Teams of the Decade #5: 2020 Franklin Girls Basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Team: Franklin girls basketball
Year: 2019-2020
Record: 25-0
2020 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2020 Division 1 State Champions


It may still have been the regular season and there was a lot of basketball standing between the teams and a trophy, but there was a distinct sense of anticipation when Franklin and Bridgewater-Raynham met up in the first round of the Comcast Classic at Woburn High. A lot of people in the stands were wondering if the Panthers, who had been widely-considered the top team in the state since preseason, were as good as advertised.

Franklin made a statement, leading from the opening tip and pulling out a comfortable 58-41 victory over the eventual Div. 1 South champion. It was a turning point, where the 2020 Franklin girls basketball team recognized that it could play at another level, one that even the top teams in the state would struggle against. It was a confidence boost that carried the Panthers to a second straight D1 Central crown, a perfect season, and the program’s first state championship.

“That’s when we started to realize, and that was in February, that maybe it’s even beyond what we originally thought,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “Some of the kids said they wanted to go undefeated from day one, and that’s a great goal, but seeing it become a reality is a different thing.”

Senior center Ali Brigham, who was named league MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year for the second season in a row, added, “We didn’t want the rankings to do the talking. We actually wanted to go out and do it ourselves. I think every single person, when we stepped on that court, and even days before when we knew we were playing B-R, it was time to lock in and play how Franklin basketball played. We did the talking in our play.”

While there was plenty of attention on Franklin coming into the season, after reaching the state semifinal the year before and with Brigham, a George Washington-commit, returning in the middle, the Panthers had some questions. Two starters from 2018-19, Shannon Gray and Bea Bondhus, graduated and it wasn’t obvious who would emerge as an offensive threat to take the pressure off Brigham.

Those questions were answered in the first week of play. Juniors Kaleigh Houlihan and Elizabeth Wilson added outside shooting, senior Megan O’Connell and sophomore Emma Sousa added athleticism and versatility at forward, and junior point guard Erin Quaile continued to be a rock on both ends of the court. Meanwhile sophomore Olivia Quinn scored 20-plus points in two of the first three games and became one of the league’s top players this season.

 

“It made me and Ali’s lives super easy,” said O’Connell. “Instead of trying to find people to step up and take those roles, people were gunning for them. Olivia Quinn is tremendous. No one worked harder than her in the offseason and that was clearly visible by all of her accomplishments.”

The Panthers dominated from game one. The only team that managed to keep it close against Franklin was Holy Name, which lost by four and by nine in the two regular season meetings. It seemed that Franklin could flip a switch and take over games on both ends of the court.

Against King Philip, the Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. On the road at title rival Oliver Ames, Brigham and Quinn combined for 37 points in the second half and they won by 30. Davenport (and D2) champion Foxboro was down by single digits in the fourth quarter until a 17-0 run broke the game wide open.

“To go undefeated, and any team that gets to do it will say the same thing, you just need that consistency that the players are able to bring,” Leighton explained. “You need to bring that every day and if you have kids who aren’t feeling well or working on an injury, it doesn’t matter. You need to bring that same level day.”

O’Connell said the team was aware of the rankings and the hype surrounding the team but added, “The coaches did a great job of keeping us level-headed and not letting that go to our heads. They said that means absolutely nothing unless you go out and show everyone that is true.”

The Comcast Tournament, which also included a 17-point win against D4 state champion Cathedral, came at the perfect time. Along with a one-point win against New Hampshire power Bishop Guertin, the Panthers closed out the regular season by overcoming tough challenges, a good warm-up for the state tournament and additional confidence for a team that was already riding high.

“There is a fake confidence, fake bravado,” said Leighton, “but then you have that real confidence when you look at each other in the huddle and you just know that we can come back and do what we need to do. You know you can get that look, you know you can make that stop, and you can count on the kid next to you to make that play.”

In the playoff opener, Brigham achieved an important personal milestone, solidifying her place in program history. With a free throw late in a big win against Framingham, she passed Kelly Meredith to become the school’s all-time leading scorer (male or female). She finished her career with 1,692 points (and also with a school record 1,276 rebounds).

“I wrote a letter to myself when I was in eighth grade to my 2020 self,” Brigham recalled. “My main goal was to make the varsity basketball team.”

“I’m just really glad that I was able to do it,” she continued. “I put in a lot of work, and especially having it be my last home game, which was pretty cool. It was almost like I wasn’t even the most excited in that video.”

Leighton said, “At no point was Ali worried about Ali this year and that tells you so much about her. She’s a program-changing player. The young kids at Franklin playing at halftime to high-five Ali Brigham, those kids are going to remember that. Her legacy will last a very long time here.”

