New Britain City Journal

New Britain's Weekly Online Newspaper

The Sports Journal

Manzie Restructured Basketball Program

Tasha Manzie experiences that warm feeling of comfort as she prepares her 2011-12 New Britain High girls basketball team for the long winter campaign ahead.

Her roots run deep. Her life changed after former New Britain High coach Beryl Piper convinced her to play. She graduated from NBHS in 1995, went on to play at Eastern Connecticut State University and had a coaching stop at E.O. Smith-Storrs.

Life has come full circle for Manzie at a young age. Her passion for a game that wasn’t even on her radar when she entered the high school is now paying the dividends for which coaches yearn. Girls who played for her at E.O. Smith are now coming back and relating how much she meant to their lives.

When Manzie took over the NBHS program prior to the 2009-10 season, one of the state’s proudest, most productive programs through the late 1990s and early 2000s was facing a major overhaul.

Symone Roberts, the school’s all-time leading scorer – male or female – had moved on. Karen Byrne, New Britain’s previous coach, rode Roberts to a Class LL title followed by the stunningly early ouster in 2008-09 (2nd-round loss to Mercy at home). Byrne had relied so much on Roberts that the varsity roster and general interest in the program had diminished.

Two role players remained as Manzie focused on picking up the pieces. It was going to take time for her to make connections with the youth programs and in the high school. Some of New Britain’s best young players, the Yambo twins and Nyjah Porcher among them, opted for Capital Prep when New Britain hoopmaster Marco Villa filled the coaching slot at the Hartford magnet school.

While a program restructuring wouldn’t seem necessary just two years removed from a championship, that’s what Manzie faced.

With the program relying so much on Roberts for continued success, two factors played out. The need for Roberts to have the ball and score the brunt of the points soured some of the other players and diminished the ranks. And how was Manzie going to replace Roberts’ gargantuan output even if the stable were full?

Now in her third year, Manzie senses that the program has been restructured in her image, sculpted with her deft strokes of passion for the game, passion for the kids and an intrinsic respect for New Britain High girls basketball.

“This is the first year I feel this is my team,” Manzie said, after New Britain opened the season with an eight-point loss to a strong East Catholic squad. “This is my third year coaching most of them. Everything they’ve learned about high school basketball, they’ve learned from me. They know what to expect from me, I know what to expect from them. I feel like these are my girls.”

Manzie wasted no time in hooking up with city youth coach Mike Jones. Jones, the NBHS freshman coach, thrust Manzie into the offseason world of clinics and tournaments, helping her build the kind of persona that Piper painstakingly and lovingly crafted over her 19 seasons. Byrne, a fine coach with an extensive college background, was not in it for the long run.

“When I first came, I inherited [Byrne’s] team,” Manzie said. “We had very few girls come to tryouts and the hardest hit was the jayvee team. I knew a few of the girls because I had a sister who was a senior that year. It was tough. We had to build. A lot of those girls had never played varsity basketball.”

The Hurricanes were 10-11 that year after a first-round tourney loss to Hamden.

“I had to rebuild the girls’ confidence and their understanding of the game,” she said. “They had no set roles. I asked one girl why she didn’t dribble and she said because I wasn’t supposed to. That broke my heart.”

She retains a fond feeling for that group.

“It was amazing,” she said. “The girls didn’t believe in themselves and they hadn’t gotten much of an opportunity to play but they did a good job. I loved that first year. Yes the numbers were low and yes we sometimes had only four sitting for jayvees and had to call somebody, but that group was great.”

New Britain was 11-10 last year, again losing a first-round game. Look for the ’Canes to move forward this year.

“We’re coming back,” she said. “Fifteen girls on jayvee and 14 freshmen. It was our best turnout. We had to cut people but some of them keep practicing with us because we want girls who love the game to be around it. I truly believe we’re starting to build a program again.”