NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – It was senior night for North Attleboro on Tuesday night against Miflord, but the Rocketeers turned to a couple of underclassmen to lead the way. Freshman Amanda Kaiser scored a career-high 14 points (all in the first half) and junior Julia Feid scored a game-high 17 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, to pace North.
Senior Julia Santos also chipped in with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Rocketeers to propel North to a 55-45 victory over the Hawks in the Kenneth Pickering Gym.
“I thought the underclassmen played really well,” said North Attleboro coach Derek Herber. “They wanted to do it for the seniors.”
He added, “I know they’re a little shorthanded and that’s the problem with this league. On any given night…You go on the road on a Tuesday night, unfortunately you’re going to get a game where you might not have your best stuff and then Feid hits those two runners and free throws down the stretch, we pull it out.”
Milford was missing players to injury and school trips and star point guard Kate Irwin was only just back from missing two games to an injury as well, but the Hawks were able to take a 12-11 lead after one quarter.
North picked it up in the second by turning to Kaiser. Feid (five assists) kicked it out to the freshman in the corner for a three and an 18-15 lead, she added a layup in transition (after a Feid pass over the top of the defense), and then she knocked down step-back three in the corner that put North up 26-19.
“We’ve been trying to tell her, she’s got the green light,” said Herber of Kaiser. “She doesn’t lack for confidence and she did very well tonight.”
Feid also knocked down a pair of threes in the second, as North caught fire from the outside. Milford kept it close by hitting from the outside as well. Julie Rabinowitz (12 points) buried a pair from beyond the arc and Irwin (team-high 15 points) hit one, but the Hawks went into the break down 29-22.
“We didn’t finish around the rim at all,” said Miflord coach T.J. Dolliver. “There were a lot of close shots right around the rim, contested here or there, but we just couldn’t finish. Defensively, we just had too many breakdowns.”
Things got worse for the Hawks in the second half, as North scored the first seven points in the third and extended the lead to as many as 14. Senior Emily Haskell hit a three and assisted on a bucket by classmate Santos.
Milford started to climb back in by going inside to Gillian Valanzola, who scored with a post move on the left block. The senior played almost every minute of the game and finished with, six points, 12 rebounds, and nine blocks trying to control the paint.
“We ask a lot of her to play that many minutes because it’s hard for a big to play that many minutes,” Dolliver explained, “but with the injury to Juliana [Tracy] we needed her to.” When it was mentioned that Valanzola stepped up when Milford needed it, Dolliver replied, “She definitely did. I knew that she would.”
Emily Piergustavo (11 points) knocked down a three and Rabinowitz added her third shot from beyond the arc and suddenly Milford was back in it, down just six heading to the fourth.
Irwin started the fourth quarter with a three to cut the lead in half. While it got the senior to 10 points on the night, Herber credited sophomore Olivia Forbes for making it difficult for Irwin and the interior defenders for holding their own in the paint.
“We said, she’s going to get her points, we’ve got to contain her,” he said. “The first time, we doubled down because we were afraid of the inside and they’ve got some kids who can shoot. Santos and [Eliza] Dion and everyone we mixed in there was able to take care of the inside and keep us in it.”
Sophomore Julia Kleczkowski answered Irwin with a three of her own (her only points on the night) and then Feid got going. She scored off the glass in transition off a Haskell assist and then drove the ball to the basket and finished to make it 48-40.
Irwin snagged a long rebound and banked in a three to keep it a five-point game with time running out but Feid went 4-for-4 from the line in the final minute to seal the win.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” said Dolliver about working with a short bench. “I knew they were an improved team and I told the girls that before the game and yesterday at practice as well. There were a lot of things that went wrong for us tonight.”
North Attleboro (4-13, 3-12) will try close out league play with a win on Friday against league champion Foxboro. Milford (11-8, 7-8) will close out the regular season against Sharon as it tries to build momentum for the playoffs.
MILFORD, Mass. – Heading into halftime of Tuesday night’s game at Milford High, the Hawks seemed on the verge of an upset over Kelley-Rex division leader Mansfield, but a collision in the final minute of the second quarter proved to be the game’s decisive moment and sparked a big second half comeback for the Hornets.
Senior point guard Kate Irwin, who had been held to five points and two assists in the first half, but who drew most of the attention from the Mansfield defense, collided with Mady Bendanillo and landed hard. Irwin could not return and the Hornets were able to take advantage.
Mansfield ran off 22 unanswered points in the third quarter to not only take the lead but also take control of the game on the way to a 53-40 victory that keeps the Hornets in front by two games in the league standings.
“This is a game that defines how good Kate Irwin is,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “They’ve got a really good team but she’s the engine that makes it go. They had us on the ropes and we were going to be in deep trouble to get a win out of here with her in for a full game. She’s an MVP-caliber type player.”
With the Hornets mixing things up on defense and keying on Irwin, trying to keep the ball out of her hands, other Milford players needed to step up. Juliana Tracy scored all five of her points in the first, knocking down a three and scoring on a rebound, and Jess Tomaso drove to the hoop for two.
Mansfield would hold a 14-10 lead after the first thanks to senior center Meg Hill (17 points and 10 rebounds). She scored the Hornets’ first six points and, as the Hawks sank down on the paint, Emily Vigeant and Ann Maher (six points) drilled threes.
In the second quarter, Milford made the Hornets pay for giving so much attention to Irwin. After a jumper by Maggie Danehy (eight points and 10 rebounds) put Mansfield up by seven, the Hawks started to click.
Piergustavo knocked down a pull-up jumper, Gillian Valanzola drove to the basket for two points, and Julie Rabinowitz drilled a three to cut the lead to two. Piergustavo nailed her second three of the game to give Milford its first lead at 23-22, as part of a 13-0 run to close the half. Valanzola got free on another drive and Irwin caught Mansfield with a back cut and layup and Piergustavo closed the quarter with another three.
“I think we got got good looks,” said Milford coach T.J. Dolliver. “We have the players to step up and make those shots. We’ve expected defenses to take away Kate, but we don’t really plan for it and we don’t really practice it too much because we have the pieces that we need to be a complete basketball team.”
Coming out of halftime, Irwin was forced to the bench holding an ice pack and the Hawks never recovered. Mansfield turned things around, locking down on defense and shutting out Milford in the quarter, while finally getting the offense in gear.
Maher hit a three to cut the lead to a single point and then the Hornets took back the lead after Vigeant tracked down a rebound and assisted on a Hill basket. Bendanillo added four points in the third and Sydney Mulkern came off the bench to score nine points on three shots from beyond the arc to push the lead to 14 (44-30) heading into the fourth.
“Not many kids can come off the bench and first shot bury the three but she’s cool and calm and she’s got confidence in her shot,” said Redding of Mulkern. “She gives us a really good defender. She’s quick, long and defends really well.”
