With an 18-2 record, this was exactly the kind of year the Lincoln-Sudbury girls' basketball team was supposed to have.
As the team prepared for the 2006-07 season, hopes were high. The Warriors had finished the previous season at 21-2, winning the Dual County League crown and advancing to the Division 2 North sectional semifinals before bowing to top-seeded Masconomet.
With a plethora of talent returning, most notably senior center Carolyn Swords, the Warriors figured to be in the mix again this winter. This past weekend they repeated as champions in the Comcast tournament with a thrilling 51-47 win over Arlington Catholic. Whereas some teams wilt under the high expectations, L-S appears to have embraced them.
“Expectations are still high,” said third-year coach Liza Feldman, referring to the upcoming state tournament. “But those expectations are high for a lot of teams. I’m sure Masco has high expectations. A lot of teams in Division 2 North do. It’s a tough bracket.”
Essentially, the team decided to focus internally, rather than worry about what other teams were doing or where the prognosticators had them ranked in the preseason.
“We just want to control the things we can control,” said Feldman. “We worked on team building. We’ve faced tough situations where we needed to support each other and rise through adversity.”
Feldman was referring to the different challenges a team faces on the court, but earlier this season, the Lincoln-Sudbury basketball program and, the school as a whole, was faced with a situation that no one could’ve prepared for. On Friday, Jan. 19, freshman James Alenson was fatally stabbed by a fellow student at the school.
The Warriors actually had a bye that weekend, and were not scheduled to practice again until that following Sunday. As a long-time member of the L-S community, Feldman grieved on several levels.
This is her seventh year coaching in the program, having served as an assistant the previous four years before becoming head coach. She was also a student at L-S, graduating in 1996 before attending Amherst, where she played basketball and softball. Additionally, she was on the faculty up until this year before she left to work at a private school.
“As an alum and former faculty member, it was incredibly difficult,” said Feldman. “That first practice, there was a lot of talking. They were hurting. It was an emotional and confusing time for them. There were counselors at the school. They'd stop by just to make sure we were alright."
It soon became clear that this would not be a typical practice for the Warriors. It would serve as a catharsis for the squad, as the players soon realized they could lean on each other, just like they would need to on the hardwood. The following week L-S would face DCL rivals Acton-Boxboro and Westford in consecutive games.
"We had our two biggest league games right after that," said Feldman. "They really worked together and learned how to fight through."
The first game was extremely emotional, as the Warriors rolled to a 57-33 win over A-B. Next up was Westford, which had defeated L-S earlier in the season. The game would not be close though, as the Warriors jumped out to a big lead en route to a 61-40 win. The team has not lost since that first meeting with Westford.
"This has definitely been an emotional season," said Feldman. "We are fortunate to have such a special group of kids. The captains have been incredible. They have worked hard on making the team a true team."
Juniors Sarah Wetmore and Shatasia Kearse are both solid contributors, capable of playing in the post and hauling in rebounds. Seniors Elana Carlson and Brittany Phillips have provided valuable leadership. Phillips came up especially big in the second half of the championship game of the Comcast tourney, keeping the Warriors in the game as Swords, Wetmore and Kearse were all saddled with four fouls.
"We wanted to develop some depth," said Feldman. "We've been progressively getting better."
That talent has surrounded Swords, a Globe All-Scholastic who is headed for Boston College next fall. At 6 feet, 5 inches, Swords is a game-changer on defense. Driving through the lane to the hoop is not a good idea when Swords is in the paint, unless you like having a basketball rammed back down your throat. What shots she does not block, she still manages to alter significantly as teams struggle to simply shoot over her long arms.
Swords is equally effective on offense, with strong moves in the post, and a deft passing game. Teams are forced to pick their poison. Play her straight up, and she'll take it to the hoop. Double team her, and she'll pick you apart and find the open teammate for an easy layup. Watching her dish it off in the post will remind most NBA fans of Bill Walton, not that such a compliment resonates with Swords.
"I really don't watch a lot of basketball," said Swords. "I've learned from my high school coaches. They've played a huge role for me."
With the postseason upon them, the Warriors find themselves right where they want to be.
"We're very confident," said Swords. "We still have to work on a few things though."
Considering all that they overcome already, you can expect the Warriors to be ready when the pairings are announced Friday.