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GIRLS’ BASKETBALL PREVIEW

Braintree the team to watch in girls’ basketball

It’s a new season for the Wamps, but last year’s goal remains. Braintree is in the hunt for a state girls’ basketball title, the coveted crown it last won in 2006. With a South championship and Garden appearance under their belt, the Wamps have the experience and the determination to win it.

Braintree welcomes back three sophomores who started last season — Molly Reagan, Bridget Hurlihy, and Ashley Russell. Senior captain Rachel Norton, a Bowdoin commit, is also in the starting mix, along with freshman Brianna Hurlihy.

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Brianna Hurlihy is no stranger to the program. She made her way through the ranks of Braintree youth basketball and watched her older sister, Bridget, play last season. Coach Kristen McDonnell is confident the younger Hurlihy will fit right in.

“She’s stepped into the starting lineup,” said McDonnell. “She doesn’t look like a freshman or play like a freshman. She doesn’t have the typical basketball IQ of a freshman, She’s well beyond her year.”

McDonnell said the sisters feed off each other. Brianna is 6 feet, and Bridget 6-2. Together with Reagan, who is 6-2, the trio is a force to be reckoned with.

“Brianna and Bridget are very competitive. There’s always been some sister rivalry and it really pushes both of them to be better,” said McDonnell. “I don’t know what’s in the water in Braintree. We have three girls at 6 feet or over and they play like guards.”

Although the Bay State Conference power was successful last year, McDonnell said that team is a thing of the past. The Wamps have adopted a defensive philosophy this year and take pride in it.

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“There’s a little bit of a bull’s-eye but that’s credit to last year’s team,” she said. “It’s a brand new year. These kids are starting from scratch.’’

Andover, the three-time defending state champion, also prides itself on defense. The Golden Warriors lost All-Scholastic and Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year Nicole Boudreau, but return starters Devon Caveney, Jackie Alois, and Rebecca Alois.

Coach Jim Tildsley said his defense will keep the Golden Warriors in games.

“We’re an up-tempo team that plays pressure defense,” said Tildsley. “We lost a lot but we are working hard. We’re going to play hard and show up and see what happens.”

Also starting for Andover is senior point guard Angelice Gonzalez. Tildsley said he was expecting a lot from her, but for now his team is a “work in progress.”

If Andover stumbles, look for Central Catholic and Billerica to challenge for the Merrimack Valley Conference title. Elsewhere, Westford and Lincoln-Sudbury should battle for the Dual County League crown. And keep an eye on Brockton, which returns a veteran lineup, as well as last year’s South finalist Franklin.

Division 2

With senior Morgan O’Brien sidelined for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Richmond-bound Olivia Healy will have to take on a bigger role as Reading tries to repeat as Division 2 state champions.

“She’s going to have to be more of a vocal leader,” last season’s Coach of the Year, Kim Penney, said. “She’s got to make everyone else around her better and she was doing that last year very well.”

Without O’Brien, the Rockets are returning six players and only one starter. Although her team enters this season as one of the top teams in Division 2 and the Middlesex League, Penney wants the reigning champions to enter this season without expectations.

“My biggest concern this year is to have the girls that we have now understand that they are a team and they do not have any expectations,” said Penney, whose team finished 25-0 last winter. “Last year we might’ve beaten a lot of teams by a lot of points but it’s a different team this year.”

Scituate is coming off a tough overtime loss to Reading in the EMass final at the Garden, and is starting this season minus its leading scorer from last winter, Shannon Brady. The Sailors have a new skipper, Matthew Lewis, who is determined to lead the Sailors to another South championship with the help of seniors Kelly Martin, Sarah Hoffman, and Annie Miller.

Arlington Catholic begins this season without dominant scorer Emma Roberson. The Cougars will once again be in the hunt to win the Catholic Central League with returning starters Maura Buckley, Ali Whitmey, and Melissa Rogers.

Division 3

Pentucket, which won the first Division 3 state championship in school history, returns three keys starters — Tess Nogueira, Coley Viselli, and Alex Moore — who played the majority of the minutes in their championship run.

Fairhaven, the defending South champion, will look to regroup after the loss of the Blue Devils’ all-time leading scorer, Kara Charette. The Blue Devils enter this season with a fairly young team but welcome back three players who played significant roles in their D3 campaign last season, including Ashley Brown, who averaged 16 points per game last season.

Archbishop Williams will once again be a contender as it returns a strong core, including Sara Ryan, Olivia Conrad, Leah Spencer, and Alana Gilmer. And after losing to a good Fairhaven team in the South final, the Bishops only have one goal in mind.

“Our team’s big goal is to win a state championship,” coach Jim Bancroft said. “When we started playing together this year we could see we have a lot of good talent.”

Division 4

Senior All-Scholastic point guard Tajanay Veiga-Lee and Fenway will have plenty of competition as the Panthers look to defend their state title, earned with a 58-49 win over Greater New Bedford. In addition to Veiga-Lee, Fenway is strong inside, led by sophomore Jalissa Ross.

After graduating 10 players, including all five of its starters, South champion Greater New Bedford will enter the season in the midst of a rebuilding process. Coach David Harrison wants to take a patient approach this season and take it one game at a time.

“I just want to be competitive and get better every game,” Harrison said. “That’s what you want to do with a young team.”

Girls’ basketball league standings on Boston.com/schools.

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