King Philip coach Dan Nagle said, “Ali is a real issue (obviously) because she not only is bigger than any kid in our league, but she is incredibly skilled and unselfish. If you double her, she finds a wide open shooter. If you don’t double her, she scores easily with a wide variety of moves/finishes. She even hit a three against us this year and I know we weren’t alone. She is a ridiculous talent.”

In the Central semifinal, Franklin faced Holy Name for the third time and the first quarter did not go as planned. The Panthers were held to just six points in the first and looked out of sorts. “They knew everything you wanted to do,” said O’Connell. “They knew I was going to pump fake and go to the left and whatever. It was super frustrating for all of us and we just had to turn it around.”

Franklin closed the gap to one at halftime and then dominated the second half to win by 17. That momentum carried into the Central final, as the Panthers jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never looked back. Even when the offense was struggling, as it did in the third quarter against Natick, the defense locked opponents down and different players stepped up each night with key plays to get the win.

“I honestly think they were far and away the best team in the state this year,” Nagle said. “Even the very best teams could hang with them for a quarter or two, but eventually their size/talent, coupled with extremely organized and effective coaching, really separated them from the rest of the pack. It was a group of kids that from an opposing coach/onlooker’s perspective really understood and embraced their roles, and simply executed them to perfection night-in and night-out all season long.”

When the final horn sounded in the state semifinal win against Minnechaug, the celebrations were muted. It was clear from the players and coaches that reaching the final wasn’t the ultimate goal and there was still work to be done. Unfortunately, the following night it was announced that the final would be canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m so sad that it ended that way,” said O’Connell. “I was in my driveway and I was tagged in a Twitter post. I was like, holy crap, I would’ve stayed [at practice] all night if I had known they were going to cancel it.”

Brigham said, “The last practice we had we all got into a circle and were just talking about it. It was like an, ‘okay, we’ll see you tomorrow,’ thing. Driving home, I pulled into my garage and got the text that we’re not playing. We weren’t able to have that final goodbye together as a team, we still haven’t. It’s definitely unfortunate because we didn’t get to end it the way a team should.”

Weeks after that final practice, both players were able to reflect on the achievements of the season and the history that the team made this winter even if there is still disappointment about not having that moment in the spotlight. Brigham joked, “I’m really competitive so the fact that another team thinks they’re state champions too, that doesn’t go over very well with me.”

Leighton also took time to reflect on the perfect season and the first title in program history.

He said, “That banner will always be there and that’s a piece of history and they really bought into that. I don’t think it diminishes anything in the kids’ eyes. In the moment it did, it stunk, but now that you have a moment to step back and reflect and look at everything that happened, I’m so proud of them.

“Fairly quickly, the team attitude was obvious, how we were getting at it in practice, the maturity, our work approach. We saw that early, but seeing that you could be really good is different from winning every game or winning a state championship. It’s a whole different level.”






Click here to listen to the HockomockSports.com Franklin Girls Basketball Podcast on Spotify


Franklin girls basketball
Franklin girls basketball

Opponent
Result
MilfordW, 81-25
King PhilipW, 80-50
CantonW, 61-34
Holy NameW, 44-40
MansfieldW, 67-39
StoughtonW, 77-31
TauntonW, 66-18
North AttleboroW, 53-33
Oliver AmesW, 71-41 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 61-40 (Recap)
AttleboroW, 73-41
SharonW, 53-20
King PhilipW, 65-39
MansfieldW, 67-41
TauntonW, 79-36
Holy NameW, 52-43
Oliver AmesW, 76-30
AttleboroW, 64-26
Bridgewater-RaynhamW, 58-41 (Recap)
CathedralW, 73-56
Bishop Guertin (NH)W, 47-46
FraminghamW, 85-37
Holy NameW, 59-42 (Recap)
NatickW, 53-38 (Recap)
MinnechaugW, 55-43 (Recap)






Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball

Franklin girls basketball


Teams of the Decade #6: 2018 Foxboro Girls Basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Team: Foxboro girls basketball
Year: 2017-2018
Record: 26-2
2018 Davenport Division Champions
2018 Division 2 State Champions


Over the course of the 2017-18 season, the Foxboro girls basketball team had its first-ever perfect run through Hockomock League play. The Warriors twice won by more than 50 points, seven times by more than 40, four times by more than 30, and three other games were decided by more than 20. Only six games all season were decided by single digits.

However, the season wouldn’t be remembered for the blowouts, but rather for the comebacks. Foxboro rallied from 20 points down in the second half of the state semifinal and from 14 down in the final to reach the team’s lofty preseason expectations and secure the program’s first state title since 1995.

