Central Catholic was locked in a battle with visiting Dracut on Tuesday night, the game tied at 21-all with roughly two minutes left in the second quarter.
Giulia Orlando, a 14-year-old freshman starting guard for the Raiders, peered up at the scoreboard, knowing that it was time to make a play. She calmly called for a pick and roll with sophomore forward Amanda Williams, who lofted a 12-foot jumper. The 5-foot-5 Orlando fought for position, gathered the rebound off the miss, and aggressively converted the putback.
The Raiders, thanks to Orlando (8 points) and fellow freshman Kaleigh Smith (9 points) went on to record a 61-51 win.
Orlando is one of several freshman girls making an impact on rosters across the region, a list that includes guard Fraley Morton (Manchester-Essex), point guard MaseyZegarowski (Ipswich), and guard Adrianna Flanagan (North Reading).
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was in middle school,’’ said Orlando, a Georgetown resident. “But I have been playing AAU for three years for the New Hampshire Rivals, and played in nationals in Atlanta.’’
Playing at Division 1 program Central Catholic, a perennial power, “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I knew I couldn’t be intimidated and I needed to rely on the work I had put in during the offseason,’’ she said.
Her work, including summer camps and town leagues, has allowed her to make an impact on a mostly veteran squad.
Smith, a 5-foot-7 guard from Windham, N.H., who has been playing AAU ball since fourth grade, knew hard work would be the key to playing time. “I grew up coming to Central games, and put in the work to get me here,’’ she said. With recent injuries, including a knee injury to junior captain Casey McLaughlin, “Giulia and I have had the chance to step up more and more.’’
Central Catholic coach SueDowner said freshmen undergo a learning curve. “Fundamentals seem to need the most work when they arrive. Playing 16 games a weekend for AAU doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a better basketball player.’’
Ipswich coach Mandy Zegarowski seconds that point.
Her daughter, Masey, has been playing AAU ball with the Mass Super Elite squad since age 10. Now, as a freshman, she is starting point guard on the varsity, but mother and daughter agree she made her biggest leap during preseason workouts.
“I am constantly around basketball; I love it,’’ said the feisty Zegarowski, who helped direct Ipswich to a 10-3 start.
Her stepbrother, MichaelCarter-Williams, is the starting point guard as a freshman for third-ranked Syracuse, and her father, Zach, formerly coached at Charlestown High. “I’ve been exposed to a ton of basketball,’’ she said, “enough where my playmaking abilities have improved to help make an impact.’’
Averaging 12 points per game, she has twice netted 18 in a game. “Most girls don’t have the basketball IQ. Freshmen in particular need to develop that intelligence,’’ said Mandy Zegarowski. “Masey watched a lot of basketball, especially from her brother, and we as a family stress off-season workouts.’’
Freshman forward Caroline Soucy has also experienced the Zegarowski regimen. “I work with Masey and her dad on skills and have been playing under coach since we were 10,’’ she said.
Zegarowski and Soucy also started for the varsity soccer team in the fall and will be playing for the New England Crusaders in the spring.
And with the graduation of two-time league all-star Hannah O’Flynn (now running sprints at Dartmouth), the Tigers need the freshmen to contribute. “Our girls put in the work,’’ said Mandy Zegarowski. “AAU can be watered down at times, and knowing that the girls had summer workouts and put in the time to develop will really pay.’’
And whether through injury, graduations, or talent, there are opportunities for first-year players to be a presence in the lineup.
After leading North Reading junior varsity in scoring, Flanagan earned her first start Tuesday against Triton and responded with 5 points and 3 steals in two quarters. Classmates Frankie Elliott, JessFinnegan, and Jackie Lanzaro are also seeing playing time for coach Hank DeSantis’s 9-5 squad. At Manchester-Essex, coach Lauren Dubois says Morton has been a standout at the defensive end. “Whenever Fraley is on the court, she takes away the other team’s best offensive weapon,’’ she said. “Her effort has minimized their scoring tremendously.’’
“Freshmen used to be freshmen,’’ said Ipswich athletic director Tom Gallagher. “Now the title of being a freshman is clouded by their abilities, and the future is theirs to make.’’
Wakefield coach credits Armstrong
Senior captain Keyon Armstrong averaged 18.5 points in the first four games for Wakefield boys, including a 27-point, seven-assist victory over the hosts in the championship game of the Malden Tournament.
Soon after, Armstrong was sidelined with a bone shift in his right wrist, an injury that “can’t get any worse,’’ according to 23-year coach Brad Simpson. “Keyon needs to stay healthy,’’ he said, “He’s a Division 2 college ball player when he’s healthy.’’
Armstrong, who was held scoreless in Wakefield’s loss to Lexington Monday night, plans to attend prep school due to his “back luck with injuries.’’
“We have tremendous depth with our starters, but Keyon’s health will make us or break us down the road’’ said Simpson, whose squad is 8-4. “Sophomore year he was out for a bit with a concussion. Junior year he rolled his ankle, and now the wrist. I think he’s gone through just about every injury, so when he’s ready in a week or two I expect big things, because he doesn’t have much left to hurt.’’
Known for his basketball IQ, the 6-foot Armstrong led Wakefield to wins over Melrose, Watertown, and Malden. “Keyon is probably one of the best defenders both on and off the ball,’’ said the coach. “. . . he needs to be in the lineup for us.’’