With Billerica’s 72-59 victory over Central Catholic Friday night, the Indians were one step closer to becoming one of the elite girls’ basketball teams in the state.
Competing in the Merrimack Valley Conference with two-time defending Division 1 state champion Andover and a tough Central Catholic squad, Billerica has been fighting its way to contention with the two top teams over the last few seasons.
“Andover and Central [Catholic] are always kind of looming over you. They have been two of the top teams in the state for as long as anyone can remember,’’ said Billerica coach Chris Doneski.
The Indians have built a program around a strong core of players and Doneski, in his second season as coach, has instilled a winning attitude in his team.
When he took over the program two years ago, Doneski knew he had a good foundation to work from. The team was coming off a losing season (5-15), but the Indians had won at least 10 games in the previous three seasons, topping out with 11 victories in 2008-09.
“Leading up to me taking over, they had some good teams,’’ Doneski said. “It wasn’t like I was starting from something bare. They had a lot of depth.’’
In order to take advantage of that depth and develop the longevity of the program, Doneski has stressed teaching the same core values of speed, defense, and unselfish play at the freshman and junior varsity levels, in addition to the varsity team.
“We have good players who have been willing to work hard the last couple of years,’’ Doneski said. “And slowly but surely we are improving and becoming competitive with those top teams.’’
Doneski credits the depth he has as one of the contributing factors to the Indians’ rise through the conference.
“The five girls on the floor who have started have played unselfishly and the people who have come off the bench have contributed and picked up the starters when they aren’t having their best nights,’’ Doneski said.
Doneski has focused on defense and getting the ball inside, utilizing the talent he has down low. Junior center Joslyn King is the backbone of Billerica’s inside game, while fellow starter Erin Brooks provides strength underneath.
When Billerica plays its game, the Indians move the ball up the court with crisp passing and speed.
“We like to play fast, we want to push the ball, take advantage of our opportunities in transition, and execute to the best of our ability,’’ Doneski said. “The thing we try to do is pick up the speed we play with but still stay disciplined.’’
Doneski focuses on the speed and athleticism of his team, something he knows he will have to develop further if the Indians are going to continue to compete with Andover and Central Catholic.
“We’re looking to keep getting better. When we play someone like Andover and Central, they play just tremendous defense,’’ said Doneski. “Their intensity, their awareness, that’s something we’re striving to get to.’’
Billerica sits at 8-1, the only loss a 58-49 setback against Pentucket. Friday’s game against Central Catholic was their toughest contest of the season, despite the Raiders playing without their best player, junior forward Casey McLaughlin.
“I like to think that we would have competed even if [McLaughlin] had played,’’ Doneski said Friday.
The victory only boosted the confidence the Indians have been building all season. But with its first game against undefeated Andover coming up in just over a week, Billerica is continuing to work hard to prepare for the battle.
“We’re definitely looking forward to any challenge that comes up,’’ Doneski said of the upcoming tilt. “But we have done a very good job of having some perspective and keeping things just on a day-to-day basis and worrying [about] what we are supposed to do in practice.’’
The victory over Central Catholic was just a steppingstone for Billerica, which will face the Raiders again Feb. 7, but Doneski knows his team is rising in the standings and that the game against Andover on Jan. 26 will be a measuring stick of how far his team has come.
“It’s tough to measure it, I think we’re just really focused on improving,’’ Doneski said. “We’re hoping eventually that will lead up to us being able to compete with those teams.’’
No. 10 Masconomet at No. 14 Central Catholic, Sun., 3 p.m. - Sunday’s road game for 6-1 Maconomet will be a tough test against a strong Central Catholic (6-3) squad. Despite their three loses, the Raiders are still a team to look out for, playing in the tough Merrimack Valley Conference.
Marshfield at No. 16 Falmouth, Fri., 6:30 p.m. - Marshfield fell out of the Top 20 this week, but could gain ground on the road at Falmouth. With identical records of 9-1, the two teams will meet for the first time this season.
No. 18 Woburn at No. 3 Reading, Fri., 7 p.m. - The Rockets (8-0) look to remain undefeated while the Tanners (7-1) attempt to climb the standings in this Middlesex (Large) matchup. Both squads are undefeated in conference play, but that will all change on Friday night in the first matchup between theteams.
Weymouth at No. 4 Braintree, Thur., 6:30 p.m. - Weymouth looks to avenge its 54-37 loss to Braintree in the final round of the Adams Holiday Tournament. Undefeated Braintree will look to keep a perfect record as the Wamps continue to move up in the standings.