“The scrutiny was on us every game,” said head coach Lisa Downs, who earned her 100th career win that season. “The Hockomock League doesn’t always have easy games and we were expected to win all of them. The expectations were so high that it felt like there was a magnifying glass on you at all times.”

Expectations were sky high because the team was coming off a Div. 2 South title and brought back a core of four talented seniors, who had played together long before they got to high school. Guards Lily Sykes and Ashley Sampson, forward Grace Tamulionis, and center Shannon Smally had helped the Warriors get to a South final as freshmen and their final season together was supposed to be the culmination of it all.

It was also a motivated group, as the 2017 season ended with a disappointing loss at the TD Garden. Sykes said, “My whole senior year I remembered that game and it was just a sour taste in my mouth and we needed to get past the Garden.”

An overtime loss to eventual Div. 4 state champion Coyle-Cassidy opened the season, followed by a win against Mansfield, which reached the D1 South semifinal. Wins over Hopkinton and Coyle around Christmas gave the Warriors a boost of confidence and started to confirm the preseason hype.

 

In addition to the seniors, the rotation started to take shape with sophomore forward Abby Hassman giving the team energy and rebounding and freshman Katelyn Mollica making an instant impact on the program as the first player off the bench. Mollica averaged more than 10 points per game as a rookie and gave the team a spark in some of its biggest games.

“It was pretty cool because as much as we were the fearless leaders, I guess, Katelyn and Abby came into every game and gave as much as they could and they never seemed scared,” Sykes explained.

Downs added, “We had a lot of different pieces. We didn’t have a deep bench but the five or six that we put out there could go against anyone.”

Foxboro suffered a one-point loss at Hopkinton at the end of January. It turned out to be the final loss of the season.

The playoffs started in comfortable fashion, as the Warriors beat Milton and Stoughton by a combined 71 points, but Smally suffered an injury in the second round that would cost her the rest of the season. It forced a change to the rotation, thrusting Mollica into the starting lineup, and also added a new dynamic to the bench, as Smally became a vocal presence on the sidelines.

“I feel like we didn’t have that leader on the bench,” said Sykes. “Katelyn came off the bench but there wasn’t always someone there yelling and giving support and I think Shannon definitely amped it up.”

Silver Lake was beaten by 26 in the South semifinal and then the Warriors clinched a second straight sectional title by holding Nauset to just 24 points (on six made field goals) in the final. Experience at that stage and experience playing together was proving too much for opponents to handle.

“We’ve been playing together since we were in what, third or fourth grade?” Sykes remarked.
“So, like me and Ashley, whether it was me or her bringing the ball down, we knew that if we gave it up that we were going to go backdoor. That was our play, just give each other the head nod and it was game over.”

Weather had played its part during the playoff run, as the state semifinal was forced from the TD Garden to Woburn High. Snow storms and power outages made for an interesting lead into the game against North champ Pentucket.

“We ended up practicing at King Philip one of the days because our school didn’t have power,” said Hassman. “Obviously Lisa was focused on getting the practice time and staying in the routine because we couldn’t afford to take a day off right before a huge game.”

The semifinal was the most memorable game of that season. Pentucket jumped out to an early lead and led 29-14 at halftime. The lead stretched to as many as 20 points in the second half, but the Warriors never panicked. Changing to a 2-3 zone took away some of Pentucket’s driving lanes and Foxboro started to chip away at the lead.

“As much as man is our bread-and-butter at the time, the 2-3 with me and Katelyn up top really rattled them and once we could see the panic in their eyes, it was like oh my god this is definitely our game,” Sykes recalled.

“At halftime, we had a real heart-to-heart, and maybe a little yelling, and then the seniors definitely took it upon themselves to rally the troops,” said Downs. Each timeout I was saying just two or three points at time, get a stop and turn around and get a basket, and then we’ll just chip away. Our confidence started to grow and maybe Pentucket got a little tight with their game and then everything started to go our way.”

Sykes knocked down a pair of huge threes in the fourth quarter and her diving scramble to force a jump ball saved a final possession for Foxboro. Meanwhile, Sampson was showing why she was league MVP as a junior and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year that season. She scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including 19 of the team’s final 20 points and the tying layup in the final seconds to force OT.

“She was a coach’s dream,” Downs said of Sampson. “She’s a 5-foot-10 point guard who has the strength to post up. She was a really tough matchup for teams, so they wouldn’t know whether to put a guard on her that might be small or a forward on her that wouldn’t be quick enough.”

Sampson added 14 points in the extra frame and the Warriors walked away with an improbable 58-54 win. Downs said, “I’ll even watch every once in a while now and I still get goosebumps because it was just such an incredible game.”

