On Monday night, the Ipswich High girls’ basketball team, donning their orange-pattern uniforms, rolled to its seventh straight win, remaining unbeaten and atop the Cape Ann League’s Division 2 standings.
On Wednesday night, the Tigers, en masse, made the trek to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence to watch the Orange, the seventh-ranked Syracuse University men’s basketball team.
An elite Division 3 high school girls’ basketball program, an elite Division 1 collegiate men’s basketball program, with a common thread: family.
Syracuse sophomore Michael Carter-Williams made a triumphant return to New England, directing the Orange to a 72-66 win over Providence College. Leading the nation in assists, the 6-foot-5 Carter-Williams started his high school career at Hamilton-Wenham Regional before transferring to St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, R.I. A career in the NBA is potentially on the horizon, but he is already the center of attention.
After Monday’s win, he was mobbed courtside in Providence by family, friends, and former teammates, who were taking photos, giving hugs, and offering congratulations on his 16-point, 6-assist performance. His mother, Mandy Carter-Zegarowski, the girls’ basketball coach at Ipswich High, his sister Masey , a sophomore point guard for the Tigers, and the rest of her teammates were front and center.
The same type of scene played out Monday night in Ipswich after the Tigers toppled Cape Ann rival Lynnfield, 55-24.
About 100 people — parents, classmates, members of the community — gathered on the gymnasium floor, waiting for the Ipswich girls to emerge from the locker room.
For a few young girls, their eyes bright with excitement, it was a chance to say “good game tonight, Julia!” as senior cocaptain Julia Davis walked by.
In Providence, Michael CarterWilliams was the hero. In Ipswich, it was the Tiger girls.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that Carter-Williams is thriving as the starting point guard at Syracuse is the foundation he received from his family growing up. His mother and stepfather, Zach Zegarowski , both played high school and college ball, and then went on to coach.
Carter-Williams watched his stepfather work the bench as an assistant at Charlestown High, which won five state titles, including four straight from 2000-2003.
His mother’s squad followed up a 16-4 regular season a year ago with a run to the Division 3 North final before falling to eventual state champion Pentucket Regional.
He attributes his success to his parents, noting “without them I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”
At Ipswich, Carter-Zegarowski, Davis, and fellow senior cocaptain Brigid O’Flynn point to the team’s family-oriented atmosphere as the biggest component of their success.
“Our team is like a family, but win or lose, we play together. There’s so much support from the community,” said the coach.
How could the team not thrive on the chemistry and tradition a family brings?
Masey Zegarowski, a poised playmaker, grew up watching her older brother rise to stardom, and has garnered attention of her own, joining Davis in earning all-league honors last season.
Davis and O’Flynn understand what it’s like growing up with siblings in the spotlight. When they were sophomores, their older sisters — Abigail and Rachel Davis, and Hannah O’Flynn — were seniors on the team. Rachel and Hannah were captains, and Hannah was a 1,000-point scorer.
“I’ve been really privileged,” Brigid O’Flynn said of her opportunity to play with her sister.
“But over time, everyone has their stand. Leadership roles fit me best. I may not be the best, but I always encourage everyone else.”
While O’Flynn is more of a role player, described by her coach as “a tremendous leader” who “does a little bit of everything,” Davis is the key to the Ipswich attack, averaging more than 16 points and 11 rebounds per game.
“Julia is absolutely the focal point of our offense,” said Carter-Zegarowski. “Because she dominates on the boards so much, even if she doesn’t get her hands on the ball so much she gets it done. She’s great on defense too, always willing to do the dirty work.”
For Davis and O’Flynn, their goals revolve around making their family, which extends into the community, proud. They know they can do that with team success.
“We’re definitely motivated,” said Davis. “Each year I’ve been on the team we’ve gotten one round further’’ in the state tournament. “This year I really want to make it all the way. We’re going to give it our all.”
“We’re impressing other kids’ parents because they’re our family as well,” O’Flynn said. “They want to be part of this successful team. We always want to represent our community well.”
The Malden High boys are off to a terrific 5-1 start thanks in large part to the sterling play of senior guard Rodney Morton.
The silky-smooth shooter is “being recruited by everybody,” according to nine-year coach Don Nally.
Morton torched Somerville for 41 points on Tuesday night, prompting Nally to call the performance “Michael Jordan-like.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Nally. “Everything we had going into the game we just scrapped and kept giving him the ball.”
Morton isn’t the only one playing at a high level.
Anthony Gilardi, a 6-4 sophomore, erupted for a 44-point performance earlier this season, and Nally calls junior Bryan Mitchell “a motor that just doesn’t stop.”
Despite individual performances, Nally credits the experience and hard work of his team in the offseason in getting them to where they are today.
“We had a young team and got a taste of the tournament and wanted to get back,” he said.
“They really committed to it in the offseason. They pull for each other.”Pat Bradley can be reached at email@example.com.