For a few minutes each week, some local college athletes turn into celebrities and sign autographs.
On Sunday Dec. 2, after the Boston College women’s basketball team had polished off a 58-56 win over Rutgers — a towering group of athletes who qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year — BC players lined up to sign posters, magnetic schedules or whatever some elementary school-aged children presented.
Suddenly, a group of children intentionally skipped one player. It was the team’s leading scorer.
Three years removed from her playing days at Central Catholic, Katie Zenevitch was still the enemy to a few young girls from Andover.
“They go over to Nicole [Boudreau],” Zenevitch said. “But then they’re like, ‘Katie went to Central. We don’t like Central.’ ”
For two years, Boudreau, the record-setting point guard from Andover, and Zenevitch, the overpowering forward from Methuen who starred at Central Catholic, were enemies.
Andover and Central Catholic went back and forth sharing the top spot in Eastern Mass., with Central winning the Division 1 state title in 2009, Zenevitch’s junior year, and Boudreau’s Andover squad taking the next three.
Suddenly they are teammates.
They’re the only two Massachusetts natives on the BC roster. And together, they’re turning the Eagles into a team that looks poised for its first winning record in the Atlantic Coast Conference in nearly 10 years.
“There was so much apprehension, I guarantee, on both parts,” said BC coach Erik Johnson.
“You know how emotional sports are, especially high school sports. These are 16-, 17-year-old girls. Whoever is on the other team is the enemy.
“The minute they were in the same room, on the same team, that competitiveness turned into, ‘Oh you’re my teammate now.’ ”
Road to Heights
Boston College coaches had eyes on Zenevitch when she was in the eighth grade. But they hardly had to recruit her.
Sue Downer’s Central Catholic players are known for carrying BC bags and wearing maroon-and-gold sweatshirts. Mutually, it was an easy fit.
Johnson saw her in high school just once, when former Eagles assistant Geoff Lanier was doing some scouting.
“I would sit with Geoff, walk through the gym and say, ‘Who are we watching?’ ” Johnson said. “I remember him pointing her out, ‘Look at this kid right here.’ She was doing warm-ups and he said, ‘I know she doesn’t look like an ACC player, but hey, this kid is tough. She knows how to play.’ ”
That was the knock on Boudreau from multiple scouting reports that Johnson, and others, had seen. She didn’t “look like” an ACC player.
Boudreau scored 2,200 points at Andover, good for 11th all-time in state history for boys and girls. She won three straight state titles, leading the Golden Warriors to a 54-1 record her final two seasons.
Boudreau was widely considered among the best players in Massachusetts, yet she didn’t “look like” she was good enough for the ACC?
“This happens in New England a lot,” Johnson said. “People saying, ‘I don’t know if she can compete at that level.’
“But the people who know her game, they know she has the toughness, the swagger — you don’t have to look athletic, you just have to be good and be tough enough, and have enough poise to handle pressure.”
A will to win
“Nicole has always been so competitive,” said twin sister Danielle, who played with Nicole at Andover and is now studying at Boston University. “I’ve always been a little bit more girly. I hung out with my mom and loved family time. When Nicole was around, she’d be playing football or basketball or baseball in the yard.
“She’s never been a good loser. It’s in her blood. Luckily she never had to lose much. She’s always been a great talent.”
In four years at Andover, she lost nine games, winning 97, perhaps none bigger than the Division 1 North final in 2010.
Andover coach Jim Tildsley, and seemingly everyone, figured whoever won that one, between Andover and Central Catholic, would win the state title (he was correct).
Central trailed, 59-56, before Zenevitch went up for a layup attempt with 1.9 seconds left, made it, and got fouled.
Zenevitch hit her free throw to send the game to overtime.
On the opening possession of OT, Boudreau dribbled up the court and suddenly pulled up for a shot, about 3 feet behind the NBA 3-point line on the parquet floor at TD Garden.
She drained it and Andover held on for a 69-65 win.
“I remember how intense that was,” Zenevitch said. “That was the end of my high school career. Any time you play and lose your last high school game, it’s going to be hard.”
Ties that bind
Somehow, Zenevitch and Boudreau were assigned to be roommates this fall, in Boudreau’s freshman season and Zenevitch’s junior one at BC.
They were paired up again on an early-season trip to Seattle. Even the head coach was surprised how well that worked out. How could the two not hate each other?
“You’re not the only person who asked me that,” Zenevitch said. “I know Nicole gets these questions, too. We actually got really close. I call her my little freshman.”
“She’s funnier than I thought,” Boudreau said. “Obviously, she didn’t tell many jokes when I was playing against her in basketball.”
In a bizarre scene, Tildsley and Downer have even been spotted sitting next to each other at BC games.
And no one seems quite sure exactly how it happened, but there’s a strange chemistry between Zenevitch, the 6-foot-3-inch center, and Boudreau, the 5-11 point guard.
“My parents are saying the same thing,” Zenevitch said. “I don’t know what it is but we have a great connection on the floor. I think from practice, that communication, her telling me what I can do better, me helping her, telling her to take that shot — I don’t know where that came from.”
He might be biased, but Tildsley swears Boudreau is “the best player on the team.”
The Eagles, off to a 5-4 start this season, are 4-1 when Boudreau has at least eight field goal attempts. They’re 4-0 when she scores at least 13 points. And their two highest-scoring games, a 71-52 win over Holy Cross and a 68-40 win over Portland, have been the two games in which Boudreau has taken the most shots, combining to go 20 for 50 from the floor.
Tildsley thinks she needs to shoot more.
He think she fears disappointing her teammates. She wants to fit in. She wants to be the one to get everyone else involved.
“They certainly have a bond from the fact that they have some shared experiences,” Johnson said.
“I like that they both have a chip on their shoulder about New England. A lot of people say, ‘There isn’t enough talent in New England,’ and, ‘Boston College, they’re going to struggle in the ACC because they don’t have the athletes they have in North Carolina or Texas or Florida.
“Now you’ve got Nicole Boudreau and Katie Zenevitch with a chip on their shoulder. Let’s go show the ACC how we play.”