The message is the same every time the Wellesley High School players leave their team room and head into the gym: “How do you want to be remembered?’’
Plastered on a small red sign at the front of the room, the question doesn’t take up much wall space, but the words carry weight, especially for the current girls’ basketball squad.
The Raiders know they have a tradition to maintain. Wellesley has won three straight Bay State Conference titles and claimed the Division 2 state championship in 2008. The banners hanging on the gym’s walls serve as ever-present reminders.
This season, it was feared, might be different. Wellesley lost its all-time leading scorer, and last year’s Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year, Blake Dietrick, to graduation in the spring. Even among those walking the halls of Wellesley High, some waited for the team to struggle.
They’re still waiting.
Backed by a deep roster, Wellesley is off to a 4-0 start and surprising everyone with how quickly the team has jelled. Now the players want to be remembered as the ones who kept Wellesley’s tradition alive when no one expected them to keep winning.
“It almost makes this season more fun,’’ said senior cocaptain Shannon Magpiong. “We have something to prove.’’
Between Dietrick, playing at Princeton, and 2010 Wellesley graduate Mary Louise Dixon, now at Stonehill, the Raiders had a 1,000-point scorer playing point guard for the last five years.
Coach Kristin Cieri has emphasized the importance of teamwork throughout her 16 seasons at the helm, but this year, more than any other in recent memory, everything - even the scoring - has been a teamwide effort.
“Players have stepped up,’’ Cieri said. “It’s been someone different every game.’’
“I don’t think there are any go-to people,’’ said junior forward Charlotte Bussema, who led the team with 12 points in Wellesley’s win over Framingham on Dec. 16. “Everyone’s a go-to player this year. We can rely on everyone that when they have the ball, something good’s going to happen.’’
The ball is most often in the hands of 5-foot-4-inch sophomore point guard Sophia Mavrommatis. Her strong ball-handling skills and high basketball IQ have only improved since she began to see regular playing time last season. She can score - she led the team with 18 points in a win over Dedham on Dec. 20 - but she has helped to make her teammates better, too, including 6-3 junior center Grace Miller.
Miller can take away the middle of the lane for an opposing offense with her shot-blocking ability, but she’s also become an adept finisher around the rim and a more aggressive rebounder since last year, when she was named a conference all-star. She took her turn to lead the team in scoring when she dropped 24 points on Newton South in a 55-53 win on Dec. 14.
This season, Miller also is learning to become a better leader. She was elected by the team to be a captain, joining Magpiong and senior Caroline Harrington. It’s the first time in 15 years Wellesley has had a junior captain, but she’s taken to the role and is hoping to get the most out of her teammates.
“We work really hard because we know we aren’t as talented as we have been in past years,’’ Miller said. “We just need to get through it all with a lot of hard work.’’
The Raiders survived a lackadaisical first half against Belmont to win their season opener, 45-40, and they’ve played with purpose ever since.
“I told my team, ‘They may have sat behind Blake Dietrick, but they had to play her every day in practice,’ ’’ Belmont coach Melissa Hart said. “They’re in a good program. They’re used to winning. They know what they’re doing. That culture of success is so important - when you’re expecting to beat somebody - and they have that.’’
They do now, especially after their hot start. The challenge is to keep it going. The players know what’s at stake. They know how they want to be remembered.
“No one wants to be that team that lets down,’’ Magpiong said. “And I don’t expect us to.’’
Romich has team in gear
Kyle Romich helped lead Groton-Dunstable Regional High to a Division 2 state title in soccer in the fall, and through four basketball games this winter, he still hadn’t lost.
“I think that’s carried a lot of enthusiasm over to this team,’’ boys’ basketball coach Keith Woods said of his senior cocaptain’s soccer championship. “Kyle’s leadership is unbelievable. He makes us go.’’
Romich is a versatile 6-3 point guard who can set up his teammates just as easily as he can take the ball to the basket. He had an eye-popping 16 assists in a 76-60 win over Dracut last week.
“I didn’t even know until I got home,’’ Woods said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We had 29 baskets and he had assists on 16 of them. He’s the kind of guy who, if his shot’s on, great. If not, he’ll find the guys that are open.’’
Senior cocaptain and guard Will Peregoy has helped the Crusaders get out of the gate 4-0. The four-year starter has two 30-point games already, and is the leading scorer in an offense that Woods pegs as simply “up and down.’’
“It’s a fast break from the time we get it, even if it’s a dead ball,’’ Woods said. “And then we press for 32 minutes.’’
Here and there
Medfield High boys’ coach Herb Grace earned his 300th career victory last week in the opening round of the Muscato Tournament at Oliver Ames High in Easton. The 57-53 win over previously unbeaten Belmont lifted the Warriors to 3-2 . . . As of Wednesday, Acton-Boxborough Regional senior captain Elizabeth Belanger had missed four games with an Achilles’ injury. She has started to rehab the injury and is planning to play regular minutes for the first time Friday at Dual County League rival Westford Academy, her mother, Nancy, said in an e-mail. The Colonials went 2-2 without Belanger, who has committed to the University of New Hampshire.Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.