New Britain City Journal

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The Sports Journal

Manzie Means Business as NBHS Girls Prep for Season

Those who know New Britain High girls basketball coach Tasha Manzie best are well aware of how nice she is.

She goes about her work as dean of students at the high school with compassion in her heart.

For the most part that’s a good thing, but when Manzie hustles down the hallway from office to gymnasium, she’s recognized that she must add a little sneer to the Miss Congeniality persona. When it comes to teenage girls playing in unison, an occasional snap of the whip is apt to bring out the best in them.

“I definitely have a new outlook,” said Manzie, coming off New Britain’s first season since 1989-90 with as few as six wins. “I’m just finding my footing as a high school coach. You may find it as a coach but you never know until you’re in this situation. Being an AAU coach doesn’t do it. Being a junior varsity coach doesn’t either.”

One reason for the change is that Manzie knows she has the talent to compete in the CCC West. Center Faith Ford, after putting together a sensational season for the volleyball team, has matured. Point guard Eliannie Sola played AAU ball last summer with Ford for the Connecticut Heat and better chemistry is the result.

Yet when it came to choosing a captain, Manzie tabbed junior Nikira Hooks because she has emerged as the ultimate floor general.

“She’s a vocal leader and a leader by example. When she steps on the floor, she makes everybody better because she is there,” Manzie said. “She’s the epitome of a player. She puts her heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into basketball.”

Senior guard Ginelle Martinez teams with Ford, Sola and Hooks to give Manzie four seasoned players to build around. Junior Angela Markowski, sophomore Katie Bray and two freshmen – Kelsey Hernandez and Jaznaiya Irizzary – should see significant playing time. But the new Manzie isn’t conceding anything. She welcomed 23 freshmen to tryouts and the competition is on for playing time.

“I’m leaving spots open for people I think will earn them,” she said.

Manzie said the key to Ford’s having a memorable season is confidence.

“This could be a huge season for her if she’s mentally ready for it,” the coach said. “We want her to be a big presence in the paint. She’s already a great rebounder.

“I think [volleyball success] will transcend into basketball. She had a phenomenal season. This was the first year she believed and it was obvious on the court. Believing will make it transcend into the basketball season. Once she has a few good games, it will kick in.”

Sola’s game has improved dramatically, thanks to her AAU concentration last summer.

“She’s our chief on the floor. We’ve got to get her to believe in that,” Manzie said. “She’s starting to believe what we tell her.”

With leadership a major asset, the team chemistry is coming together with every preseason practice.

“I have a great group of girls, no egos whatsoever,” Manzie said. “If they buy into what we’re selling and keep working as hard as they have been, we’ll have a pretty good season.”

Manzie said the team to beat in the CCC West is last year’s champion Northwest Catholic, coached by New Britain native Karl Herbert and with a New Britain point guard in Jacqui Denver. But Manzie said the Hurricanes will take the floor every night with the notion that they can win.

“Every year I look at the schedule and figure if we play the way were supposed to, we shouldn’t lose,” Manzie said. “Knowing what the girls can do, I think we can win most of our games, but a lot of things can affect teenage girls.”

Coach: Tasha Manzie (4th year, 27-35)

Last Year: 6-14; 2-12 CCC West (7th place)

Key Losses: Amanda Garcia, Jessica Chudy, Daniella Markowski, Wilma Smith, Kayla Jones

2012-13 Lineup: Nikira Hooks (jr. capt., G/F), Faith Ford (sr., C), Ginelle Martinez (sr., G), Eliannie Sola (sr., PG), Angela Markowski (jr., G), Katie Bray (so., F), Kelsey Hernandez (fr., G), Jaznaiya Irizzary (fr., G)

Of Note: Ernestine (Austin) Faienza, a star at Bristol Eastern who played at Syracuse, will coach the junior varsity. Connecticut Heat AAU coach Mike Jones guides the freshmen. Isaac Miller is a volunteer assistant.