Cheney steps down as Naugy girls basketball coach

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Naugatuck head coach Gail Cheney talks with her players during a timeout during a non-league game against Shepaug in January at Naugatuck High School. Cheney stepped down as coach of the Greyhounds in May. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — After three seasons leading the Naugatuck High School girls basketball team, Gail Cheney will hand over the reins to spend more time with her family.

Cheney resigned as girls head basketball coach effective May 28.

“I wish them nothing but the best. They are a great group of girls that are going to do some great things,” Cheney said. “I am sad to leave and the decision wasn’t made lightly, but at this point in time it was what was best for me and my family.”

Cheney and her husband, Mark, have two children, Madeline and Blake.

“Coach Cheney has young children and wanted to spend more time with them,” Naugatuck athletic director Gianni Perugini said. “She was a tremendous college and professional athlete before becoming a coach and she brought that experience to Naugatuck. The team developed a sense of competition and made a quick turnaround under her leadership. To focus on family and life outside of coaching, we respect that decision and wish her well.”

Perugini said last week interviews for the position would begin soon.

As Gail Strumpf, she led Masuk to a 99-3 record, a state championship, a state runner-up and four conference championships.

At Fairfield University, she was the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year as a freshman and Player of the Year as a senior.

Strumpf went on to play professionally overseas in Germany, and then for the Birmingham Power of the National Women’s Basketball League. She was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Cheney also coached at Woodland, Sacred Heart Academy, Fairfield and Oxford.

The Greyhounds went 51-19 in three seasons under Cheney. The team was 34-66 in the six years before she took over as coach.

“I think the biggest part was giving the girls the confidence they needed to succeed,” Cheney said. “I encouraged them to be aggressive and not worry about making mistakes and I would never tell them to stop shooting.”

With assistant coaches Karl Evangelista and Sean Dunn by Cheney’s side, the Greyhounds went 17-3 in the regular season in 2017-18 and reached the championship game of the Naugatuck Valley League tournament for the first time.

The next year, Naugy went 15-5 in the regular season, reached the NVL semifinals and won a state tournament game for the first time in 10 years.

Last season, Naugy finished 15-7 overall, losing in the first round of the NVL and state tournaments.

“I see this team having a lot of potential,” Cheney said. “I think they will be in good hands over the next few seasons and they are going to accomplish some good things ahead of them.”

“I know there are a few good candidates up for the position,” she added. “I can see whoever gets the position will do great job. I will miss it, but I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.