skills in some games.”

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