After lurking in the background most of the season, the Archbishop Williams girls' basketball team will find itself front and center Saturday in Worcester, host site of this year's state finals.
This hardly seemed like the Bishops’ year at the beginning of the season. After all, they had lost 2006 Globe female Athlete of the Year, and 1,500-point scorer, Lauren Mahoney to graduation. What's more, both Cardinal Spellman and Arlington Catholic figured to be battling it out for supremacy in the Catholic Central Large conference.
That was precisely how it played out, too, in the regular season, as Williams was swept by both AC and Spellman. The second battle with the Cardinals was up for grabs though, spilling into double overtime before Spellman eventually prevailed, 60-59.
AC and Spellman split the league title, going 9-1, while the Bishops finished third at 6-4.They also had a brutal nonleague schedule, losing twice to LaSalle Academy in Rhode Island
“We had played in a lot of tough games,” said coach Jim Bancroft. “We didn’t come out on the winning end, so it allowed us to fly right under the radar.”
In fact, the basketball team that everyone was talking about in school was the Williams boys' squad, which had gone to the state semifinals last year and had several key players returning.
“We just used that as motivation,” said junior guard Christine Duffy. “We wanted to do better, especially after not having the season we wanted to have.”
That was to take nothing away from what they boys accomplished last year.
“I think maybe for the girls it served as motivation,” said Bancroft. “They wanted their due.”
That would have to wait until the state tournament. After winning the first two games, Williams again squared off with archrival Spellman, this time in the Division 3 South semifinals.
The Cardinals held a 16-10 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, but Williams closed out with a 23-6 run to lead 33-22 at the break. The lead grew to 16 early on in the second half, and the Bishops were able to withstand a furious rally by the Cardinals to win, 57-49, and advance.
“That was sort of our coming out party. We talked about it before the Spellman game,” said Bancroft. “We weren’t under the radar anymore.”
The Bishops have benefited from the arrival of junior forward Casey Capello, who transferred from Notre Dame Academy. The decision to go to Williams was an easy one for Capello.
“I wanted to go to a school where I might have a chance to play for a state championship,” said Capello.
There was also the opportunity to play with Duffy.
“We’ve been playing together since we were 10,” said Capello. “We’ve been on the same AAU teams, so that helped with the move over here.”
The two appear to be in sync on the court, seeming to know what the other is going to do at all times. They also pick up the slack for each other, as was the case in the Bishops’ win over Pentucket in the state semifinals at the TD BankNorth Garden earlier this week.
Duffy had been sick the night before with a stomach virus, but managed to battle through it, scoring five points and handing out three assists. Capello shouldered the offensive load, scoring 20 points. Junior guard Jill LaFond also played some point guard, filling in for Duffy. Freshman center Valerie Driscoll added 10 points, and was backed up by sophomore Alex Knowles.
“I really look at it like I have 10 fouls at the center position between Alex and Valerie,” said Bancroft. "We're lucky to have two good post players."
With such a young nucleus, it looks like the Bishops will be formidable again next year. Just don’t ask them about it.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” said Capello. “We’re on a roll right now. We’ve still got one more game.”