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Independent Day School Coyotes boys display heart, teamwork in final home game

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

(Editor's Note: Once again, Rink Raves transitions this week into a special edition of Court Raves to acknowledge the outstanding performance of the Independent Day School boys' varsity basketball team in the curtain call to their middle school careers.)

By Rick Menning

MIDDLETOWN, CT -- With only six players in uniform and ready to take the hardwood, the Independent Day School (IDS) boys' varsity basketball team faced a daunting challenge in the final home game before moving on to their high school careers.

At the other end of the row of chairs in the Coyotes' gymnasium -- all decorated with posters and balloons to mark the occasion -- were three times that many members of The Country School. The visiting Owls had traveled up from Madison for the showdown on the 33-acre IDS campus just north of Lyman Orchards.

Despite having only one available substitute on the bench, the IDS squad of eighth graders never backed down and waged a determined fight with the score staying close right down to the final buzzer.

Coyotes' forward Aviv Teva, left, shuts down all possible routes to the basket while disrupting the rush during recent action between Independent Day School and The Country School in the Coyotes' gymnasium. (Photo courtesy of Independent Day School.)

And although the hometown ballers fell short by a single point, the outcome in no way diminished the resilience and conviction of the Coyotes, who pressured The Country School at both ends of the court and had several leads in the contest.

Undermanned but certainly not overmatched, the Coyotes shrugged off a 4-0 deficit at the game's outset and scored seven of the next nine points. Four of those came from center Rowen Meisner, who went on to have a super "double-double" performance with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.

Shooting guard Luke Diana helped spark that early offensive firepower with a dazzling three-pointer from the right side.

Then, after The Country School hit a pair of free throws, the Coyotes went on another tear with six consecutive points, four of which again were supplied by Meisner's hot hand over the first 15 minutes.

Coyotes' center Rowen Meisner unleashes a short-range jumper while surrounded by three Owls' defenders. (Photo courtesy of Independent Day School.)

The visitors' deep bench proved valuable toward the end of the first half as the Owls hit for four consecutive two-pointers to take a 16-13 advantage into the intermission.

But the IDS warriors wouldn't let that late rush before the half unnerve them, and power forward Will Diana transformed that three-point deficit into a one-point lead with a pair of buckets to make it 17-16 in favor of IDS. Another swish by Meisner and Luke Diana's second long-distance aerial of the game -- after the Owls had hit a free throw -- increased the advantage to 22-17.

However, the continual fresh legs of The Country School substitutes off the bench would produce eight of the next 10 points and suddenly the Owls were back in front 25-24. Forward Quinn Hadarik and Meisner each made a free throw over that stretch.

Power forward Ezekiel Hatcher, whose clutch play under the defensive glass led to some critical rebounds in the second half, played a pivotal role in keeping the game close with four rebounds and two steals.

Will Diana and Meisner then connected for back-to-back baskets as IDS went back ahead 28-25, but in the closing few minutes the Owls would also strike twice to prevail 29-28 in the cliffhanger battle.

Will Diana was terrific at both ends of the court as he finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three steals. Teva was tenacious against the opponents' dribble as he came through with six steals, while Luke Diana added four steals and two boards to go along with his six points.

Little things prove big

While the scoreboard told the story in terms of the win or loss, it didn't come close to telling the story of the Coyotes' amazing willpower and perseverance throughout a game that called on all six athletes to dig deep and find their inner gladiators.

They did just that and in a major way, as seen in Luke Diana's lunging save late in the second half to keep a ball inbounds and retain possession for IDS, or Will Diana sacrificing his body to dive after loose balls, or Hadarik constantly battling to disrupt the Owls as they tried to get the ball across center court.

All the little things that make such a big difference in a basketball game at any level, and especially when the bench is thin and extra effort is mandated.

And so marked the conclusion of the Coyotes' eighth graders' basketball careers at the middle school level, something that Head Coach Ashley Lane said they should look back on with pride and reflection.

"You played your hearts out today like you do every game," Lane said during a special post-game ceremony recognizing each player on the IDS squad. "I loved having all of you on the team ... It's sad that this is our last game of the season but now you start your adventure into high school."

The 2021-'22 Independent Day School boys' eighth-grade varsity basketball team members at the finale home game in the Coyotes' gymnasium. Front row (l-r) Quinn Hadarik, Ezekiel Hatcher and Aviv Teva; and back row (l-r) Head Coach Ashley Lane, Will Diana, Luke Diana, Rowen Meisner, Kody Mackenzie and team manager Alexandros Antonopoulos. (Photo courtesy of Independent Day School.)

Special mentions go out to Kody Mackenzie, who was injured hustling after a loose ball in the true IDS team spirit in the next-to-last game; and Alexandros Antonopoulos, who always gave 100 percent in his commitment to see the team succeed in his overseeing of practices and conditioning drills.

Very heartfelt thanks

Just 24 hours before tip-off to the boys' varsity finale hoops attraction, the handmade posters to be hung on the wall behind the players' seating area lay unfinished on the floor in the office of Physical Education Teacher and Head Coach Ashley Lane.

Facing the time constraints of having to finish the special project less than 24 hours before tip-off, Lane requested the assistance of a trio of fifth-grade girls who were across the hallway in the after-school program.

Answering the call to showcase their amazing design and drawing skills with an outstanding effort, the group including Alexa Pestilli, Lacey de Padua and Simone Anderson worked tirelessly to complete the work and assure that the posters could be hung at the game.

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