Of course, getting to the final was only part of the goal. The Warriors needed to complete the job in their third meeting of the season with Hopkinton, this time at Springfield’s MassMutual Center. Like the semifinal, Foxboro needed to turn things around in the second half.

Hassman, who would go on to win a second state title as a senior this past winter, credited the seniors for providing the underclassmen with the confidence to perform even while trailing in a final. She explained, “ I was looking at them and seeing how they were going to deal with it and I just remember them not being affected by it all. In the locker room, they were just like, ‘We’ll change these things in the next half,’ and stayed focused and we weren’t flustered at all.

“Their focus and poise just really helped me not get flustered. Without them I would’ve crumbled a little bit.”

Behind a 32-14 second half run, sparked by the three seniors, the Warriors overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and secured the title with a 49-41 win.

“That was probably the most special moment I had in high school,” said Sykes. “Each year we just built more and more and more and it was finally our year and we finally got the job done. It was the most amazing experience ever.”

Downs added, “There’s pictures of me and I’m crying in every one because it’s just such an emotional thing. You’re holding your breath all season long, can we do it, can we do it, and then you can finally just breathe. That exhale as all of the emotions come through and you’re just so happy that these girls can remember this because they deserved it.”






Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro girls basketball

Opponent
Result
Coyle & CassidyL, 50-40 (OT)
MansfieldW, 43-37
King PhilipW, 65-21
FranklinW, 64-33 (Recap)
HopkintonW, 52-38
Coyle & CassidyW, 42-41
SharonW, 69-28
StoughtonW, 74-46
MilfordW, 67-47
CantonW, 79-34
North AttleboroW, 75-26
HopkintonL, 55-54
TauntonW, 85-27 (Recap)
Oliver AmesW, 61-39 (Recap)
AttleboroW, 67-37
SharonW, 72-30
StoughtonW, 74-19
MilfordW, 80-26
CantonW, 81-32
North AttleboroW, 66-41
HanoverW, 66-59 (Recap)
NatickW, 58-45
MiltonW, 64-30
StoughtonW, 75-38
Silver LakeW, 63-37 (Recap)
NausetW, 40-23 (Recap)
PentucketW, 58-54 (OT) (Recap)
HopkintonW, 49-41 (Recap)






Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball


Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball


Teams of the Decade #14: 2020 Foxboro Girls Basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Team: Foxboro Girls Basketball
Year: 2019-2020
Record: 24-2
2020 Davenport Division Champions
2020 Division 2 State Champions


Midway through the third quarter of the Div. 2 South final, Foxboro girls basketball trailed fourth-seed Hingham by 11 points and its chance of winning a third sectional title in four seasons was on the cusp of coming to an end at Taunton High’s Rabouin Field House.

Rather than imploding and allowing the game and a South title to get away from them, the Warriors recovered in style. After scoring 29 points in the first 19 minutes of the final, Foxboro scored 28 over the last 11 minutes and walked away with a dramatic victory that sealed a trip to the TD Garden and eventually the program’s second state title in three years.

It was the highlight of a run through the gauntlet that was D2 South and a clear representation of the growth in the team from 2019. The Warriors rallied together to avoid another disappointing playoff exit and give themselves an opportunity to play on the parquet.

“Our confidence and our experience definitely helped us a lot that game,” said senior forward Abby Hassman, who won three South titles in her four-year career. “We were struggling with fouls and I was on the bench for most of that game. Even when we were down, we didn’t panic and we just believed in each other.”

Head coach Lisa Downs added, “It was such a great win. You could feel it in the timeouts. There was no sense of panic, there was no frustration. It was more just this is what we need to do.”

Coming into the season, Foxboro was the clear favorite to win a fourth straight Davenport division title, but it wasn’t a given that the Warriors would challenge for a state title. There were early signs that this team had something special, including a 44-point win against Concord-Carlisle just after Christmas in which the Warriors led 27-0 after the first quarter and a win at Bishop Feehan in January.

 

“Once the season got going and we got our groove a little bit, we saw flashes of things that honestly if we had played against the 2018 team that we’d give them a game,” Downs explained. “We still hadn’t put together a complete, perfect game yet and if we did then not many people were going to be able to beat us.”

A pair of league losses in a two-week span in January may have been the turning point for the Warriors. After struggling at Oliver Ames, Foxboro lost at undefeated Franklin, but the 20-point final was no indication of how well the Warriors played. The Warriors were down by six in the fourth quarter when the Panthers put together a 17-0 run that broke the game open.

“Going into it, we knew they were going to be the toughest opponent all year and being within a possession or two throughout almost the whole game definitely made us realize how good of a team we are when we put our minds to it,” said Hassman.

It would be the last loss of the season. Foxboro rattled off 15 straight wins en route to the state title.

