For three months this winter, Valerie Hoyle and her teammates on the Bridgewater-Raynham girls’ basketball team took the court day after day, week after week, with first-year coach Meg Driscoll .
The Trojans and their senior captain learned what high school athletics was all about — growing as athletes, growing as young women, growing together — and had some fun doing it.
But 19 times the Trojans tipped off against another team, and 19 times B-R walked off the court without a win.
Losing is hard, said Hoyle Monday night at the TD Garden, as she and a few of her teammates watched the Braintree High girls take on Central Catholic in the Division 1 state semifinals.
“But we still worked hard every day. Everyone worked so hard, and our losses, our record, didn’t show how hard we worked.”
Bridgewater-Raynham was one of two high school varsity girls’ basketball teams in the area to earn the undesirable distinction of a winless season, joining South Shore Voc-Tech in Hanover. (Milford, playing its first season in the Hockomock League, went 0-20. Blue Hills Regional, meanwhile, ran off 20 straight wins before falling to Greater New Bedford in the first round of the tournament).
But by all accounts, not all was lost.
Maddie Barron can attest to that. A forward at B-R, she nearly quit the sport she has played all her life; and with a one-win junior season fresh in her mind and a new coach, Driscoll, it would’ve been the easy way out.
Three others in her senior class made that decision.
But Barron didn’t quit. After consulting Hoyle, her parents, and a few teachers, the Bridgewater resident decided to come out for the team. And she is happy she did.
“It brought back my love for basketball,” she said of her final season. “It helped us grow as a team. Yeah, I’m moving on to new things next year, but I’m always going to have them to fall back on. And I wouldn’t do anything to change it.
“The record doesn’t show it, but this is the best season of my high school career.”
The season was particularly tough for Driscoll, who as a player was part of three Old Colony League championship teams before graduating from Bridgewater-Raynham in 2004.
Loss after loss — by an average of 15.7 points — wore on her, with a 36-35 Dec. 11 loss to Quincy sticking out in particular.
For Driscoll, who sees potential in a talented sophomore class, the players’ effort and consistently upbeat attitude benefited all.
“It is hard to go 10 games in and not have any wins, and the fact that they came to practice every day and still worked really hard — that says something about them and what they wanted to do,” Driscoll said. “Sometimes it’s hard not to hang your head after a game, but they came every day and they looked forward.
“They know I have a deep-rooted pride at B-R, and I wanted this to be about a family. Wins or losses, we were going to stick together. That’s one of the things I’m really proud of.”
It was a similar story line at South Shore Voke, where 10-year veteran Joe Marani is at the helm.
At one point in his his tenure, South Shore made the state tournament six times in seven years, but of late the program has fallen on harder times. The team is 0 for the last three years, racking up 56 straight losses.
“Nobody likes to go through this,” Marani said. “Nobody. Nobody. On the other hand, I think there’s a real sense of maturity that says, ‘Well, yeah, we can handle this. We have to figure out how to beat it.’ ”
The drought puts Marani in a tough position: He also serves as the school’s athletic director, so he is, in essence, his own boss.
“It’s been a challenge and it’s been unbelievable,” Marani said. “I often question, should I fire myself? Is it me that’s the issue? A change could spur good.”
But Marani, whose son, Matt, coached the Norwell girls to a 19-5 finish this season, is not about to give up.
He said interest in the program is better than it has ever been. He had a full varsity roster of 12 girls this season, and the school had a freshmen team the last two years.
There are also smaller signs of individual growth that are impossible to measure, but are what make showing up every day even more worth the the effort. Marani said his athletes often visit his classroom to talk about basketball and how they can improve.
One, junior Olivia Swiatek , was slated to split time between JV and varsity this season until her work ethic led to her starting for the varsity the entire season.
“She’ll come in and . . . she’ll say, ‘Coach, I’m working on this, I’m working on that. And I know what we have to do for next year,’ ” Marani said. “And she always has a smile on her face. It’s those types of things that you witness and you just say, ‘That’s fabulous.’ ”
Swiatek tries to spread her for-the-love-of-the-game mindset to her teammates.
“I hate people having a bad day and going onto the court with their head down,” the Rockland resident said. “People should be happy because they’re playing a sport they love, so why not have a smile on your face?”
Driscoll and Marani, varied in their coaching experiences, are in the same boat, reminding both themselves and their teams that winning isn’t everything.
“If I were seeing some real negative side effects, I would be responding differently. But I’m not really seeing any negative byproducts,” Marani said.
“These girls are getting from athletics what they’re supposed to get. They’re going to work hard and find a way to be better — and still enjoy it.”