STAMFORD -- Westhill girls basketball coach Mike King was assessing the state of the FCIAC recently when the discussion turned to a popular topic: could anyone beat Danbury?
The Hatters, the defending league champions, were riding a 37-game regular season winning streak. King mentioned one team he thought was deeper, and two or three others that were legitimate threats.
King demurred when his own team was mentioned.
He no longer has that luxury. The Vikings' 46-35 win at Danbury last Tuesday night may not have been the biggest upset of the season, but could have the most far-reaching psychological implications.
It offered both a template in how to defend the Hatters and, more importantly, tangible hope to teams like Wilton, Trumbull, Stamford and, yes, Westhill about winning the FCIAC title.
"All season the kids talked about it being a big game for us and a good time to try and put everything together, to go up to Danbury and try to beat a good team before the playoffs," King said. "The game was a highlight of the schedule."
The FCIAC Tournament has been a tease to the Vikings in recent years. Since winning the title in 1980 they have reached the final game seven times -- and lost each one, including three in a row from 2005-2007.
This team, 16-2 and riding a 13-game winning streak, may be better equipped to succeed where its predecessors failed. The Vikings have a legitimate star in Megan D'Alessandro, who would be a leading candidate for most valuable player if the league had such an award. D'Alessandro is surrounded by a cast of unselfish role players that fit together perfectly like the pieces to a puzzle.
D'Alessandro, in the vernacular of current culture, could be nicknamed "20-Something," because that is how many points she is good for every night.
She had 25, including a perfect 11 for 11 from the foul line, in the win over Danbury to give her 1,001 career points. She is averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds per game.
"I was talking to the other coaches after the Danbury game," King said. "Megan has gotten to the point, if she has an open shot, we are all surprised if it doesn't go in. That's how consistent she's been this year."
D'Alessandro attributed her increased productivity to a summer spent working on her shooting nearly every day, plus better management of her pregame routine to deal with diabetes.
A go-to shooter with an unselfish streak, D'Alessandro is quick to credit her teammates. In an example both she and King used to pinpoint the Vikings' success, Steph Roones, who moved to point guard this season, did not score a point against the Hatters, but had eight assists against just 3 turnovers.
"I don't think I would have had half the points I had without her passing," D'Alessandro said. "In the first half, every time I cut from the foul line down there was a perfect pass for me."
Added King of Roones, "She took just one shot and had a huge impact on the game. She probably didn't realize she could have a huge impact without scoring two months ago. I don't think there's a player in the league that can play the top of the triangle as well."
Tyler Evans scored 13 points against Danbury, and Jackie Paasman had the winning basket against Stamford, the game that really elevated the Vikings' status.
"Tyler Evans is the most explosive athlete I've ever coached," King said. "She plays like a (power forward) but she gets up and down the court as quickly as anybody. Her improved play has helped tremendously."
There have been other factors, planned and intangible, behind the Vikings' surge.
"Conditioning," D'Alessandro said. "We condition for 30 minutes every practice. At the beginning of the season we were fatigued a lot. Now we don't find ourselves bent over out of breath. And off the court we've become a lot closer over the last month. We all sit together in the gym before games, where before we may have been scattered."
King said his team, which lost two players to broken wrists and another to a concussion, is also healthier now than at any other point this season.
The Vikings only need look at their past playoff experiences, and the balance at the top of the FCIAC, as reminders to maintain perspective. As King said of the Danbury game, "We played well and they are a really good team, but it is just one night."
At the same time, last week may have provided the kind of boost that could help carry the Vikings past a difficult field.
"If we don't have the confidence after beating Danbury, we will never have the confidence," D'Alessandro said.