Once the athletic department at Oliver Ames received the green light to proceed with basketball this winter, varsity girls’ basketball coach Laney Clement-Holbrook spent time in the screen tent outside her house almost every day, talking to herself and debating whether or not it was safe to coach.
Her enthusiasm hadn’t waned, but the 67-year-old — a fixture in Massachusetts basketball who has been around the game her entire life — initially wasn’t positive that the reward outweighed the risk of potentially contracting COVID-19.
“I just kept questioning myself,” Clement-Holbrook said. “Am I doing the right thing? I don’t want to be a martyr. I don’t want to do it because everybody else is telling me, ‘Yes, you should do this,’ or, ‘No, you shouldn’t do it.’ I needed it to be my decision. I couldn’t even picture myself walking away from [the players].”
With 709 career victories, Clement-Holbrook is the state’s career leader for a girls’ coach, yet her feistiness and passion for the game are as strong as ever in her 45th year. Now, as she gushes about her team’s historic season, she’s overjoyed she decided to take the risk, as the Tigers (9-0) have embarked on a magical run and captured their 18th league title during her tenure.
Oliver Ames has navigated through two pauses — one at the start of the season and one in early February – and has overcome both Hockomock opponents and COVID-19 to piece together one of the best seasons in school history.
“We figured it out,” Clement-Holbrook said. “Boom, we just won the Hock. Boom. Mic drop.”
Clement-Holbrook, who wears two masks and socially distances as much as possible, still finds creative ways to be present and focused on the task every day at practice and during games.
Though she’s sorely missing out on impromptu dance parties during bus rides, she’ll occasionally bust out the moves at practice to lighten the mood. Clement-Holbrook, who often signs her emails “GO Tigers,” gets particularly revved up whenever the captains play Katy Perry’s “Roar” and embrace their Tigerly roots.
“It’s not pretty to watch,” Clement-Holbrook said, “but it just kind of comes out of me. They know how to get me.”
Clement-Holbrook has a ”no phone and no headphones” policy on bus rides. She believes it’s important for players to bond with one another. Even this year, when masks are on faces and enthusiasm can be harder to come by, she makes sure her players know how fortunate they are to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Clement-Holbrook frequently tells the players to make the most of their minutes, and that mind-set extends beyond the court. She called her captains “rock stars” for leading by example, and it’s clear the feeling is mutual.
“She always pushes us to be the best that we can,” senior captain Jess Erlich said. “She knows our potential, and she would never have us settle for less.”
The Tigers were set to play their first regular-season game when they found out they had to go on pause. They stayed patient and were able to knock off a tough Foxborough squad twice despite practicing just two times beforehand.
Pause No. 2 was more frustrating, they said, because they had gotten so far and suddenly had their momentum zapped. They were quickly able to regroup once again, however, and keep the mojo going.
Oliver Ames, which finishes its league schedule Wednesday at Stoughton, has relied on fast-break basketball and a balanced attack all season. No player is averaging more than 12 points per game, yet the Tigers are putting up more than 60 per contest as a team while holding their opponents to under 33.
OA finished with 28 total assists in a win over Stoughton on Saturday — every player on the roster scored a basket and got an assist.
“Everyone is a key player,” senior captain Caroline Flynn said. “Everyone touches the ball, and everyone scores.”
Each year, when Clement-Holbrook finalizes the roster with the help of loyal assistants Brittany Engle and Chris Hochstein, she has the players look up at the banners on the wall and asks them how they want to be remembered. Some of their mothers, aunts, and sisters played for Clement-Holbrook, and she makes sure they understand the tradition of the program and the expectation.
She wishes they had a chance at a state title this season, because she believes this team could have done serious damage in Division 2. But she’s proud of all the Tigers have accomplished given the most-unusual circumstances.
“They want to make sure that they have their moment to shine,” Clement-Holbrook said. “This year, that’s exactly what these girls did. They fought through adversity. We just did this during a pandemic. That in and of itself makes this whole thing that much more extraordinary. We’ll cherish this championship.”
As for her future, she said she’s not planning to move to Tampa like Tom Brady any time soon. She said she’ll think it over and weigh her options, but if her decision this season is any indication, odds are she’ll be back for another round.
“I still love what I do,” she said, before pausing and nodding her head. “I’m thinking that’s a yes.”
▪ Wilmington senior Kylie DuCharme became the second player in program history to reach the 1,000-point milestone in the Wildcats’ 45-31 Middlesex League win over Stoneham on Saturday. That same day, the Bentley University commit also grabbed rebound No. 1,000 — the only Wildcat to ever reach both benchmarks. She is averaging 19.8 points and 17 rebounds per game this season.
“Kylie is the hardest worker in the gym,” coach Jess Robinson said. “No matter who we’re facing, no matter if she was a freshman or a senior, she’s a kid who will not be outworked by anybody.”
DuCharme’s achievements highlight a whirlwind week of makeup games for Wilmington (6-4). After three separate shutdowns, the Wildcats played their fifth game in six days against Stoneham on Monday, a 42-30 win.
“We want to win every game, so I try to stick to my rotations,” Robinson said. “But it’s tough when we’re in the situation we’re in.”
▪ Chemistry can pay dividends in an unusual 2021 season. Arlington (7-1) returned every player from a year ago and that helped the Spy Ponders secure the first Middlesex League Liberty Division title in program history.
Captains Ava Connolly and Claire Ewen spearheaded a team with eight seniors who have supplied consistent production all season.
“Getting the first banner in the gym . . . it’s something me and the seniors started talking about last year when they were interviewing me for the job,” said second-year coach Lindsey Taylor. “So to be able to complete that with them is just a really cool feeling.”
▪ Bridgewater-Raynham wrapped up a dominant 12-0 season by beating New Bedford in the Southeast Conference tournament final. The win also put a bow on an incredible run for the Trojans with seniors Kenzie Matulonis and Tahlia Tah. B-R was 72-10 with Matulonis on the varsity, and 33-3 since Tah transferred from Archbishop Williams as a junior.
▪ Millis coach Dave Fallon earned his 200th career win just in the nick of time. The Mohawks (10-2) netted the milestone with a 60-28 win over Norton in their Tri-Valley League season finale on Friday.
Correspondent Ethan Fuller contributed to this story.