He added, “We played a great third quarter. Obviously, it helped not having to defend Kate but we also woke up on offense, started passing it well, and making some shots.”
The Hawks struggled without their point guard in the third, but Dolliver credited his team for not allowing the game to get out-of-hand and pushing back in the fourth.
“When Kate goes down and can’t enter the game again, the team is in shock a little bit,” he explained. “It takes a little while to get over that as an athlete, but I still thought we played well in the second half. There were the first five minutes or so where we were stagnant offensively, and defensively, and it’s a matter of picking yourself up and starting to play better.”
Milford cut the lead to 12, but Danehy scored on an offensive rebound and Hill drained a jumper. Rabinowitz nailed her second three and Tomaso (six points) scored with a baseline drive, before Piergustavo (14 points) ended with her fourth three.
“People are going to look at the box score and say, oh Milford lost by 13, but that’s not the story of the game,” said Dolliver. “I’m very proud of the way we played and we’re just trying to get ready for the playoffs.”
Redding had a similar thought after the final whistle. He admitted, “We’re lucky to get out of here. Stoughton did us a favor and we almost gave it back tonight. I told the girls, from here on in everyone’s out to knock us off. We have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Mansfield (12-4, 10-1) will get back into division play on Friday when it hosts Taunton. Milford (10-5, 6-5) will try to hold onto second in the Davenport when it faces Stoughton.
MILFORD, Mass. – Holding onto a seven-point lead with a little more than a minute remaining in Tuesday night’s game against Davenport division rival Canton, Milford moved the ball around the perimeter to run clock. Despite the pressure from the Canton guards, the Hawks were able to keep the ball moving until it got to senior guard Kate Irwin on the left wing.
The lefty point guard took two hard dribbles to get space and pulled up from just inside the three-point line. Irwin got a clean look and hit nothing but net on the last of her game-high 26 points, 17 of which came in the second half.
Irwin’s jumper effectively sealed a 49-38 victory for the Hawks, who move into a tie with the Bulldogs for second place in the division ahead of the visit of league leading Foxboro on Friday.
“We played that to perfection,” said Milford coach T.J. Dolliver of the team’s penultimate possession. “I’m happy to see that because when we played Stoughton we didn’t handle the end of game situation well and that bucket there is the difference in the game. We ran 25 seconds off and made a bucket.”
Irwin had only two points in the first quarter, as Canton junior Maggie Connolly made her work for every shot. The imposing figures of 6-foot-3 Erin Devine and 6-foot-1 Hannah Jerrier in the paint also made it difficult to find good looks at the rim.
Senior guard Emily Piergustavo picked up the slack for the Hawks in the first with seven of her nine points, including a a three and a basket from an offensive rebound. Devine led the Bulldogs with four and it was a three-point edge for the Hawks heading to the second.
That was when Irwin started to catch fire. She opened the second with a traditional three-point play off a steal, scored off a Piergustavo offensive rebound and assist and then got another steal and transition basket.
“Getting to the hoop in the half court was going to be difficult,” said Dolliver about his team’s desire to run at every opportunity, “so luckily we got our good looks in transition and we were getting to the hoop.”
Canton continued to keep the game close, despite only getting four points from Jerrier. The team’s leading scorer was blanketed by Milford’s 2-3 zone with all of the Hawks making sure to know where the senior was at all times. The zone opened up opportunities from the outside and junior guard Julia Hamilton (nine points) made a pair of threes, the second of which tied the score at 24-24 in the third quarter.
“We get into a lot of situations where we defer to the bigs because they’re talented and it’s part of our game plan to utilize them, so it’s nice to have Julia do one of the things she’s good at and help our team get us ahead in that area,” said Canton coach Jim Choquette.
Jerrier (10 points and 11 rebounds) scored off a Connolly assist to give the Bulldogs a 26-24 lead, but Milford went on a 9-2 run to finish the third with a five-point advantage. Irwin scored eight of those final nine points, hitting a pair of pull-up jumpers and scoring twice off of steals.
“She always makes the difference,” said Dolliver of Irwin. “She’s a tough kid too. I get on her now and then and she handles it well.”
The game remained tight in the fourth quarter. Jerrier scored on a putback to start the fourth, but Gillian Valanzola scored off an Irwin assist to answer. Hamilton got the ball into Devine for a basket at the rim and, after Jess Tomaso scored to push the lead back to four, Molly Ludwig scored off another Hamilton assist to make it 37-35.
Again, the Hawks were able to close a quarter strongly. Kate Lobisser rattled in her only basket of the night to get the run started and Irwin added three more with a finish, plus the contact, following a steal. After the teams traded a series of free throws, Irwin got open in the corner and hit the dagger jumper to ensure the win.
“We didn’t execute enough to win,” admitted Choquette. “You have to give credit to Milford…at the end of the day, they just made more of those little things that they had to right. The score’s not as close as the game was, but in a close game it comes down to the team that makes the extra play.”
Milford’s ability to compete with Canton’s size on the glass was also a factor in limiting the Bulldog’s offense. Tomaso and Valanzola each finished with six rebounds, while Irwin and Juliana Tracy each finished with five.
Dolliver explained, “I don’t know how many offensive rebounds they had but they had their fair share and they’re going to get their fair share in every game, but that was a point of emphasis before the game because that’s where a lot of their points come from.”
Milford (5-2, 3-2) will host league leading Foxboro on Friday night. Canton (4-2, 3-2) will be back home on Friday to face Sharon.
Attleboro, 61 vs. Bishop Feehan, 48 – Final – Attleboro had six players scored eight or more points, and used a mini-run in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Shamrocks. Up 49-42, the Bombardiers put together a six-point surge that put the game away with just over two minutes to play. Sophomore Bryant Ciccio had a team-high 15 points while classmate Qualeem Charles had eight points and 17 rebounds. Junior Dom Victor added 12 points and eight rebounds, senior Nate Douglas and junior Mason Houle each scored nine points and senior Elvin Sam chipped in with eight points.
Foxboro, 48 vs. Shaler Area (PA), 37 – Final – Foxboro limited Shaler Area to just 14 points in the first half and just 25 points through three quarters to win its bracket in the KSA Holiday Tournament at Disney. Senior Joe Morrison dropped a team-high 14 points and was named tournament MVP. Bobby Harrison added eight points and sophomore Ryan Hughes chipped in with seven points in the win.
King Philip, 48 vs. Braintree, 66 – Final
North Attleboro, 64 @ Lincoln-Sudbury, 59 – Final – North Attleboro saw its eight-point lead shrink down to just three with 20 seconds to play, but junior guard Josh Montague hit a pair of free throws to tie a career-high with 25 points, helping the Rocketeers win the Warrior Winter Slam championship game. North led 34-27 at the half and 46-38 heading into the final quarter. Montague earned tournament MVP honors while Chad Peterson (14 points) and junior Jake Petersen (six points) were named to the all-tournament team.
