WCA Squares Off Against Sacred Heart Friday Night

Junior forward Marquan Watson at 6-2 was All-NVL and All State last year.

        Story By John Torsiello and Photographs By Clay Johnson

   The mid-January late afternoon sunlight filtered through windows located high on the new gymnasium of the Waterbury Career Academy. On the floor, some 20 members of the school’s boys basketball were being put through their paces by head coach Ronan O’Leary and assistants, M.J. DiFazio and Jodie Burns.

   The practice seemed decidedly vigorous, the players perhaps mentally inspired and ignited viscerally by words they had heard from their head coach during a mid-court meeting at the beginning of the session. O’Leary told his charges that what he was seeing out of his team thus far was the makings of a champion, perhaps in the Naugatuck Valley League, maybe even at the state Division II level. Through their first thirteen games, the Spartans were 10-3 and ranked third in the NVL. There is a lot of work to do before talk of league and state titles can become a reality. But WCA has certainly looked the role of a contender this season.

WCA head coach Ronan O’Leary is a mountain of a man.

   The Spartans have recorded lopsided wins over several clubs and own victories over a seven-win Torrington team and perennial NVL contender Crosby, the latter on the road. WCA’s only loss was a defeat at the hands of a strong Holy Cross unit on Jan. 12. The Spartans will have another shot at the Crusaders Feb. 6, when the former team is really in the meat of its schedule.

   O’Leary, who came to the Waterbury area to play four years of basketball at C.W. Post from 2003 to 2007, joined WCA after coaching at Sacred Heart for eight years as an assistant. DiFazio coached at Brookfield High School, and Burns, who was a point guard for the Post University women’s basketball team, worked with the Naugatuck High School girls hoops program for about a dozen years before joining WCA. The three form an intense and knowledgeable coaching trio.

   WCA is only in its fifth year of existence as a high school, and it wasn’t a given that the school would have an interscholastic sports program. But after negotiations, administrators at the various NVL schools finally approved allowing WCA to field a boys basketball program and eventually join the NVL. Girls basketball was also approved and now Waterbury Career Academy fields a number of athletic teams.

   WCA operated as a junior varsity program for a year before attaining full varsity status three years ago. The program has steadily improved, as freshman of several years ago have grown into seasoned juniors and seniors of today. And the future looks bright. There are five freshmen on this year’s squad and winning will no doubt attract more young men (and women) to enroll in WCA, which has strict guidelines for admittance. Enrolling students must all be from Waterbury and they must come in as freshman.

   “It was a battle to get to where we are today,” said O’Leary, a strapping man who towers over most of his players. “But I think we have finally gained the respect from the other schools in the league. This year, we have seniors and juniors instead of sophomores and freshmen and that has made a difference. We are fast, athletic and have some very talented players are among our starters and first few guys off the bench with more on the way.”

WCA captains from left to right are Matt Torres, Marquan Watson and Jaden Battle.

   Junior forward Marquan Watson at 6-2 is one of the team’s leading scorers, averaging 17 points a game, and is a relentless rebounder, pulling down 13 boards a game. Senior point guard Jaden Battle is the engine that drives the machine, averaging 17 points and six assists a game. At only 5-8, he is one of the quickest players on the floor. By the way Watson was All-State and All-NVL as a sophomore last year.

Senior point guard Jaden Battle drives the Spartans on the floor.

   Other starters are senior forward Chad McKoy, who averages nine points and eight rebounds and is a physical presence at 6-3; junior guard Langston Racine, who is averaging around seven points a game; and junior guard Mike Torres, who scores around 17 points a game and is a nice compliment to Battle in the backcourt. Sixth man, senior forward Jessah Doctor, contributes valuable minutes.

   “I came to Waterbury Career Academy because it gave me the opportunity to be the leader I wanted to be, not only in basketball but in school,” said Battle. “We lost some seniors from last year’s team, but we have had players who stepped up this year. We have our ups and downs, but we just keep working hard to improve and get batter.”

   Torres enjoys the rivalries with other Waterbury schools that WCA has already built. Youngsters within the city known of and about one another and often meet on the playgrounds and in summer programs. “It’s fun and the fact that we have shown good improvement from season to season makes it even better. I came here because of the academics and I’m pleased that I made the choice. I have made some good friends here.”
Watson said he also enrolled at WCA to make a difference, both in his life and for the school and basketball team. “I don’t believe I would be where I am today, a leader, if I hadn’t come here.”

   WCA is a potent offensive team, scoring almost 80 points a game, while holding teams to 57 points a contest. The Spartans’ biggest offensive output of the season came in a 91-30 rout of Watertown. Their lowest point total came in that one loss, 75-63, to Holy Cross, which leads the NVL as of mid-season. Teams WCA has beaten in its first eight games include Oxford, Torrington, Seymour, Crosby, Watertown, Kennedy and Woodland.

Battle is fearless as he attacks the basket.

   The second half of the season will tell a lot about the Spartans. They face Sacred Heart and Wilby twice, meet Holy Cross and Crosby again, take on St. Paul Academy, and have a tough non-league matchup against Weaver.

   WCA seems ready for the challenge, now that they have the opportunity to compete against the best area high school teams at the highest level. “We think we can go all the way this year,” said Battle.