The first Battle New England All-Star Tournament, held in honor of the late Medina Dixon, concluded Sunday afternoon at the Kroc Corps Community Center in Dorchester. As had been the case all weekend, the day was highlighted by displays of creativity and toughness from some of New England’s top girls’ basketball talent.
Just ask Avery O’Connor, a Dedham High senior and Globe All-Scholastic who will play at New Hampshire next fall. While fighting for a rebound in the championship game, the Medina Dixon Dream Team I member took an opposing head to her nose piercing, which cut O’Connor and gave her a bloody nose. She continued on and so did her team, which pulled away in a 68-21 win against the Next Level All-Stars.
“This was one of the most tough tournaments I’ve played in,” O’Connor said. “It was a battle all the way.”
O’Connor wasn’t the only player to persevere through bumps and bruises in the contest. Teammate and Framingham junior Selina Monestime dinged her hip on a fall while attempting a layup. After a short pause on the bench, she continued to play. The Next Level All-Stars had only five players available, but gave their full effort despite the loss.
The tournament was primarily organized as a way to honor Dixon’s legacy as a trailblazer for local girls’ basketball. But it also blended a competitive hoops scene where school and AAU team boundaries were wiped away.
O’Connor played with several of her teammates from Bay State Jaguars, including tournament MVP Megan Olbrys, Thai Davis, Margo Mattes, and Tatum Forbes. Others were AAU competitors turned friends, and with no practices, the squad had to sync quickly.
“Playing with different types of point guards and post players — it’s just free,” O’Connor said. “You just kind of go with the flow and do what you got to do. It’s easier than you think.”
The talent threshold and overall environment allowed players to get on the same page and then get creative. O’Connor broke out multiple impressive shot-making moves, as did her teammates, and said that she felt a freedom to experiment. Jesus Rodriguez, who shared head coaching duties with Mitch Hercule, said that while he wrote the occasional play on a whiteboard, he trusted the team to make plays happen.
“It’s so easy because they’re all so smart,” he said. “You write stuff on the board [and] they get it right away because they’re their basketball players.”
Director Al McClain, a cousin of Dixon’s, said the three-day tournament met his high expectations.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “I enjoyed all the games; all the games were exciting. If a team lost one night, they wanted to come back and perform the next night. So it was very high-level, good basketball.”
The tournament also held sentimental value for seniors such as O’Connor who have finished their high school and AAU careers. This weekend was one of her last chances to participate with the local hoops community before heading to college. O’Connor made sure to savor the moment.
“This is going to be one of my last memories of playing with these girls, because we’re all going in such different directions and different places,” she said. “So it’s definitely going to hold a special place in my heart.”