Attleboro, 26 @ Bishop Feehan, 54 – Final
Milford, 55 @ Hopedale, 27 – Final – Kate Irwin scored 15 points and had five assists for the Hawks, who picked up a big win over their neighbors. Jess Tomaso scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds and Gillian Valanzola had nine points and 13 boards for Milford.
North Attleboro, 30 vs. Westwood, 28 – Final – Julia Feid was the top scorer for the Rocketeers with 14 points to lead North to its first victory of the season.
Foxboro, 3 @ Saint John Paul II, 1 – Final
Franklin, 2 vs. Bishop Guertin, 1 – Final
Lowell Holiday Tournament (Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Stoughton) – Franklin had the best showing among Hock teams, placing seventh overall with 112.5 points. Jordan Carlucci (126) placed fifth overall and TJ Remillard (132) took seventh in his bracket. For Foxboro, senior Phil Dure was eighth overall in the 126 bracket and the Warriors earned 64 points. Canton earned 50 points and Stoughton had 31 points.
Stoughton, 57 @ Attleboro, 72 – Final – Attleboro turned a one-point lead after one (17-16) into a 12-point gap by halftime (38-26) and never looked back against the visiting Black Knights. The Bombardiers shot 11-for-19 from three-point range (58%) with junior Mason Houle hitting five, netting a career-high 19 points. Sophomore Qualeem Charles also had a career night, netting a personal best 21 point while hauling in 18 rebounds. Junior Dom Victor added 10 points for Attleboro, who led 52-43 after three quarters. Stoughton senior Cam Andrews notched a team-high 17 points while Colin Sanda produced 13 points for the visitors.
Canton, 59 @ Mansfield, 67 – Final – Canton took a one-point lead after the first quarter, and a three-point lead into the fourth but Mansfield outscored the visitors 23-12 in the final frame to pull out the win. Mansfield opened the fourth quarter on a 13-4 run to create the separation. Senior John McCoy (10 rebounds) led the way for the Hornets with a career-high 22 points while Damani Scott dropped a career-high 13 points along with 12 rebounds. Canton’s Tony Harris scored a career-high 23 points with 11 rebounds while junior Devin Foster added 13 points.
Foxboro, 57 @ King Philip, 48 – Final – Foxboro senior Joe Morrison played the role of run stopper, draining a key three-pointer with just over a minute to play to help the Warriors survive a comeback attempt from King Philip. Foxboro built a 46-29 lead with just over a minute to play in the third quarter before KP put together a comeback over the next eight minutes. KP outscored Foxboro 16-5 during the stretch, closing the gap to just five (50-45) before Morrison buried the big shot. Morrison finished with a game-high 20 points, sophomore Brandon Borde added a career-high 15 points and Bobby Harrison added a career-best 10 points for Foxboro. King Philip senior Pharoah Davis led the hosts with 16 points, Brendan King added 11 points and junior Kyle Layman chipped in with 10 points.
Milford, 36 @ Franklin, 55 – Final – Franklin sophomore Chris Edgehill exploded for a career-high 28 points, helping the Panthers race past Milford. Franklin built a double-digit lead in the first quarter and kept a comfortable cushion the rest of the way, leading 34-21 at the break. Junior Jalen Samuels added 10 points and eight rebounds in the win for Franklin. Andrew Fraioli led Milford with eight points.
North Attleboro, 51 @ Taunton, 72 – Final – Taunton’s offense scored 20 or more points in two quarters and had 11 different players find the scoresheet in a win over North Attleboro, who was playing its season opener. The Tigers raced out to a 22-10 lead after the first quarter with sophomore Dante Law scoring seven of his team-high 18 points and junior Lou Vendrell netting six of his eight points in the frame. North junior Josh Montague scored 18 of his career-high 25 points between the second and third quarters. Taunton junior John Martins added 10 points while senior Lens Esquil added nine and sophomore Prince Brown chipped in with eight points.
Attleboro, 46 @ Stoughton, 43 – Final – The Bombardiers rallied from eight points down in the final quarter by outscoring the Black Knights 19-8 in the fourth to earn Marty Crowley’s first win at Attleboro. Abby Struminski hit a go-ahead three to put Attleboro in front and Jordyn Lako and Sam Pierce hit free throws to seal the victory. Pierce was Attleboro’s top scorer with 16 and Nyah Thomas added 11. Aliyah Wright led Stoughton with 15 points while Jordan Motley had eight points and 17 rebounds.
Mansfield, 67 @ Canton, 35 – Final – Mansfield bounced back from a loss to Foxboro with a road win at Canton. Mady Bendanillo and Meg Hill were the top scorers for the Hornets, each with 13 points.
King Philip, 21 @ Foxboro, 65 – FinalLily Sykes scored 21 points and Ashley Sampson had 14 to lead Foxboro to a second straight victory in the league. Abby Hassman also chipped in with 14 rebounds in the win.
Franklin, 58 @ Milford, 47 – Final – Three players scored in double digits, as Franklin improved to 3-0 on the season. Bea Bondhus scored 19 points, Megan O’Connell scored 17 and Ali Brigham had 10 points for the Panthers. Gillian Valanzola was Milford’s top scorer with 13 points.
Taunton, 50 @ North Attleboro, 29 – Final – The Tigers made it three wins from three games with a road win at North. Mackenzie Handrahan led Taunton with 17 points and nine rebounds and Lily Patneaude added 11 points in the victory. Julia Santos was the top scorer for North with nine points.
Oliver Ames, 54 @ Sharon, 27 – Final – Oliver Ames’ defense limited the Eagles to just 12 points at halftime, building a double-digit lead and never looking back. OA senior Kayla Raymond recorded a game-high 13 points while junior Alex Sheldon added 12 points for the Tigers in the win. Ally Brown scored eight points to lead the Eagles.
The Bombardiers enter the season with a new coaching staff and a very different starting lineup to the one that nearly knocked off Mansfield in the Div. 1 South playoffs last season. Former King Philip coach Marty Crowley has taken over after Rick Patch stepped down in the off-season and he will have only a few returning varsity players to call on this winter.
Senior forward Sam Pierce will be the key piece on offense, as Attleboro tries to replace the more than 30 points per game that was lost with the graduation of Sarah Deyo and Julia Strachan. Pierce has been a consistent scorer and rebounder for the past few seasons, but this will be the first time that she is the primary offensive weapon and could be poised for a breakout year. Junior Jordyn Lako and senior Grace Mayer are strong on-the-ball defenders and should help Crowley implement his high-pressure defensive scheme. Senior Kim White will also be one of Attleboro’s ball-handlers in the backcourt.
