LEXINGTON — The move required equal parts athleticism, finely honed skill, patience, and savvy. It was something a typical freshman wouldn’t think to attempt. But what Anna Kelly did in the second quarter of the Lexington High girls’ recent game against Belmont proved she possesses unusual talent for a player still in her first year of high school.
First came the steal, a product of the anticipation she has developed after playing so many hours for middle school and Amateur Athletic Union teams leading into this season.
Then she drove the length of the floor, faked a pass that shifted her defender out of position, and in one motion swooped toward the basket. Her left-handed scoop shot touched the glass at an impossible angle, but was spinning in such a way that when it hit below the rim, it climbed up the board and found its way into the hoop.
The move resulted in two of her 21 points in Lexington’s 54-45 win over Belmont, just another example of what the point guard has brought to the Minutemen in their 10-1 start.
“She’s very quick,” said Belmont senior captain Amari Bradshaw , who was given the task of guarding Kelly for much of the Jan. 18 game. “She’s a very quick player so you have to be aware. She’s a good shooter, you can’t really help as much as I normally would like to, but you just have to close out and be ready. You have to be on the balls of your feet and be ready for anything she does. She’s definitely a good player.”
Nothing like a freshman.
“Um, not really,” Bradshaw said.
At the midpoint of the season, Kelly is Lexington’s leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game. Her transition to varsity basketball after playing with eighth-graders last season has been seamless. She credits the work with her current teammates last summer for getting her ready to face the rigors of competing against older players.
“I think it helped me because it made me more comfortable being around the girls,” Kelly said. “Just getting to know them, that would make the chemistry better when we started playing.”
It wasn’t easy in the beginning, being the only freshman on the team.
“It was a little bit challenging at first because everyone knew each other, and I was kind of just there, with no one,” Kelly said. “But the seniors, they really helped because they kind of incorporated me and made me feel like I was part of the team.”
Senior leadership on and off the floor from captains Krystin Kajko , Dana Dimodica , and Kate Powers has been vital to Lexington’s success.
Kajko is one of the leading scorers in the Middlesex League, pouring in 16 points per game. A four-year varsity player for coach Steve Solly , she is trusted with handling the ball at the end of games in tight situations. She made all 14 of her free-throw attempts against Belmont and ended up with 23 points to secure the victory.
Without much size — Lexington does not have a single player standing 6 feet — the Minutemen get their toughness in the paint from Dimodica and Powers, a pair of 5-foot-8 forwards. Dimodica is relentless grabbing rebounds and diving for loose balls, while Powers is the team’s Swiss Army knife. She can score and rebound when the team needs it, but she is also the team’s most vocal player in timeouts, according to Solly.
The seniors have already led this year’s group to more wins than they had all of last season (a 7-13 finish). Combined with the spark of their young point guard, they have the team in line for a shot at a share of the league’s Liberty Division title. They lost to unbeaten Reading (11-0) earlier this season, but will have another crack at the Rockets on Feb. 5.
“They’ve literally gone game by game, and they don’t take anyone lightly,” Solly said of his team. “If we don’t go super hard every single night, we know we’re not gonna be in a position to be successful. So we gotta be hard, scrappy, tough, and play that brand of basketball you just saw. It just becomes a frenzy.”
That hard-nosed attitude has come to Kelly easily. Over the course of the season she has dealt with bigger, older players trying to defend her physically, but she has not backed down.
At one point against Belmont, when a defender bumped her before an inbound pass, she did not hesitate to bump right back for position. She knows how to handle trash talk, too.
“Sometimes they don’t say very nice things to me on the court,” Kelly said. “They kind of push you around at first, but then you have to stand your ground, tell them why you’re there. You have to show yourself to them, prove to them that you’re there for a reason.”
Newton North girls practice for contact
The Newton North girls knew they would have to toughen up before facing Braintree (11-2). The Tigers lost to the Wamps earlier in the season, 54-35, but were ready for their second go-round.
Coach Linda Martindale brought in the Newton North junior varsity boys’ team to scrimmage with her team to prepare for Braintree’s physicality. She also had her team work on getting loose balls, and had them bouncing off of pads to practice finishing layups through contact. The result? A 54-46 win over one of the top teams in the state.
Ashland discovers its offense, goes on run
Though the varsity boys’ team at Ashland High had a losing record, coach Mark Champagne believed they were close to running off a few wins.
“The record can really weigh on the kids, but we weren’t playing poorly,” Champagne said of the team’s 3-6 start. “We weren’t scoring. That was our problem. But we got used to our roles a little bit more and understood where we could get points, and they’ve been very accepting of it.”
The Clockers racked up four wins in a row over Tri-Valley League rivals Millis, Medfield, Hopkinton, and Holliston to push their record to 7-6. Their 53-40 win over the Hillers was their first in their last 15 tries, according to Champagne.
Senior Shane Pasquantonio , the team’s 6-foot-6 center, leads the team in both points (13.5) and rebounds (12) per game and has picked up his play during Ashland’s roll.
“Once they got a couple wins,” Champagne said, “they went into games for the first time thinking we have just as good an opportunity as the other team to get a win.”
Madsen tip-in lifts Needham boys
The Needham High boys received a tip-in at the buzzer from 6-foot-5 junior center John Madsen to beat Bay State Conference divisional rival Brookline last week, 55-54. He finished the game with 15 points and seven rebounds to help Needham (5-6) register its second win in a row. He had 13 points, 11 boards, and 7 blocks to beat Walpole, 64-52.Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.