WATERTOWN — It was the kind of play Gabriella Coppola would only attempt with her younger sister Gianna . The junior captain and point guard for the Watertown High Raiders lunged for a loose ball and sent a no-look, one-handed tip-pass to her sophomore sister. Quiet oohs came from the impressed home crowd in the bleachers.
“I was like ‘Gianna’s gonna get this,’ ’’ said Gabriella, older by 18 months. “She always catches my passes. We’ve grown up playing together forever. I can gun it at her and she’ll always catch it.”
The Coppola connection took center stage when it helped Watertown defeat Winchester before Christmas, 46-26. The two sisters combined for 35 points, 10 rebounds, and nine steals in the win — and they are just one third of the Raiders’ sister act.
Coach Pat Ferdinand has three pairs of talented sisters on his team, a rising contender in the Middlesex League over the last two seasons.
Senior Jessica Campbell and her sister Rachel , a sophomore, have different styles, but both provide the Raiders with energy and are model examples of work ethic, according to Ferdinand.
At 6-foot-1, junior center Francesca Korte is a force in the paint, while her sister Felicia , is one of four promising freshmen.
“I don’t think of them as sisters,” said Ferdinand, who said he doesn’t play family mediator at practices or on bus rides. “I think of them as players. They reach out to each other and give each other advice, but everyone on the team in general is very supportive of one another. It’s a close team that way.”
Bloodlines have helped the group become very tight early in the season, an important development given the team’s range of experience levels: two seniors, six juniors, three sophomores, and four freshmen.
“It makes the team feel like a family as a whole,” said Francesca Korte, whose Facebook profile picture is a group shot of the team’s sisters. “I love having three sets of sisters on the team. I absolutely love it. It’s a lot of fun. We’re so goofy.”
While there is plenty of joking around, and some interfamily squabbling, the more serious interactions happen on the court when one player recognizes an opportunity to help her sibling. As the sisters see it, sometimes it’s easier to take constructive criticism from family than from anyone else.
“She’s taught me a lot of footwork, and different moves, and to call for the ball,” Felicia Korte said of her older sister. “She tells me to be as loud as I can, and be really encouraging on the bench, and to keep my head up all the time, even if I’m not playing or necessarily doing what I want to be doing.”
For all three sets of siblings, their driveways and backyards served as referee-free zones where they honed their skills against each other, and where their competitive spirits were turned loose.
“We’re very competitive,” Jessica said of the one-on-one games with Rachel in the Campbell family’s driveway.
“It ends in fights,” Rachel admitted with a smile.
“It can end in pretty bad fights,” Jessica agreed, “but then when it’s over with, we laugh about it.”
“We get over it,” Rachel added. “Then the next day, we go right back out and play.”
The Coppola family battles have a twist. Their older brothers, Anthony and Marco, often get in on the action.
Both starred at Watertown High, playing on Division 3 state championship teams and finishing their high school careers as 1,000-point scorers.
Marco, a sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, was the team’s leading scorer after 10 games, averaging 19.8 points per contest.
Anthony graduated from Wheaton College in 2011 as the Norton school’s second all-time leading scorer.
Both were in the crowd watching their sisters against Winchester. Despite their big game, Gabriella and Gianna expected to receive plenty of tips from their brothers.
“When we get home tonight,” Gianna predicted, “they’ll just feed us what we need to do, what we did good, what we have to work on.”
“We try to teach them some things,” said Anthony, who missed playing with Marco by one season. “Just the little things that maybe the coach might not tell her that maybe we’ve picked up over the years playing college ball and everything.”
Ferdinand, in his third season as coach of the Watertown girls’ team, helped the program make a significant jump from his first year (7-14) to his second (14-8). After starting this season 2-1, the Raiders hope their closely knit bunch, led in part by their three pairs of sisters, can improve on last year’s finish.
“In my freshman year, Pat’s first year, we wanted to make the tournament,” Gabriella said. “We did that. Last year we wanted to have a tournament home game. We did that. Now we’re just looking to go with it and continue to succeed.”
Milford off to good start in new league
Milford fared very well in its first Hockomock League action this season. As newcomers to the league, the Red Hawks started regular-season play with consecutive wins over new rivals Canton, Stoughton, and North Attleborough.
Coach Steve Manguso believes that his players will become more familiar with their league opponents, and vice versa, as the season wears on.
“People are wondering about us, and we’re wondering about them,” Manguso said. “After 10 games, there’ll be no more secrets. But right now, we’re still feeling each other out, I guess.”
Seven contributors from last year give Manguso a veteran bunch that plays with grit.
Senior guards Michael Titlebaum , Aaron Annaballi , Joe Atkinson, and Scott Van Buskirk provide pressure, whether Manguso has them playing man-to-man defense or in a 2-3 zone, while 6-foot-6 senior David Mercier , 6-4 senior Michael Tracy, and 6-3 senior Michael Soares have helped give the Red Hawks an advantage on the glass.
Though Milford now has shorter bus rides to away games, Manguso says the switch from the Midland Wachusett League hasn’t made his schedule any easier.
“We were in a good league last year, and we’re in a really good league this year,” he said. “I don’t know if that part of it is going to change that much. There’s plenty of competition. As I look at these Hockomock teams, I think they’re all very good.”
So far, his team fits right in.