One of the players who saw a little time on varsity last season that is expected to make a big jump is sophomore Nyah Thomas, who has the length to be a tough defender and showed in her few appearances last year that she can rebound and take the ball to the basket. Sophomore Liv McCall is a fearless shooter that will stretch the floor and transfer Mackenzie Roberts will give the Bombardiers added size in the paint.
Crowley said, “For us to be successful we must be able to play defense consistently and rebound. Sam, I am sure, is going to draw a lot of attention from other teams, so we must make sure that we are smart offensively and get touches for everyone.”
2016-2017 Record: 6-14 2016-2017 Finish: Missed postseason. Coach: Jim Choquette
There has been excitement around the Canton program for the past few seasons and that continues this winter, as the Bulldogs look to secure a place in the state tournament behind an experienced lineup that has been developing together for several years.
Senior Hannah Jerrier is the key for the Bulldogs, as the forward is coming off a league all-star season in which she emerged as a potential double-double night after night. Jerrier is a solid rebounder and scorer in the paint, reaching the 20-point mark nine times last season and averaging more than 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Junior Julia Hamilton will be back at point guard for the Bulldogs to help get the Canton into its offensive sets and provide pressure, on-the-ball defense. Senior Jess Powers is also back after missing a season to a knee injury and will add a boost to the team’s outside shooting and take pressure off Jerrier on offense.
Junior Maggie Connolly returns for her second year in the backcourt and seniors Lindsey Barrett, Nikki Gefteas, and Leya Conard will all add depth to the Canton roster this season, while junior Erin Devine adds another important post presence on both ends of the floor. The versatility of the roster will allow head coach Jim Choquette to change his game plans every game, slowing it down to play half-court or ratcheting up the pressure to go up tempo.
“Canton remains focused on playing together and staying positive for the best season possible,” Choquette said. “Leading up to our first game there’s been an extreme amount of effort and energy by a large group of unselfish girls and our seniors have all been great examples of staying positive throughout all situations!”
2016-2017 Record: 22-3 2016-2017 Finish: Reached Div. 2 State Semifinal Coach: Lisa Downs
After winning the Div. 2 South title and reaching the TD Garden last winter, this year’s Foxboro team will have high expectations, but with four starters returning, including reigning Hockomock League MVP Ashley Sampson, the Warriors will once again be the favorites to take home the Davenport division crown.
Having already passed the 1,000-point mark for her career, Sampson enters her senior season as the focal point of the Foxboro offense. Her ability to get into the lane and finish, as well as step back and knock down shots, makes her a tough cover and opens space for her teammates. Fellow senior Lily Sykes is one of the beneficiaries of that space and she can take advantage of open looks on the perimeter. Senior Grace Tamulionis is another player who can stretch the floor for the Warriors and can be an ‘X’ factor for Foxboro in big games. Senior Shannon Smally adds rebounding and post presence to keep defenses honest.
The Warriors are now the veteran team in the division, but there are also several younger players that have developed into critical pieces off the bench, including sophomore Abby Hassman, who has grown in the off-season into a strong rebounder. Freshman Katelyn Mollica will add backcourt depth with her tenacity on defense and already impressive court awareness. Junior Chelsea Gibbons is another player that is expected to step into a bigger role this season.
Foxboro coach Lisa Downs said, “This group of seniors have been part of our Varsity team since their freshmen year and with each year, they have learned and developed more – all of the girls on this year’s team put in the necessary work; now its time to execute.”
2016-2017 Record: 9-11 2016-2017 Finish: Missed postseason. Coach: John Leighton
Franklin got off to a rough start last season, beginning 0-6 with an inexperienced roster, but then closed the year with nine wins in the last 14 games, just missing out on a return to the postseason. This year, the Panthers will try to build on that year of experience and book a return to the playoffs.
The Panthers will have strength in the middle to try and get off to a much better start this season. Sophomore Ali Brigham, last year’s HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year, has received several Div. I NCAA offers, including one from the University of Minnesota, and at 6-foot-3 can dominate the paint on both ends of the floor. Franklin will also have outside scoring with junior guard Bea Bondhus, who is a consistent three-point shooter and will stretch defenses to open up the post for Brigham.
Franklin has plenty of size this season. Sophomore forwards Breanna Atwood (5-foot-9) and Megan O’Connell (5-foot-10) and senior forward Kate Morse (5-foot-11) will provide plenty of depth on the inside. Junior Shannon Gray will be back to run the point and senior Grace Sameski will add backcourt depth. Freshman guard Elizabeth Wilson is poised to make an instant impact for the Panthers, as she did in the season opener by knocking down three free throws in the final seconds to force overtime against Holy Name.
“We are a young team with only two seniors, but I am very pleased with the effort and progress of the team,” said Franklin coach John Leighton, who is excited about the return of the majority of the team’s scoring and the potential of the youth on the roster.
King Philip has a new coach this season, with former Wellesley assistant Amy Siggens taking over for Marty Crowley, and there could be a period of adjustment for a still relatively young Warriors roster to adapt to the new system, but there is excitement about the progress being made by the seven returning varsity players.
Boston University-commit Shannon O’Connor will once again be a player to watch for the Warriors this winter. The junior’s ability to shoot off the dribble, defend multiple positions, and take the ball to the basket has made her one of the league’s elite perimeter players. As O’Connor continues to develop as a playmaker that will create open looks for her teammates, including junior Julia Leroux and sophomore Faith Roy. Senior Christina Hathaway (one of only two seniors on the roster) will add strength in the paint on both ends of the floor.
The Warriors will not lack for size this season. O’Connor is listed at 5-foot-11, junior Catherine Cummings and sophomore Faye Veilleux are listed at 5-foot-10, and Roy is listed at 5-foot-9. The versatility of those players will give Siggens room to switch up lineups when needed. KP is still pretty young and Siggens has added two freshmen, Emma Glaser and Brianna James, to this year’s roster.
Siggens said, “Early on we will stress the importance of being unselfish on offense and being tough and aggressive on defense. Knowing mistakes will be made, there will be no small emphasis on the importance of playing hard all the time… I am encouraged by our team’s enthusiasm and attitude.”
2016-2017 Record: 20-4 2016-2017 Finish: Reached Div. 1 South final. Coach: Mike Redding
Replacing the production of last season’s HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Jen Peel is a difficult task, but Mansfield has the talent, depth, and experience in the roster to make it work. The Hornets return four starters from last year’s squad and will lean on a loaded and versatile junior class to try and make it a three-peat of league titles.
The key returner for Mansfield is 6-foot-3 center Meg Hill. The Stonehill College-commit is already the program’s best in blocked shots and is soon to be the career leader in rebounds, while improving her offensive game every season. With Peel gone, junior Mady Bendanillo will be tasked with getting the ball into the post to Hill and to fellow junior Maggie Danehy, who had an impressive start with a double-double against Medfield in the Endowment Game. Reigning HockomockSports.com Defensive Player of the Year Ann Maher will also be back at shooting guard and is one of the team’s most consistent three-point threats.
