One could understand if Joel Geriak felt like he would never get the chance to have an experience like Friday night, when the first-year coach’s Wilton High School team landed one of the biggest blows of the early FCIAC season — yet arguably only the second ranking stunner of the evening — with a 67-46 win over unbeaten St. Joseph, which at the time was ranked No. 3 in the state writers’ poll.
Geriak had been an assistant for 12 years — the first 11 at New Canaan and last year with the Warriors — and was 0 for 4 in head coaching interviews before Wilton athletic director Christy Hayes hired him last summer to replace Tim Tallcouch, who took over at Newtown, where he teaches.
It is only human nature for Geriak to be carrying a chip on his shoulder, especially since the situations at some of the schools he spoke with grew worse after he was passed over.
With many of the same players that finished 11-11 a year ago and led the Warriors to the state playoffs for the first time since 2000, and even won an opening-round game, Geriak kept a positive attitude after the team opened this season with three straight losses.
“The good news was the kids were upbeat,” Geriak said. “We knew Westhill was a good team. The Ludlowe game, I had to take someone out of the game for a special reason. I’m not saying that decided the outcome, but it didn’t help.”
Ironically, Geriak’s first win came against Newtown. Tallcouch’s assistant is Jeff Bussey, who coached Geriak at Westhill and has been his mentor, especially during his time as New Canaan’s head coach.
“That game really helped,” Geriak said. “It was easy to keep the kids’ heads into it. With the win there it snowballed.”
Next up was a holiday upset of Kolbe Catherdral. Still, no one was braced for what happened Friday night. The outcome was stunning; the margin nothing short of shocking.
The Cadets scored just 2 points in the final quarter, while the Warriors, who likely will live and die by their 3-point shooting, made 10 of their 20 attempts behind the arc.
“Our game plan was we wanted to make them shoot from the outside, run our offense and make them work on defense,” Geriak said. “It worked to a T.”
Geriak said he received calls from long-time observers of the Warriors who said it was their biggest regular-season win ever.
“My concern is just to help the program be consistent night in and night out,” Geriak said.
Based on the early results in what is shaping up as one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory, there is no reason why Wilton can’t make a run at one of the final spots in the FCIAC Tournament. Eric Houska is leading the team with a 15-point average, but six players are averaging 6.5 points or more a game.
However it plays out, Geriak is happy to finally have the chance to run his own team. He will keep the “I-told-you-sos” to himself.
“It’s nice to prove to those who passed me over for whatever reasons there might have been that I can coach at this level and, not to say they made a bad choice, but they made a mistake not hiring me,” Geriak said.
Under normal circumstances, Wilton’s win over St. Joseph would be a candidate for upset of the year. Instead, it might not have been the upset of the night.
Minutes after the Warriors’ result started making the rounds, word came out of New Canaan that the Rams outscored unbeaten Bassick in the fourth quarter to come away with a 51-41 victory.
New Canaan’s personnel is not considered as strong as Wilton’s. But Andrew Read, a standout for the school’s football team, finished with 17 points, making 7 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Zach Allen, who emerged as one of the football team’s best defensive players as a sophomore, gives the Rams a presence inside and finished with 16 points.
The situations in New Canaan and Wilton are similar. The Rams finished 2-18 a year ago and had a bad experience with coach Mike Halley — one of the jobs Geriak lost out on — who left after one season.
New Canaan hired Mike Evans to take over the program, and like Geriak, he is considered one of the league’s bright young coaches.
Second, the Rams started out 0-5 before winning two straight games.
With more parity this year, and the top of the league down a notch or two from recent seasons, Friday’s results may end up not seeming as surprising in a few weeks.
The Starting 5
1. RIDGEFIELD (5-1): In picking the Starting 5, I go with the venerable football writer Peter King’s reasoning, imagining who would win a game between teams on a neutral court. Ridgefield at this time would be a slight favorite over Trinity Catholic.
2. TRINITY CATHOLIC (7-0): Lost on Friday night was the Crusaders’ impressive 29-point win at Staples.
3. ST. JOSEPH (6-1): I would imagine the Cadets’ practices the past few days were some of their hardest of the year.
4. BASSICK (6-1): Curious to see whether the loss to New Canaan was an aberration or the precursor to inconsistency.
5. NORWALK (6-1): The Bears have a big test tonight against a one-loss Westhill team.