Six girls’ basketball teams will begin their quests for a state championship when the state tournament begins this week. League champions Mansfield (Div. 1 South) and Foxboro (Div. 2 South) both earned the top seed in their respective brackets, but neither will have an easy road with league rivals like Attleboro, Oliver Ames, and North Attleboro posing major threats to bringing home a trophy. Milford will also represent the league as the lone Hock team in Div. 2 Central.
As usual, Div. 1 South is a loaded bracket with some of the top programs in the state, including defending state champion Bishop Feehan and perennial powers Braintree and Newton North. Mansfield (18-2) earned the top seed in a coin flip with the Shamrocks, who beat the Hornets in an exclusion game during the regular season. More important than the seed, Mansfield will now avoid the Shamrocks, the Wamps, and the Tigers until the South final.
Led by senior guard Jen Peel and junior center Meg Hill, the Hornets like to slow the pace down and focus on strong defense, which held teams to a league-best 38.0 points per game. Mansfield is young this season, but deep and versatile and head coach Mike Redding’s squad should match up well against the teams on its side of the bracket, including potential semifinal opponents Wellesley or Marshfield (which Mansfield beat 52-47 in December).
In order for the Hornets to get to the semifinals, they may have to go through Kelley-Rex rival Attleboro (15-7), which claimed the No. 8 seed and will host Brockton (Attleboro beat the Boxers 63-55 in December). The Bombardiers have scuffled down the stretch, losing seven of its final 14 games of the regular season, but closed it out by putting 94 points up on Durfee in the season finale.
With seniors Sarah Deyo and Julia Strachan, Attleboro has a potent inside-out combo and has been one of the top offensive teams in the league this year, averaging a league-best 61.4 points per game. The issue for the Bombardiers will be trying to slow down Jen Peel and Mansfield in the quarterfinal, if they can get past a dangerous Brockton team in Tuesday’s playoff opener. Attleboro struggled in two losses to Mansfield in the regular season, but will be hoping third time is the charm to set up a potential rematch with Wellesley, which knocked the Bombardiers out of last year’s tournament.
Foxboro (18-2) has been on fire to close out the season, winning 12 in a row entering the playoffs, including a 20-point win over North Attleboro to claim the league title and an impressive overtime win over Lincoln-Sudbury in the end-of-season tournament. The Warriors will be led by league MVP Ashley Sampson, who scored 31 in that win over L-S and nailed a three-pointer that forced OT, but a strong supporting cast includes Lily Sykes and Grace Tamulionis. The scary part is that all three are juniors and will be back next winter as well.
The Warriors will not have an easy path in Div. 2 South, which is another loaded bracket, and will have to face one of the two finalists from 2016, either Hingham or Oliver Ames, in the quarterfinal and could potentially face the Rocketeers for a third time in the semifinal. Westwood, Nauset, and Falmouth, which knocked Foxboro out of the tournament last year, could wait in the sectional final.
Oliver Ames (13-7), the defending Div. 2 South champ, has had an up and down first season in the Kelley-Rex but managed to claim second in the division and is a sleeper to retain its South title. The Tigers will have a very difficult road to try and repeat with a trip to last year’s South finalist Hingham waiting in the first round and a potential meeting with Foxboro looming in the quarterfinal (the Warriors won the league meeting between the teams 51-35).
Kayla Raymond will be the focus of all of OA’s opponents, but trying to slow down the junior forward is easier said than done. If the Tigers can get support for Raymond from senior Niyera Mitchell and find consistent outside shooting, then OA will be a tough matchup. Losing sophomore guard Sadie Homer during the season and senior Francesca Calabraro prior to it has made things tougher but no one will take head coach Laney Clement-Holbrook’s team lightly.
North Attleboro (16-6) is another sleeper in Div. 2 South. Last year, the Rocketeers were knocked out in the first round by OA on a last second Raymond basket and could have made a similar run to the Tigers if they had made it through. This year, North comes in with six losses, but only one to a team in Div. 2 and that was the league final against Foxboro. Despite missing senior guard Ashley Ahern to injury, North earned an impressive come from behind win against Attleboro in the final week and has the potential to make a deep run this year.
The Rocketeers are loaded with experienced seniors, including forward Caroline Collard and guards Samantha Taggart and Emily Schromm, who have shown the ability to win close games against good teams this season. North beat Foxboro in the first meeting, beat Oliver Ames by one, and has also beaten potential tourney opponents Hingham and Westwood this year. North faces Madison Park to start and likely will face Duxbury in the quarterfinal to try and get a rubber match with Foxboro in the semifinal.
Milford (10-10) qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2012 and has shown immense progress in head coach T.J. Dolliver’s second season in charge. But, the Hawks have also struggled down the stretch, albeit against a tough stretch of league opponents including North Attleboro and Foxboro twice, OA, and Attleboro. The Hawks will be in Div. 2 Central and will likely face Marlboro in the playoff opener, which is a team similar to the Hawks that shoots a lot of threes and does not have a true post presence.
The Hawks will be counting on a big game from junior guard Kate Irwin, who has been among the league’s top scorers this season, but Milford has a lot of versatile players that can cause teams problems on the perimeter and in the paint, including senior Nicole Dahlgren. If the Hawks do get through the first round, then they will travel to No. 3 seed Groton-Dunstable and could face a couple of Eastern Mass. transplants in Hopkinton and Medfield.