Juniors Erin Daniel, Emily Vigeant, Sydney Mulkern and Kara Bendanillo will likely compete for the fifth starting spot and all should see plenty of playing time this year. With 5-foot-11 senior Maeve Carney and 5-foot-10 freshman Ashley Santos, the Hornets should be able to dominate the paint and sophomore Becca Hottleman will add depth at the point guard position.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding said, “We have a chance to be very good again with our junior group getting a ton of experience last year and we hope to compete for league title again.” He added that the Hornets bolstered the schedule this season as well. Redding said, “Our record may not be as good as last year when we earned the No. 1 seed, but we will be more battle tested for the state tourney in March.”
2016-2017 Record: 10-11 2016-2017 Finish: Reached Div. 2 Central first round. Coach: T.J. Dolliver
A year after returning to the postseason for the first time since 2012 (and nearly pulling off an upset of Marlboro on the road), Milford brings back seven seniors to try and make a push for a Davenport division title and another state tournament appearance.
The Hawks have a versatile lineup led by four-year starter Kate Irwin. The lefty point guard is one of the most dynamic perimeter scorers and playmakers in the league and she continues to improve each season. Her ability to get into the paint opens up room for her teammates and she can also step back and knock down threes. Irwin will be helped by fellow seniors Gillian Valanzola and Juliana Tracy, who add size on the post.
Senior Emily Piergustavo is a knock-down shooter from beyond the arc and her classmate Jess Tomaso has proven to be a solid rebounder from the guard position. There are also two sophomores and four freshmen on the roster this season to add depth and build for the future under third-year head coach T.J. Dolliver.
Dolliver said, “I am very excited for our team this year. This is my 3rd year with a lot of these girls and seeing how they have progressed over the years have really set this team up for a fun season.”
Last season, North Attleboro boasted one of the most experienced lineups in the league with five of its top six players being seniors, but this year the Rocketeers will be incorporating a number of new faces, as only six players (only starter) return from last winter.
The lone returning starter is junior guard Julia Feid, who had a breakout season on the wing and will be counted on to lead the offensive attack this year. Feid’s classmate Emily Haskell will also be on the wing for North this season and will also have a large chunk of the offense run through her. Senior Emily Pastore, junior Liz Smahi, and sophomore Michelle Pothier will also contribute scoring from the wing, while junior Lauren Pezzi and sophomore Olivia Forbes will run the point and distribute the ball in the half court.
The graduation of Caroline Collard and Liz Morehouse leaves an opening on the post, but North has several players that will step in to provide a presence in the paint. Senior Julia Santos and juniors Emma Noreck and Kaley Sullivan will each get opportunities to contribute. North faces a tough early season schedule with the likes of Franklin, Oliver Ames, Archbishop Williams, and Hingham, so it will be critical for the new players to find their feet quickly.
North Attleboro coach Derek Herber said, “The team has quickly began to gel and I am hopeful that we if we can survive the early part of the season, we can qualify for the tournament.”
2016-2017 Record: 13-8 2016-2017 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South First Round. Coach: Elaine Clement-Holbrook
Oliver Ames struggled to find consistent offense last season and it kept the Tigers from being able to challenge Mansfield for the league title or make another run in Div. 2 South, but a healthy lineup with several key returning players has OA optimistic for improvements this winter.
The main focus will be on senior forward Kayla Raymond. The Stonehill College-commit is one of the most versatile players in the league, with the length and leaping ability to dominate in the paint and the range to step out and knock down jumpers. Raymond is listed as a forward/center but could potentially be used at multiple positions. Senior guard Abby Reardon is back to get the Tigers into their offensive sets and as one of the league’s top on-the-ball defenders. Classmate Katie Flynn also returns to give Raymond help in the post.
In addition to the seniors, junior Alex Sheldon will provide depth at the forward position and junior Sadie Homer was a dynamic scorer on the perimeter before an injury cut her season short last year. Homer was a solid three-point shooter last year and will be expected to stretch defenses again this season. Sophomore guard Meg Holleran emerged as a playmaker during her freshman campaign and could see a bigger role this year.
“OA is looking to blend some younger talent and are working hard to provide some depth in the backcourt,” said OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook. “Looking forward to the fight for the Kelly Rex Division.”
In addition to a new coaching staff, Sharon will see a number of new faces on the roster, as several of last year’s players are focusing on other sports this winter. Former Rockland and East Bridgewater assistant Sandra Lombardi takes over for Cliff Tomassian and will have a young group to work with in her first head coaching position.
Junior small forward Emma Eberhardt is one of the returning players that will be expected to provide leadership and scoring for the Eagles. Eberhardt, a HockomockSports.com All-Underclassman Team performer last year, was Sharon’s top scorer last winter and also has the size to be a problem for opponents on the glass. She scored 16 points in Sharon’s win over Nipmuc in the season opener. Senior guard Miranda Cheung will also be back for Sharon to provide ball-handling and perimeter shooting.
Sophomore Telishya Herbert made the jump from JV to varsity midway through last season and had an instant impact on the Eagles with her athleticism and her ability to score in the paint. She had 10 points against Nipmuc and could be ready for a breakout year as Sharon’s second scorer to take some pressure off Eberhardt. Also back from last year’s roster are junior Evanjuline Elisma and sophomore Ally Brown.
Lombardi said of her new team, “We are going to be quick and aggressive. I’m excited to see what the season will bring.”
The Black Knights narrowly missed out on the postseason last year, despite having a number of underclassmen in the roster, and expectations for this season include a return to the playoffs under third-year head coach Charmaine Steele-Jordan.
Senior Val Whalen was the team’s MVP last season after leading the Black Knights with more than 13 points and nine rebounds per game. Whalen has improved every season and her intensity on defense and on the glass boosts is contagious. Stoughton is a physical team that likes to put pressure on the ball defensively and Whalen sets the tone. Senior Jordan Motley is also a tenacious rebounder and gives the Black Knights another strong presence in the paint.
Sophomore guard Shyanne Trinh had a breakout freshman campaign, scoring more than 10 points per game, and her ball-handling and long-range shooting opens things up for the post players. Fellow sophomore Aliyah Wright also had a strong rookie campaign and her size is a difficult matchup for many of the point guards in the Hock. Stoughton will also count on junior guards Lindsey McDonald and Hailey Egan and sophomore Lexi Baptista. Freshman Sydnee Hyacinthe has also been called up to add depth in the backcourt.
Steele-Jordan said of her senior forwards, “I’m looking forward to their leadership, hustle on the court and their defensive presence this year. Whalen and Motley’s veteran play along with our returning sophomores will be great for the Black Knights this season.”
