As the regular season winds down, it’s time for the city’s best of the best to square off in the girls’ basketball City League Tournament.
North winners Fenway High School will square off against the South’s second-place team , New Mission, in the first semifinal. In the second semifinal, South winners O’Bryant will take on the North runner-up, Madison Park.
The tournament kicks off Wednesday with games scheduled at 4 p.m. and 5:30. The semifinal winners will then square off in the championship game Friday at 5. All games will be played at Madison Park.
Fenway won the North division behind the stellar play of its trio of stars. Tajanay Veiga-Lee, Jalissa Ross, and Kayla Cox lead the Panthers on both ends of the court.
Ross is a freshman center, who coach John Rice believes is one of the top five freshmen in the state. Cox is an all-around player who can shoot the three and penetrate. A tough player, Rice says it seems like she never gets tired on the court.
The Panthers’ leading scorer is point guard Veiga-Lee, who averages 22 points and eight assists a game.
“She has all the tools, she’s a deadly 3-point shooter, quick as a cat,” Rice said. “She has learned to play defense much better, she passes well and she sees the floor well. She’s very tough in her own right.”
The key to the team’s success, according to Rice, is that his team plays smart.
“The team has a high basketball IQ,” Rice said. “We know our strengths and weaknesses. We are a smart and intelligent team. We share the basketball.”
Fenway is playing its best basketball right now, a key to performing well in the tournament.
“I would say that we are playing very good basketball,” Rice said. “We are playing for each other, not just with each other, and we are peaking a the right time.”
Two of the Panthers’ three loses came to defending Division 2 State Champions, third-ranked Arlington Catholic. Fenway’s third loss was to a tough Fontbonne team on the road.
Rice, who is in his first year at the helm of the Panthers, coached for 17 years at Burke, where he won 13 City championships.
Fenway will square off against New Mission in their semifinal match.
“New Mission, I would say out of the four teams, has the most individual talent,” Rice said. “They are going to be a tough opponent, we are expecting a tough battle.”
The Titans are coached by Brianna Forde, who played for Rice when she was a student at Burke. However, due to a family emergency, Forde will coach her team Wednesday. Instead, the boys’ coach, Cory McCarthy, will lead New Mission.
“Most of the girls have played youth for me,” McCarthy said. “So it shouldn’t be too much of a transition.”
McCarthy led the team to a 56-51 win over Somerville Friday.
“Most of the girls play 100 miles an hour and they rebound very well,” McCarthy said. “We just need to take care of business.”
New Mission is led by point guard Tianna Johnson, who McCarthy says is the best ball handler in the City. If Johnson and her teammates play up to their potential, McCarthy thinks they are poised to get back to the top of the league.
“It’s a grudge match,” said McCarthy. “Fenway and New Mission have been division for rivals for a long time.”
The second semifinal between O’Bryant and host school Madison Park.
The Tigers have taken their entire season one game at a time, according to coach Gertrude Fisher, and they will continue to do that as they open the City tournament.
“So far, based on the goals we have set for ourselves, we have done well. We have achieved (our goals) so far, but we still have a lot to strive for,” Fisher said.
Those goals were to be consistent on offense and defense, while focusing on overall good team play. But as tournament time comes upon them, the Tigers new goals are based on performance.
“Right now we’d like to do well in the city, focusing on one game at a time,” Fisher said. “In the states, we just want to be successful and represent well.”
O’Bryant is very much a team. The Tigers don’t have one or two players who stand out above the rest; instead they have a well-rounded team of role players.
“One of the things that I am happy about is we have a good team,” Fisher said. “It depends on what the other team throws at us, who has to step up. We have a role team, everyone has a different role.”
No matter how much of a role team the Tigers are, someone has to run the offense. For O’Bryant that comes in the form of a pair of point guards, freshman Araion Bradshaw and sophomore Yonetta Harris.
“They pretty much run the show and we’ve done well with them at the lead.” Fisher said.
The Tigers run a motion offense, but they key to their success, according to Fisher, is being able to adjust on the fly.
“We have different offenses we run, too,” Fisher said. “We also adjust to what the other team is throwing at us. My kids are pretty smart and they can adjust.“
Defensively, O’Bryant is a versatile team, switching looks up between man-to-man and various zone defenses. The Tigers also run an effective full-court press.
Fisher says offensive production will be key.
“[Madison Park is] a pretty good team and their defense is good,” Fisher said. “We have to make sure we run our offense correctly and come ready to play and follow the game plan I have set up for them.
“They are going to be a tough opponent, they are not going to be a walk-over at all.”
Madison Park coach Carla Hands credits her team with the accomplishment of making the tournament.
“So far, so good,” Hands said of her team’s performance this season. “We want to improve on everything.”
The Cardinals are led by junior twins Krystal and Amber Edwards. As the point guard, Amber runs the offense, while forward Krystal provides strength underneath.
As Fisher recognized, the Cardinals are strong defensively and focused on improving offensively.
“Everything starts with their defense,” Hands said. “But offensively they are very talented.”
When it comes to taking on O’Bryant, Hands recognizes it won’t be an easy task.
“I expect for it to be a competitive game.”
Another game to watch:
Spartan Classic, Game 11, St. Mary’s HS, Mon. 4 p.m. - The winner of No. 8 Billerica and Peabody will face off against the winner of No. 13 Woburn and No. 4 Lynn English. The second round game could prove to be the best of the tournament.