Defense may be key to title for top contenders
The adage that defense wins championships couldn’t ring more true for the top girls’ basketball teams in Divisions 3 and 4.
With the constant shuffling of lineups because of graduating seniors and transfers, teams always start with the basics. A successful season starts with a strong defense.
“It’s easier to gel on defense,” Manchester-Essex coach Lauren DuBois said. “You look for certain people to score on offense, but everyone has to play defense. So you get experience there.”
The top teams from Division 3 lost a lot of senior leadership and talent. So while they get the kinks worked out on offense, they will stress the importance of defense.
Pentucket, last year’s EMass Division 3 champion and winner of three of the past four North Division 3 titles, lost Cape Ann League co-Players of the Year Erin McNamara and Ashley Viselli. The two combined to average 30.6 points last year, a little more than the 60.3 points per game the team scored in total.
“Our staple was our defense,’’ Pentucket coach John McNamara said. “As long as we hold teams to fewer points than us, we don’t have to score as much.’’
A number varsity players who had supporting roles will be back. McNamara is expecting increased roles for starting center Vanessa Cahill and Cape Ann League All-Star Coley Viselli.
Archbishop Williams faces a similar issue. It has won the past four South Division 3 titles, but lost All-Scholastic Val Driscoll, who averaged 21.1 points. Still, five players return from last year’s varsity team, including starting sophomore guard Sara Ryan and juniors Mari Barry and Kayla Papazian.
“All the juniors have been on varsity since they were freshman,’’ coach Jim Bancroft said. “They’ve played under pressure before, so now it’s their turn to step up.’’
Taking Driscoll’s spot as the starting center will be freshman Olivia Conrad. Bancroft says the six-footer has good footwork and post moves for a freshman, but that she won’t be expected to replace Driscoll’s production, at least right away.
The competition will be extremely tight, but two teams stand out as the top contenders to dethrone the champs: St. Mary’s in the North and Coyle & Cassidy in the South.
Pentucket has knocked out St. Mary’s in the playoffs the last two seasons, including last year in the semifinals. The Spartans, however, lost only one player from last year and return their top three players, all seniors. Point guard Kirsten Ferrari and forwards Cassi Amenta and Tori Faieta will lead the charge.
“We think we have a great group of seniors. They’re excellent basketball players and leaders,” coach and athletic director Jeff Newhall said. “It’s going to start with them in practice, but I think they’re up to it.”
Coyle & Cassidy also lost only one player from last year’s semifinal team, and return their top three players. Guard Brenna Gonsalves, already the girls’ scoring leader in school history, will be back for another season as is 6-foot junior forward Tricia Quinn and senior point guard Kelsey Dermody.
The Central Catholic League, specifically Division 1, will be extremely difficult to navigate. Joining Archbishop Williams and St. Mary’s in the hunt will be Division 3 contenders Bishop Fenwick, Cardinal Spellman and Arlington Catholic.
Bishop Fenwick has four-year varsity guard Amy Pelletier for one last season and many consider her to be one of if not the best guard in the Division.
“She just gets better every year,” Crusaders head coach Tim Harrington said. “She’s a great teammate who loves to share the ball. She’s a team leader.”
Stoneham, North Reading and Ipswich—led by senior Hannah O’Flynn—should also be in the mix.
In Division 4, Cohasset, the only undefeated team in Eastern Mass. last season, is favored to win it all again.
The team brings back five players, including starters Carli Haggerty, Lindsey Davis and Rachel Fredey.
“We’re really working on our defense, which we want to generate a lot of offense from,” head coach John Levangie said. “We need to keep up the pressure. … Our program is a lot of intensity and a lot of running. We’ll be running an up-beat, fast-break style offense.”
Last year’s North Division 4 champion Manchester-Essex lost four of five starters, but the team still features eight seniors. DuBois said that they are a little undermanned in the early going however, with two players currently out because of knee injuries.
Ashland, Georgetown and Millis will also be strong competitors.