Just when Kim Palmer thought she was out, they pulled her back in.
Absent from the New Canaan High School girls basketball sidelines since stepping down in 2017, Palmer is back at the helm of the Rams.
Palmer—a Phys Ed teacher at NCHS and two-time FCIAC Coach of the Year—takes over for John Winchester, who departed last month after leading New Canaan to two consecutive CIAC playoff appearances in three seasons as head coach.
“I was actually in the gym teaching PE,” Palmer said. “We had a half-day, so classes were shortened and kids were just shooting baskets and I was shooting with them. Jay Egan came in and said ‘I think you should be coaching again’ as I was shooting a basket. And that led to the conversation.”
In her first stint as head coach of the Rams, Palmer won 70 games from 2009-10 to 2016-17. She will inherit a balanced, deep team that has a great chance to significantly up that career win total in 2021, despite losing six seniors to graduation.
“There is some talent here,” Palmer—who will be assisted by Chris Silvestri and Raquel Harrison—told NewCanaanite.com. “Even in the freshman and JV teams, there are some players there who have a bright future. I stepped into something unexpectedly, but it’s been great and I give credit to John. He’s done a good job with these girls and they’re looking for more and are ready to go.”
Leading the Rams will be a quartet of senior captains—Emma Gibbens, Quinn McKiernan, Cameron Murphy and Olivia West.
Gibbens adds a degree of physicality and athleticism in the Rams frontcourt while McKiernan brings a significant amount of game experience and offensive finesse with her. West and Murphy are guards who provide New Canaan depth and balance on the hardwood and leadership off of it.
“They are great captains,” Palmer said. “The rest of the team looks up to them, they put the team first and understand their roles. We have some good leadership which is a huge plus. We also have a lot of younger players who are eager to get out on the floor and make something happen. We had a scrimmage against Greenwich and I had the opportunity to get a lot of players in and I have nothing but good things to say. Everyone who went in had a positive impact.”
Junior Meghan Driscoll returns to run point for the Rams’ offense, which will look to feature McKiernan as well as sophomores Natalie Plosker and Lucia Crovatto, two of New Canaan’s more intriguing players. Both logged substantial minutes as freshmen and have worked hard to improve their game in the offseason.
“Natalie is a great athlete,” Palmer said. “I knew her from when she was younger in clinics and am really excited to work with her at the two-guard. Lucia is a game changer for us. She and Quinn are really going to be able to put the ball in hoop for us. She is a good kid and knows what she is doing in terms of what it takes to be an athlete. I’m excited about her. She can play post but also play some guard to get her and Emma in at the same time.”
Sophomore Ellie Gusitch is a guard who impressed Palmer in the preseason and can stretch out opposing defenses.
“Ellie is not afraid to shoot and she is a good shooter,” Palmer said. “When we had our scrimmage, she was the one who ignited the scoring for us. When she gets open she has great form and the ball is likely to go in.”
Sophomore transfer Maddie Donaldson also figures into Palmer’s plans in the front court.
“I’m really excited about her,” Palmer said. “She is a baller. She injured her ankle a few weeks ago but is on the mend. She knows the game. What is different now is that there are players that are basketball-first. That comes in waves in schools. When I was coaching before there were a lot of lacrosse players, which was great because they were excellent athletes. But now we have players whose main sport is basketball. That is the priority and it makes a big difference in the offseason.”
Senior Abby Van Dussen and juniors Anna Barnard, Faith Hibbert and Sophia Rwambuya are also in the mix for playing time.
“One of the things we talk about is what your role is and never being satisfied with your role. Everyone’s role is going to be different and for us to be successful you need to fulfill your role 100 percent but not be satisfied and keep working.”
New Canaan opens against Tuesday at Ludlowe. For Palmer, the excitement of an unfolding season is a familiar feeling.
“I forgot how much I missed coaching,” Palmer said. “Having an opportunity to step back in, for however long it will be, has been really nice. New Canaan is a unique community and when the opportunity came for me, you have to give back to the people who were so good to you. The girls have been great. They just come in ready to learn and basketball is important to them. You can tell by the way they show up early, the desire to learn and it’s been a lot of fun. We are appreciating every moment that we have together.”