2016-2017 Record: 1-21 2016-2017 Finish: Missed Postseason. Coach: Walter Harrigan
Taunton is coming off a difficult season in which the Tigers finished with just one victory, but one game into the new year and Taunton has already matched that total. The season opening win over Cumberland (R.I.) fits with the optimism around the program, as the Tigers blend youth with experience in the hopes of making a run at a playoff spot.
The Tigers will be led by senior forwards Hannah Moniz and Mackenzie Handrahan, who combined for 26 points in the win at Cumberland and provide a mix of rebounding, scoring at the rim, and outside shooting to balance the Taunton offense. Junior Lily Patneaude also returns from an all-star season and is Taunton’s most dynamic scorer with range from well beyond the arc. Junior Alexa White is another guard that will provide solid contributions on both ends of the floor.
Junior Shantel Andrew, a 5-foot-7 forward, is expected to be a significant contributor this season, after missing two years with knee injuries. As usual, Taunton has plenty of youth on the roster with four freshmen making varsity, a couple of whom got playing experience last year as eighth graders. Forwards Jaelyn and Sonya Fernandez and guards Kelsey White and Tori DaRosa are going to be counted on to play big roles this year for the Tigers.
Taunton coach Walter Harrigan said, “Our goal for this year is to continue to work hard while focusing on the development of good habits which will hopefully lead to team improvement and a trip to the state tournament.”
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – North Attleboro was trailing by a point as the clock wound down under 90 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s game at the Kenneth Pickering Gym. The Rocketeers needed someone to make a play to avoid the upset against an upstart Milford team that was trying to tie North for the Davenport division lead.
Senior Ashley Ahern picked the pocket of Jill Burley, her fifth steal of the game, and raced the length of the court for a layup to give North a 46-45 lead. It turned out to be the game-winning basket, as the Rocketeers locked down on defense and Ahern sealed the 51-45 victory by knocking down 5-of-6 free throws.
It was an impressive come from behind win for the hosts, who trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but also an indication of how far Milford has come in head coach T.J. Dolliver’s second season that the Hawks had the division leaders on the ropes.
“They did,” replied North coach Derek Herber about Milford having the Rocketeers on the edge. “We’ve seen enough of them…I told my girls that they’re scrappy like us and they can shoot a little bit, so we’ve got to be ready to play. They came out right away and did exactly that.
“They’ve come a long way and credit to T.J., he’s put a team together over there and they’re going to be a problem throughout the season.”
The opening quarter was an indication of the confidence that the Hawks are playing with this season. In an end-to-end period that resembled a track meet as much as a basketball game, the Hawks got points from six different players and scored 19 points.
Christine Pye (eight points) knocked down a pair of long jumpers and Burley scored four of her eight points on a pair of runners in the lane. Nicole Dahlgren (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists) scored on an offensive rebound plus the foul then assisted on a three-pointer by Juliana Tracy.
North kept it close in the opening quarter with a strong offensive attack of its own. Ahern scored four of her game-high 16 points and sophomore Julia Feid added six of her seven points in the first.
The pace continued in the second quarter, but the scoring slowed down. The teams scored six points apiece and headed into halftime with the Hawks ahead 25-21.
In the third quarter, Milford came out strong and took a double digit lead. Kate Irwin flipped a pass over the defense to Dahlgren for a layup then Gillian Valanzola used a pump fake to get past Caroline Collard in the post for a basket. After Dahlgren scored on one of Burley’s six assists, she then managed to keep a play alive while falling to set up Irwin (six points) for a three.
North trailed 36-26 and Herber called timeout.
“We’ve got to execute better on offense,” Herber told his team. “We have a height advantage, so lets try to get the ball to Collard and if we get the shots off that look that’s what we need to do. We were able to put some pressure on their guards and get in their face a little bit.”
Feid snagged a rebound of a missed free throw and fed it to Collard for a layup to get North started. Collard then scored a layup in transition off an Ahern assist and another off of a Feid inbound pass to get the Rocketeers back within three. Collard scored 10 of her game-high 16 in the quarter.
North regained the lead before the end of the third on back-to-back steals and transition baskets by Ahern. Dolliver was left rueing the missed opportunity to put North away.
“We just turned the ball over too much and it was just…careless,” he said. “They played good defense on it, but they were passes that we could avoid. We definitely have to take care of the ball a little more and that was the difference.”
North extended the run to 13 straight points with a pair of free throws and then Samantha Taggart answered a Dahlgren jumper with a three-pointer that made it 42-38. Pye scored on a layup to cut the lead in half, but Liz Morehouse scored her only points of the night to push the lead back to four.
Pye was left open on an inbounds play for a layup and then Dahlgren buried a straightaway three-pointer that put Milford back in front by a point with time running out for North.
“I was happy to see that they bounced back,” said Dolliver of his team’s response to the North run. “I really love this group. That’s the No. 1 seed [in the division] and you had them, so it’s a good sign in that aspect but I hold them to higher standards now. They know how to take care of end-of-game situations.”
The North defense was aggressive throughout the second half with Ahern causing problems for Burley and Emily Schromm holding Irwin, who currently leads the Hockomock in scoring, to just six points. It was Ahern who made the biggest play, turning the game around for North when it needed a stop and scoring the final seven points of the game.
“They all know it too, she’s the heart of the team,” said Herber of Ahern. “They take their cue from her. If she’s up on her person and in their face then everyone else has to have the same mentality. She’s still a little banged up and she fought through it today.”
North Attleboro (9-2, 6-0) will continue a tough stretch when it hosts Foxboro on Friday in another game against a team that is one game back in the division. Milford (6-2, 4-2) will have no time to dwell on the loss, as the Hawks host Hopedale on Wednesday.
2015-16 Record: 6-14 (3-13) 2015-16 Finish: Missed playoffs Head Coach: Jim Choquette
The Bulldogs continue to add to the program both on the court and on the bench with former Canton and UMass Boston star Olivia Murphy joining the coaching staff this season to help out with the freshman team. It is a sign of the continued growth of the program under head coach Jim Choquette, who is hoping that the momentum built at the end of last season will carry over to this year.
Senior forward Emma Murphy returns after a league all-star season and will be joined on the front line by returning starters senior Casey Shea and juniorHannah Jerrier, who was an honorable mention for all-star last winter. Adding depth on the front line will be sophomore forwards Molly Ludwig and Erin Devine, who lacks inexperience but adds significant height.
“Our strengths will be scrappy defense and rebounding on both ends,” said Choquette. “our goal is to improve each game and be playing our best headed into the last part of the season…the faster we find chemistry the faster we’ll find the win column.”
2015-16 Record: 15-7 (11-5) 2015-16 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South quarterfinal Head Coach: Lisa Downs
Despite a lot of youth in the lineup, Foxboro has been one of the top teams in the Davenport division for several seasons and this year should be no different, as the Warriors enter the winter with very high expectations and as one of the favorites for the league title.
