Nearly every successful basketball team has a point guard that runs the offense with precision and efficiency.
The Mansfield High girls’ basketball team has two: Caroline Maher and Jennifer Peel.
In February, the duo helped propel the Hornets to a 14-6 record and an appearance in the Division 1 South regional quarterfinals just one year removed from a four-win season.
Now the tenacious back-court tandem has turned their attention to various summer leagues, tournaments, and showcases, including the Bay State Games, which will tap off July 18 at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Roxbury Crossing.
“I’ve always loved the Games,” said Maher, a rising junior at Mansfield who is playing in the annual statewide competition for the first time. “I’m looking forward to being able to participate.”
Both Maher and Peel have aspirations to continue their basketball careers in college. The Bay State Games present an opportunity to play in front of an audience consisting of college coaches from around the area.
Peel, a rising sophomore, appeared in every game during her freshman campaign for head coach Mike Redding’s Hornets, handing out a team-leading 54 assists.
“I didn’t know how [freshman] year would play out,” she said. “At first I was nervous, but the team was very welcoming and Caroline and I really began to mesh.”
Any nerves the underclassman may have had before her high school career are now long in the rear-view mirror.
“I’ve played in big games before, this is no different.” she said. “I’m excited to play in front of college coaches.”
But it is the opportunity to play in the Bay State Games together as a part of the Coastal girls’ scholastic team that has the two excited.
“We’ve played a whole season together and have been going to camps held by Coach Redding our entire lives,” said Maher. “We’ve always clicked.”
Redding said both girls love the game.
“They were both talented enough and fortunate enough to compete with the varsity in a tough league,” he said.
Redding touched on the big jump Maher made in her second season on varsity, earning all-Hockomock League honors, as well as being tabbed Underclassman of the Year by HockomockSports.com.
It does not take long to notice the on-court chemistry between the young players, who are happy to be back on the same court after a hiatus when the high school season concluded.
“They are not selfish and they are very talented,” said Coastal coach Bob Catalini. “They are exactly what you look for from your back court.”
Once they were paired up again, “Everything fell right back into place,” said Peel. “It’s like we never stopped.”
They play off each other. Peel is an aggressive passer who likes to the push the ball up the court, drive the lane, and kick the ball out to Maher for a 3-point attempt.
They hope their preferred up-tempo style of play will translate well into the Bay State Games, where the play is more wide open, unlike the system they run at Mansfield, which consists of many various set plays.
As the only pair of high school teammates on the Coastal roster for the Bay State Games, the guards are being exposed to many different styles.
“It’s nice to know how others play the game,” said Peel. “That helps me learn and get better.”
Still, she said she knows Maher will be there when it’s time for a big play.
“You can depend on her to make that shot,” she said. Citing her role as a passer, Peel said, “If I am coming up on a fast break, she is the one person that I’m looking for. It’s an amazing feeling to make that pass that sets someone up.”
With the graduation of her older sister, Janet, Maher (9.4 points per game) is the leading returning scorer for Mansfield.
“Janet scored a lot for us last year and we need someone to step up to score more points and fill that role,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Even with the anticipation of the upcoming Bay State Games, the girls’ focus is not far from their roles for Mansfield High this winter.
“Caroline and I have an opportunity to play more together so we’ll be even more comfortable with each other next season,” said Peel.
Both girls hope that all their hard work this summer will help Mansfield achieve the one goal that every player on the team shares: advancing to the Eastern Massachusetts final at TD Garden.
“We’re all working hard to achieve that goal,” said Peel.