“That definitely was our turnaround game,” Downs said. “I think the team was able to see that this was a legit team and we were able to hang around with them.”

Foxboro relied on Katelyn Mollica (18.9 ppg) for the bulk of its offense, but the Warriors were far more than a one-player team. Senior Lizzy Davis (10.3 ppg) became a more consistent threat on the offensive end while matching up against the other team’s top perimeter players on defense. Seniors Yara Fawaz and Hassman crashed the boards and made big plays on both ends of the floor, and junior Jordyn Collins returned from a mid-season injury to provide smothering defense off the bench.

The biggest development that helped Foxboro turn the corner and become a more balanced team was the growth of senior center Shakirah Ketant. The Emmanuel College commit scored 10.5 points per game and was a double-double machine in the postseason, giving Foxboro a legitimate post presence.

“It was awesome just having a big man,” Hassman said. “It definitely made us more versatile as a team. Teams couldn’t just focus on one player and we had a lot of different threats.”

She added, “I think we all had different roles and I think we kind of just trusted each other. No one was really selfish that they took it upon themselves to do everything. Katelyn was obviously one of our main scorers but if she was having an off-night, any one of us could step up and I think we just had confidence in each other.”

Foxboro rolled to a league title and earned the two-seed in D2 South. After dispatching Dighton-Rehoboth, the Warriors hosted Pembroke in the second round. It was a rematch of the previous year’s semifinal that the Titans won easily. The Warriors got off to a slow start but turned it on in the second quarter and never looked back, winning 56-43.

Downs said, “I think the girls were just ready for it this year. I think that year of maturity under their belts, it showed. Everyone remembered that were there how horrible that felt and to live with that for a year and that was a really great win. I was really happy with how they dug in, played great defense, and did everything they needed to do offensively.”

Wins over Old Rochester and Hingham sent Foxboro to the TD Garden and for most of the players a once-in-a-lifetime experience. North Reading, which upset Pentucket in the North final, stood in the way of a trip to the final. A quick start and double-doubles from Ketant (16 points and 17 rebounds) and Hassman (10 points and 12 rebounds) turned the state semi into a comfortable win.

“That was a personal goal to get these girls to play on the Garden floor because most of the girls had never played there before,” Downs reflected. “To have that experience is like no other. They just didn’t seem nervous at all, whereas the 2017 team felt nervous, and I was too, because just stepping on that floor it’s kind of like an out-of-body experience.”

It was Foxboro’s first win at the Garden since 1995. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also clinched a state championship. Two days after the win against North Reading, the state final against West champion Taconic was canceled.

“Although it was super upsetting when we first found out that we couldn’t play,” Hassman admitted, “I think we all took a step back and realized that we came so much farther than we hoped and we accomplished all of our goals for the season, so everyone was really happy about that once we took a step back and looked at the whole season.”

Foxboro won by an average of 32 points per game this season, scoring just under 60 per night and allowing only 37. The Warriors won four times by more than 40 points and, in addition to its impressive D2 playoff run, beat four teams that made the D1 playoffs. Missing out on a chance to play a final doesn’t diminish how good Foxboro was this season.

“They just played so well together and they got along well and there’s always going to be bumps along the road but this team faced some adversity and just rectified it,” said Downs. “Every game there was someone else contributing.”






Foxboro girls basketball
Foxboro girls basketball

2019-2020 Foxboro Girls Basketball Schedule

Opponent
Result
MansfieldW, 65-34
TauntonW, 72-36
Concord-CarlisleW, 65-21
CantonW, 65-33
MilfordW, 86-14
Oliver AmesL, 54-39
StoughtonW, 79-39
AttleboroW, 65-44
SharonW, 66-24
Bishop FeehanW, 61-49
FranklinL, 61-40
North AttleboroW, 61-33
King PhilipW, 69-48
CantonW, 55-47
MilfordW, 44-17
StoughtonW, 67-31
SharonW, 51-28
WalpoleW, 59-52
North AttleboroW, 73-55
ScituateW, 60-48
Old RochesterW, 34-26
#15 Dighton-RehobothW, 54-27
#7 PembrokeW, 56-43
#3 Old RochesterW, 46-29
#4 HinghamW, 57-50
North Reading (State Semifinals)W, 52-35






Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball

Foxboro girls basketball


2020 Hockomock League Girls Basketball All Stars

Below are the official 2020 Hockomock League Girls Basketball All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.