A lot of the interest in the Warriors stems from the continued development of junior point guard Ashley Sampson, who has turned into one of the best all-around guards in the Hockomock and is the player that the Foxboro offense flows through. Sampson has plenty of help in the backcourt with classmate Lily Sykes, who offers scoring from the perimeter, and seniors Lauren Flahive, Riley Collins (back after an injury), and Hailey Maling, who are all strong on the ball defenders.
In the front court, Kristen Bortolotti is back after missing last year with an injury and will add speed and a strong mid-range game. Junior Grace Tamulionis is another matchup nightmare for the opposition with her size on the boards and on defense and her ability to step outside and shoot the three. Junior Shannon Smally continues to improve and gives the Warriors an inside presence, while newcomers Chelsea Gibbons and Abby Hassmancould make big contributions for the Warriors.
“The girls have been playing together throughout the summer and fall and this familiarity should work to our benefit this season,” said head coach Lisa Downs. “We will continue to focus on our running game and our defensive efforts and I am fortunate to have the players that not only buy into this system, but, also appreciate this pace.”
2015-16 Record: 9-11 (5-11) 2015-16 Finish: Missed playoffs Head Coach: T.J. Dolliver
After missing out on a playoff spot by one game a season ago under first-year head coach T.J. Dolliver, Milford enters this winter with high hopes of making the leap into the postseason with a deep and versatile roster that has gained a lot of experience together over the past few seasons.
The enthusiasm for the Hawks begins with dynamic junior point guard Kate Irwin, who has shown the ability to get to the basket at will, draw defenses to get open looks for her teammates and also be a pesky on the ball defender. With Irwin creating open shots, junior Emily Piergustavo’s return after missing last year with an injury will be a big boost on the perimeter along with senior guard Jill Burley.
“These girls have been playing together for a while and their team chemistry is amazing,” said Dolliver. “We are starting to learn the minor details of offense and defense in order to give our team a better chance of success.”
2015-16 Record: 11-10 (9-7) 2015-16 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South tournament Head Coach: Derek Herber
The Rocketeers head into their first season in the Davenport division with eight returning players from last year’s team that was two points away from a first round victory in the Div. 2 South tournament against Hock rival Oliver Ames.
Senior Ashley Ahern is a three-year starter at guard and was the team’s leading scorer last winter. Ahern will be the player that gets the offense going, but she will get plenty of help from her classmates, Emily Schromm and Samantha Taggart. Schromm was one of the top defenders in the league and can stretch a defense with her outside shooting and Taggart can play all three guard positions and led North in assists last year. In the paint, senior Caroline Collard is the team’s leading rebounder and showed a soft touch around the basket.
North can also look for improvements from sophomore Julia Feid, who got valuable minutes as a rookie last year, senior Liz Morehouse, who adds depth in the post, and juniors Julia Santos, who both brought athleticism off the bench at the wing positions. Sophomore forward Mackenzie Roberts is a newcomer who adds size and outside shooting and junior Emily Pastore can step in at all three guard positions.
The Rocketeers have plenty of experience on the roster and will be one of the favorites for the league title at the beginning of the season. While head coach Derek Herber can count on a number of returning players, he hopes to “mix in a few new faces into the lineup to help with depth.”
Sharon is another team that has been building with youth and has created a lot of depth on its roster and, despite losing three of its top four scorers from last winter, has garnered preseason hype as a potential sleeper to make a return to the postseason for the first time since the Eagles made a run to the Div. 2 South final in 2013.
The Eagles will be hoping for an improvement on the offensive side of the ball, which was a challenge at times last winter. Junior point guard Shira Stoller, a three-year starter, is continuing to improve at limiting turnovers and looking for her own shot as well as setting up teammates. One of the players that benefits from Stoller’s ability to get into the lane is sophomore Emma Eberhardt, who was third on the team in points as a rookie and continues to develop into a consistent wing scorer.
Sophomore Veronica Wallace has emerged as one of the top backcourt defenders during the preseason and is one of the fastest players on the Sharon roster. Senior Ana Crosby, who is also a standout on the soccer and lacrosse fields, is another player that is continuing to improve and will have an increased role this season. Freshman Kaitlyn Wallace is a newcomer to watch and could have a bigger role to play over the course of the year.
“Our defense is going to have to be our key in order to compete, and our girls know that,” said third-year coach Cliff Tomassian. “We get our best looks on offense off of great defensive stands. Our girls are going to have to be patient and vigilant on both ends and be ready to take chances.”
2015-16 Record: 7-11 (7-9) 2015-16 Finish: Missed playoffs Head Coach: Charmaine Steele Jordan
The Black Knights lost six seniors to graduation but this offers plenty of opportunities for a new crop of younger players to get playing time and learn the system of second-year head coach, and former Stoughton star, Charmaine Steele Jordan.
Two of the players that will be counted on most this season are junior forwards Val Whalen and Jordan Motley, who are two of the best rebounders in the league and can also get out on the break and score in transition. Their development in the half-court offense will be a key for Stoughton making a playoff push in the Davenport division this season. Senior Lili Njiem is another player that could make a big impact, as one of the team’s three captains.
The Black Knights will have as many senior as freshmen on this year’s roster (three) along with four sophomores and three juniors, so the foundation for the future is in place. Shyanne Trinh, Lexi Baptista, and Aliyah Wright are the three newcomers to the program who will be hoping to make an instant impact.
“So excited for the upcoming season,” said Steele Jordan. “We lost six seniors so there is lots of opportunity for our players to step up. Our returnees from last year will contribute for us despite being pretty young.”
MILFORD, Mass. – For the first two or three minutes of the game, it was Milford that looked like the team that had driven more than two hours from Pittsfield for Saturday’s non-league matinee. The Hawks fell behind 6-0 and look a little out of sorts in the season opener.
Then senior guard Jill Burley buried a three to cut the Taconic lead in half and the hosts kicked into gear. Milford went on an 18-2 run in the opening quarter to take a lead that it would never relinquish.
Sparked by junior Kate Irwin’s 21-point, four-assist, five-rebound performance and double-digit rebounds from senior Christine Pye (10) and junior Jess Tomaso (14), Milford held off Taconic 52-45 in a game that the visitors managed to keep close right to the end.
“The reason for it was we’re putting them at the line too many times,” said second-year Milford coach T.J. Dolliver of the Hawks inability to put the game out of reach in the second half. Taconic went to the line 19 times in the second half (30 times in the game) and made 10.
Dolliver added, “We fouled way too often and they were fouls that could be avoided. I said at halftime that if we’re going to keep them in the game then it’s going to be at the line and we need to stop fouling.”
The fouls started in the first quarter with Milford putting Taconic in the bonus before the end of the opening eight minutes and both Burley and fellow captain Nicole Dahlgren (seven rebounds) were forced to the bench for a long stretch due to foul trouble.
