Saliah Serrette took the gym floor at Weston High undaunted, a girl in a boys’ world.
It was preseason, and she had introduced herself into the pickup basketball games organized by players on the Weston varsity boys’ squad. For her, it made sense. What better way to get ready for the upcoming season than to play against bigger, stronger opponents?
The boys’ initial reaction was predictable. When she scored, her defender was quickly on the receiving end of verbal barbs from his teammates.
Then a funny thing happened. She kept scoring, and the potshots taken at her defenders became increasingly sparse. Eventually, the only sound associated with Serrette’s buckets was that of leather slipping through nylon.
“They got used to it, I guess,’’ Serrette said with a laugh. “After about three open gyms everyone said, ‘Well, she’s going to score on me so . . .’ ’’
When winter arrived, it didn’t take long for Dual County League foes to realize what the Weston boys had learned weeks earlier: Serrette is not easy to cover. She ended her season on the varsity girls’ team averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds per game, and was named MVP of the league’s Small Division for the second straight year.
“She’s always just looking for a way to get better,’’ said Weston coach Mark Madden when asked about his junior captain trading elbows with the boys.
“Her work ethic is incomparable. Even the drills that can get boring or mundane, she focuses on them because she knows she can keep improving.’’
At 5-foot-11, Serrette - a self-described “girly girl’’ - has natural athletic gifts that are augmented by her willingness to sweat. She follows her own running program, even during the season, in order to be in shape to play every minute of every game. At times, she wanted to pass up water breaks in practice in order to keep playing.
It was that unrelenting effort that allowed her to make a rather seamless transition from forward to guard last summer. She was constantly working on ball-handling drills, often dribbling two balls at a time. And after gaining confidence in her outside shot, she became proficient enough to represent the Wildcats in the 3-point contest at the DCL all-star game.
Those skills, combined with her quick first step and ability to finish in the paint, made her an enigma for opponents - even when outnumbered.
“There was one play when she got a steal and was by herself,’’ said senior captain Tanner Skenderian. “She single-handedly crossed through four girls in the paint, and went in and made the basket. And I think it was an ‘and one,’ ’’ drawing a foul shot.
“That was one moment that was like, ‘That was so Saliah.’ She knows when to take the initiative and step up.’’
For all of Serrette’s individual success, however, it was a difficult season: Weston finished 3-16 in Madden’s first year.
Serrette had been used to winning. Weston won the DCL Small title in her freshman and sophomore seasons, and her AAU team, the New Hampshire Rivals, won nearly every tournament it entered last summer.
As the losses accumulated this season, though, she kept a positive attitude. She continued to try to win games while also helping to develop young, talented teammates like freshman guard Lane Cronin.
“Helping the underclassmen was my role, especially as a captain,’’ Serrette said. “I’ve never really been a leader on a team before, so I think I got better at that as the year went on, giving good criticism and helping people find where they need to be.’’
Serrette’s season ended with two games left on the schedule after she sprained her ankle at the league all-star game. She hopes to spend just one more week on crutches and expects to be healthy in time for the Rivals’ first AAU tournament, in which she’ll continue to draw interest from Division 1 colleges.
The opportunity to test herself against the toughest competition is an exciting proposition.
“We’ll play in some of the best tournaments in the country,’’ she said. “Going up against players like that, you know it’s going to help you become a better player.’’
Hudson’s Loewen rises to challenge
When Mike Mercuri was hired as the varsity boys’ coach at Hudson High before the start of the season, one of the first things he did was make junior Jake Loewen a captain.
After the Hawks’ first game, Mercuri was convinced he had made the right choice.
The Hawks lost to Algonquin Regional in their opener. Knowing Loewen was disappointed, Mercuri called the player’s father to see how the 6-foot-2 shooting guard was holding up.
Loewen wasn’t sulking. He was outside that rainy December night, working on his shot.
“That’s the type of kid he is,’’ Mercuri said. “He’s a special player.’’
Loewen and the Hawks got better as the season went on. He finished as one of the best scorers in Central Massachusetts, averaging 22.8 points along with 4 assists and 4 rebounds per game. And with senior cocaptain Buzz Wood (16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists per game) manning the paint, Hudson (10-11) won its final three games to earn a spot in the Division 2 Central tourney.
Hudson lost in the first round to Groton-Dunstable Regional in overtime, 63-53, but Mercuri is encouraged by what the Hawks - who graduate three seniors this year - might be able to accomplish next season.
“There’s a lot of excitement,’’ Mercuri said. “We’re really excited for next year. This is a great start for the program. To have Jake to build that program around is a tremendous asset.’’
There were a number of thrilling games in the first round of the postseason tournament.
The headliners: Arlington High junior Alex Kim hit the game-winning shot as time expired in overtime to give the Spy Ponders a 70-69 victory over reigning Division 2 state champion New Mission; Milford sophomore Kayla Barys hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of overtime to give her team the lead en route to a 55-48 win over Tantasqua Regional; senior forward Conner O’Leary of Marlborough hit a buzzer-beater in overtime to beat North Middlesex Regional, 57-56; and the Millis High boys stormed back from a 17-point first half deficit to stun top-seeded Holbrook, 49-42, in the Division 4 South sectional.