Hockomock League MVP

Ali Brigham, Franklin

Hockomock League All Stars

Nyah Thomas, Attleboro
Kiara Cerruti, Canton
Sydney Gallery, Canton
Katelyn Mollica, Foxboro
Shakirah Ketant, Foxboro
Lizzy Davis, Foxboro
Ali Brigham, Franklin
Olivia Quinn, Franklin
Faye Veilleux, King Philip
Faith Roy, King Philip
Kayla Vine, Mansfield
Emma Lawrence, Milford
Amanda Kaiser, North Attleboro
Caroline Flynn, Oliver Ames
Caroline Peper, Oliver Ames
Shyanne Trinh, Stoughton
Kameron St. Pierre, Taunton

Honorable Mentions:
Meghan Gordon, Attleboro
Fay Gallery, Canton
Abby Hassman, Foxboro
Erin Quaile, Franklin
Brianna James, King Philip
Ashley Santos, Mansfield
Carly Ferreira, Milford
Regan Fein, North Attleboro
Meg Holleran, Oliver Ames
Kaitlyn Wallace, Sharon
Aliyah Wright, Stoughton

Sharon’s Cosgrove Named Coach of the Year at RIC

Jenna Cosgrove
Sharon alum Jenna Cosgrove instructs her Rhode Island College team in a game earlier this season against Roger Williams. (Courtesy Photo)

Josh PerryFollowJoshPerry


When Jenna Cosgrove took over the Rhode Island College program, the Anchorwomen had won only 19 games in the three previous seasons combined and had finished bottom of the Little East Conference with five wins in 2016-17. Three years later, RIC won 22 games (second-most in program history) and reached the conference championship game.

Cosgrove, who played basketball for four years at Sharon and then at Endicott College, was named the Little East Coach of the Year for bringing the RIC program back to the top of the league standings.

“It’s bittersweet right now because we just lost in the championship,” Cosgrove said in a phone conversation a few days after RIC’s 49-44 loss to Eastern Connecticut State in the conference title game. “In year three to take the team to the championship and receive an honor like this speaks volumes of the growing respect for the program.”

Despite 22 wins this winter, RIC just missed out on an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Cosgrove still saw a lot of growth for the program this season. She said, “I tell the kids we now should be a top 25 team. It raises the standards really high and it’s exciting for the program. I think our girls will be fired up next year to try and come back and win a championship.”

Coaching is a family trait. Cosgrove’s grandfather Jack helped found the Pop Warner football program in Sharon, coached several sports, and the middle school field was recently named in his honor. Her uncle Jack is the winningest football coach in University of Maine history and is still active as the head coach at Colby College.

Her interest in the profession led to a sports management degree at Endicott and shortly after graduating from college led to her taking jobs coaching AAU basketball at Mass Premier and as an assistant for Sharon coach Kate Horsmann.

At the age of just 23, Cosgrove got the opportunity to be an administrative assistant and support staff for the women’s basketball program at Fordham. “I jumped at it,” she explained. “It was a big leap of faith for me because obviously I was transitioning from Sharon to the Bronx at 23 and I didn’t know anybody.”

 

She traveled with the team, helped out at games and at practices, and, after the head coach left at the end of the season, was part of the interview process for new coach Stephanie Gaitley. The Rams had gone nearly two decades without a winning record but Gaitley turned the Rams into perennial league title contenders and had 20-plus wins in six of her first eight seasons in charge.

Cosgrove became an assistant coach after three years and eventually was named recruiting coordinator. After seven years in the Bronx, she took another leap and became the head coach at RIC. She took her experience and a lot of what she learned from Gaitley to help turn things around for the Anchorwomen.

“That journey being in New York, that really defined me as a coach and I learned from one of the best in the business at that level, but I spent a lot of time there and it got me to this job because I wanted to be back home, I wanted to be closer to family,” said Cosgrove. “It got me back to my roots and to be a head coach.”

She added, “I learned how to change culture from [Stephanie]. When she took over that program, we were at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 and within three years we won an A-10 championship. When I got here, we were at the bottom and I knew we would need to bring in good players, which we’ve done, but a big part of it is building culture and building confidence.”

The first season in charge was tough, but RIC doubled its win total in year two, finishing 18-9 and making it to the LEC semifinal. This year was even better, RIC finished at 22-5. Cosgrove admitted that there was a lot to learn in her first head coaching position.

“Jumping from being an assistant to head coach taught me more in that first year about myself, but it’s the most rewarding experience and I love being a head coach and I wouldn’t change anything,” she said.

Her time as a member of the support staff at Fordham and especially her time in recruiting prepared her for the challenges that coaches at the DIII level face. With much smaller staffs, DIII coaches have their hands in have aspect of the program and Cosgrove said it was a “competitive edge,” although in the end coaching is still about being able to work with and get the most out of a group of student-athletes.