Milford showed its depth by finding other players to step up. Emily Piergustavo, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, had one of her three first half steals to get Irwin a transition basket and then the combo repeated it to tie the game at 8-8. Piergustavo (six points) buried a three off an Irwin assist to give Milford its first lead and Irwin added another basket off an offensive rebound.
Pye scored off a rebound and Gillian Valanzola scored off an inbound pass by Emma Liskov to give Milford an 18-8 lead. Taconic turned momentum around and went on a 10-2 run that cut the lead back to just two points, but Irwin scored with a drive to the left and a Dahlgren offensive rebound and kick-out gave Tomaso (six points) an open look from three to extend the lead back to eight.
Milford went into the break ahead 30-19 and rebounding played a big role in the Hawks lead. Dolliver said, “The nice part about our team is that we rebound from top to bottom. Our bigs rebound the ball very well and our guards rebound the ball very well. They’re very fundamental in their box outs and that’s huge.”
The third quarter was a struggle for both teams. Irwin buried a three to give Milford its largest lead of the game at 14 points, but the Hawks only managed one more made field goal for the rest of the quarter when Tomaso followed her own shot twice before finishing.
Luckily for the Hawks, Taconic was also finding it tough to score. The Braves had only two made field goals and three free throws in the third and could only cut two points off the halftime lead, trailing 35-26 into the fourth.
Milford started the fourth like it wanted to finally put Taconic away. Irwin hit a runner and then Dahlgren buried a long jumper. After being forced to the bench because of foul trouble, Burley finally got her chance and buried a pair of three-pointers that put the Hawks up 45-31.
“I was happy to see her hit those,” said Dolliver of Burley, “because I know she was frustrated because she got into early foul trouble and honestly didn’t play a lot until the end and then knocks down a couple shots and in her mind it’s forgotten.”
If Milford thought the game was done, Taconic had other ideas. After a two-hour drive, the Braves were going to keep it interesting for the full 32 minutes of game time. Taconic was 7-14 from the line and closed the gap to as little as six points with a few minutes remaining, but Dolliver called timeout to settle his team down.
When asked if in those pressure moments it helps having Irwin to give the ball to, Dolliver replied, “Of course…and now that we get Emily back as well it’s another ball-handler, which is huge when we’re getting pressured.”
Milford (1-0) will try to keep the momentum going at the start of the season in its league opener on Tuesday against King Philip.
MILFORD, Mass. – Ordinarily, the bleachers behind the benches remain closed during volleyball matches, but as the beginning of the varsity match approached Milford athletic director Peter Boucher was forced to pull out an extra section to accommodate the overflow of fans, the majority of whom were decked out in pink.
It was a special occasion for a special cause and the crowd piled into the gym at Milford High on Wednesday night to celebrate the volleyball team as it took on unbeaten Hopedale and to honor Dig Pink Night, which raised money for the Side Out Foundation’s mission of finding a cure for breast cancer and supporting breast cancer patients.
With a raucous atmosphere spurring them on and inspired by teammate Carli Gonzalez and head coach Linda Zacchilli, who both beat cancer in the past year (Zacchilli for the second time), the Hawks played arguably their best match of the season to sweep Hopedale in three sets (25-14, 25-12, 25-12) and clinch a return to the state tournament.
“We made very few unforced errors today,” said Zacchilli. “We played very sharp. We forced a lot of errors on their part. We were really focused.”
The Milford front line set the tone in the opening set. The Hawks dominated at the net, led by junior Kelley Reichert who recorded four of her team-high seven kills and two of her four blocks in the first. She also added a pair of aces and five digs in the match. Her back-to-back kills set up set point before a Hopedale error wrapped up the first.
In the second set, the Hawks fell behind very early but behind strong serving from Gillian Valanzola (two aces) and Lauren Zouranjian (team-high three aces and eight assists) Milford took control and pulled away. Valanzola added five kills and was a strong presence in the middle alongside Juliana Tracy, who finished with a team-high six blocks.
“My middles have come so far from the beginning of the season,” said Zacchilli. “We’ve done a lot of things in practice to make it muscle memory, come off the net so you can get something behind your hit. Blocking-wise too they’re doing a better job reading the hitters.”
The third set was another dominating performance by Milford. The Hawks never took the foot off the gas and used a strong defensive effort to put pressure on Hopedale, forcing the visitors into a number of errors. Libero Kyra Alves spearheaded the defense with 14 digs to lead the Hawks.
Much more than just a game
Last season’s Dig Pink event was particularly emotional because the girls took a moment to honor Zacchilli, who was then the boys’ volleyball coach and was battling cancer for a second time. Also, just days before the match, Gonzalez, then a freshman volleyball player, was diagnosed with cancer as well.
“I think it’s important for any team to run an event like this for a charitable reason,” said Zacchilli, “to have a purpose and give back a little bit. It’s important for them to understand there’s a bigger world out there beyond what’s right in front of them.”
Unlike last year, Zacchilli did not want the event to be about her battle. The team did honor the coach before the game privately with flowers in the locker room.
“They want to make a big deal out of me, you know, but I said I don’t want that at all this time around,” she explained. “I’m a year out and I just want to be…out. I don’t want to think about it; I just want to leave it behind me.”
As she did last year (and recently did at Fenway Park during the NESN/WEEI Jimmy Find Telethon), Gonzalez sang the national anthem in front of a packed house. Gonzalez has a new perspective on Dig Pink Night after her battle with cancer.
“It’s so good to see everybody,” said Gonzalez after the match. “Everyone know someone with cancer, especially breast cancer, it’s so common.
“My grandmother had cancer but it was when I was little. I knew what cancer was but I didn’t know the severity of it and so after this year it means so much more to me…because I’ve seen it.”
Gonzalez and Zacchilli stayed in touch over the summer with the coach making sure that her player would be part of the event and the team, whether on the court or at the scorer’s table. Zacchilli also contacted Hopedale coach Andrew Mainini to be part of Dig Pink.
Mainini played volleyball at Milford for Zacchilli, was her assistant coach for several years and last spring took over the boys’ volleyball program with Zacchilli as his assistant. He jumped at the chance to be part of the event.
He said, “I was honored when she called and said, ‘Hey Andy, do you want to be our Dig Pink match?’ It was meaningful for me, my girls and obviously we wanted to do everything we could to contribute to the cause.
“There is always a ton of positive energy that comes out of events like these.”
On Dig Pink Night, the game is always secondary to the cause, but this display gives Zacchilli confidence that the Hawks have the potential to make some noise in the playoffs.
“I’m really proud of the way they played tonight,” she said. “If we play the way we played tonight, then we can play with anybody.”
Milford (9-3) will put that to the test on Thursday, as the Hawks have a quick turn around to host Kelley-Rex division co-leader Mansfield.