“It’s about being able to really relate to the kids and to motivate the kids and really have that close relationship off the court,” Cosgrove said. “I was a good athlete but I don’t know if I ever really reached my potential. Part of my desire to coach is to instill that in other kids and get them to reach their potential and maximize their opportunity.”

“t’s the player connection. It’s being able to impact a player’s life. I look at my season ending and my two seniors and those kids are going to be in my life forever, in terms of being able to help impact and change their life.”

Being in charge of a DI program is a typical ambition for anyone in the coaching profession, but Cosgrove isn’t looking ahead.

“Right now, I just live in the moment,” she said. “I’m not done here. I want to win a championship. I think going from DI to DIII gives a lot of perspective, you hit a stage where you do really value balance and I think I’m in a really good spot right now.”

RIC will be happy to have her coming back, hungrier than ever after getting to the program’s first LEC final since 2014.

Franklin and Foxboro Girls Earn Respective State Titles

Franklin girls basketball Foxboro girls basketball 
Josh PerryFollowJoshPerry


Both the Franklin and Foxboro girls basketball team were practicing on Thursday evening when the news filtered through that both of their seasons had ended with a victory, although neither got the opportunity to complete their impressive seasons by taking the floor in a state championship game.

The MIAA announced early Thursday evening that it was canceling the state championship basketball games originally slated to be played on Saturday in Worcester out of concern for the COVID-19 pandemic. The six hockey state championship games scheduled for Sunday at the TD Garden were also canceled and the beginning of the spring season has been postponed for at least two weeks.

With the decision to cancel the finals, the teams that had reached this stage were declared co-champions. Foxboro will share the Div. 2 title with West champion Taconic, earning the Warriors a second state title in three seasons. Franklin finishes its season at 25-0 and will share the Div. 1 crown with North champion Andover, claiming the first state title in program history and widely regarded as the top team in the state.

For both teams, it is hard not feel the season’s end and the state titles were anti-climactic after the excitement of winning four or five tournament games.

“I got up at 3:30 this morning to start watching film because I didn’t know if we were going to be able to practice on Friday or if they were doing team stuff, there were just no details,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “So, I went from watching film in the middle of the night to my day job to practice and then I got the call. It was like, ‘what just happened?’ It just feels like a bad dream.”

Franklin coach John Leighton said, “They wanted to be able to get some closure and finish what they started and that will never come. They were frustrated, but they knew it might be coming. We practiced today more hopeful than optimistic.”

The players were understandably disappointed with the decision, although, as Leighton explained, there had been discussion about not having the finals for several days.

 

“One of the things we always talk about is ‘control what you can control’ and that’s usually fouls and effort but we talked about this all week too,” he said. “On Tuesday, the tournament director even came up to me and said, ‘Hope you get to play on Saturday.’ So we kind of had a hint that it might happen.”

Downs was grateful that her team was at least able to experience playing at the TD Garden, after being denied that chance because of a snowstorm during the 2018 state title season.

“I think it would’ve been so much worse if we hadn’t gotten to play at the Garden,” she said. “Yesterday I thought, okay we’re probably going to be playing in an empty gym, which sucks but at least they get to play the game. The girls don’t understand, you know, they’re 17-year-old kids. They’re just like, ‘They can take everyone’s temperature.’”

Franklin was start-to-finish the top-ranked team in the state. The Panthers made history last year by reaching the state semifinal, but came out this winter with renewed focus and raced through an unbeaten season, which included wins over D2 champion Foxboro, D1 South champion, Bridgewater-Raynham, and D4 champion Cathedral.

“We became really hard to beat,” said Leighton. “They were always hungry to get better Even last game, when we walked off the court they weren’t super happy. They knew it wasn’t their best game and they couldn’t wait to go play another.”

The state championship run was also the coronation of senior center Ali Brigham’s career with the Panthers. She finished as the top scorer in not only the program’s history, but the school’s history as well. Leighton credits the George Washington-commit with raising the profile of the program and making them into a perennial state power.

Leighton said, “She’s changed the program. The expectation of the kids who are going to come play basketball at Franklin has changed. She chose to stay all four years. That was selfless of her and her play this season was selfless. It says a lot about who she is as a kid.”

Foxboro finished the season 24-2 and on a 15-game win streak, which included a difficult run through the South sectional, knocking off Pembroke (which beat the Warriors in last year’s semifinal), Old Rochester, and Hingham. Defense was the key, as Foxboro allowed the second-fewest points per game in the league this season (37.6) and bettered that average in the playoffs (36.8).

“I don’t want everything ending so abruptly to overshadow that these girls were able to go 24-2,” said Downs. “From last year getting pummeled in the semifinal and having basically the same group of girls and getting progressively better throughout the course of the season. In postseason, you could see they were where you’d want a team to be. We had just so many pieces to the puzzle that we haven’t had in other years.”

Due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, neither Foxboro’s or Franklin’s season ended with the trophy and celebration at center court that typically follows winning a state championship, but both teams will be able to add another state title banner to their programs’ legacies.

Foxboro Wins Battle in Paint to Secure Spot in Final

Foxboro girls basketball Yara Fawaz
Foxboro senior Yara Fawaz dribbles past a North Reading defender in the second half at the TD Garden. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
Josh PerryFollowJoshPerry


BOSTON, Mass. – In 2018, on its way to a state title, a snowstorm kept Foxboro from playing the state semifinal at TD Garden. Instead, a dramatic comeback against Pentucket took place at Woburn High. On Wednesday night, the Warriors had another opportunity to reach the final and this time got to play under the Garden’s bright lights.

This time, there was none of the drama from 2018. Foxboro allowed only two points in the first quarter, led by double digits at halftime, and rolled to a 52-35 victory over North champion North Reading to reach the state championship game for the second time in three years.

“Honestly, for the most part, I was like these lights are really bright,” senior Shakirah Ketant joked about the experience of playing at the Garden. “There were a couple times where I went up for a rebound and was like, I can’t see anything, but overall it was a really good experience. The court was amazing and all our fans coming out, just a great feeling.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

While the lighting may have been different, it didn’t slow down Ketant, who recorded another double-double and dominated the paint on both ends of the floor. She finished with a game-high 16 points and 17 rebounds and added a pair of blocks, two assists, and two steals.

When asked about her strong play this postseason, Ketant replied with a smile, “How hard we work in practice and Coach [Brian] Brown just constantly being on us to be big, be big and us giving it our all going up strong for a board and going to the basket. We work on it every single day in practice, clearly it’s paying off.”

Foxboro got off to a perfect start, as Yara Fawaz (six points, three assists, and three steals), Katelyn Mollica (nine points) knocked down a jumper, and Ketant got two from an offensive rebound for a 6-0 lead. On the other end, the Warriors held North Reading scoreless for nearly six minutes.

 

“They have some quick guards, but we were able to keep some different girls, different legs on [Alexandria Grasso],” Foxboro coach Lisa Downs explained. “So many turnovers in that first quarter. I think it was just so much anxiety, get the kinks out a little bit on the Boston Garden floor. It all came back to defense because our shots were not going in tonight.”

After the Hornets finally got on the board, Lizzy Davis (five points, seven rebounds, and five assists) got to the rim for a pair and Ketant added two more with a basket off a Davis pass.

Leading 10-2, Foxboro got its offense going in the second quarter to build the lead to 12 by halftime. Mollica answered a North Reading three with one of her own and then found Fawaz for a bucket off an inbounds play. Ketant scored four points in the second and also assisted on a couple of mid-range jumpers for Abby Hassman (10 points and 12 rebounds).

“If it’s not falling on the outside, then we have to work inside then out and as we started working it inside they started doubling us down, packing the middle, and then we started kicking it out and started getting some open looks,” said Ketant.

It really felt like the Warriors could score at will in the post. “That was the plan,” said Downs. “Their guards were very aggressive, scrappy, so if we were able to get it in then we would try to use our size and our athleticism in the paint.”

The lead grew to as many as 21 points in the third quarter, as Foxboro continued to find holes in the North Reading defense. Hassman scored the first six points of the third for the Warriors, including a jumper after Fawaz grabbed an offensive rebound to keep a possession alive.

“That’s what she is so good at and I think she was just questioning herself in the first quarter,” Downs said of Hassman. “She wasn’t quite as smooth as she usually is. Once she got one in, I knew she’d find her rhythm.”

Davis buried a straightaway three, Jordyn Collins (six points) knocked down a short jumper, and Ketant added four more points (both baskets coming off Fawaz assists) to close out the quarter.

Foxboro led 44-24 heading into the fourth, but the Hornets wouldn’t go away easily. Lauren Sullivan (team-high 14 points) went on a personal 8-2 run, burying a pair of deep threes, and pulled North Reading within 14.

That would be as close as the North champs could get. Collins scored with a drive to the basket, Ketant grabbed yet another offensive rebound for two more, and Mollica capped the win with a layup in transition.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

“I think it was such a team effort,” Mollica said. “Everyone contributed on defense and offense and that’s huge. It helped us win the game.”

She added, “This whole season we’ve been saying make it to the Garden and let’s see what happens. We finally got here. It feels amazing to be back to have another shot at a state championship.”

Foxboro (24-2) will face Taconic, the West champion, in the state championship game on Saturday in Worcester at a time and location yet to be announced.