The players on the Pentucket Regional girls’ basketball team wistfully carried on with their three-man weave drills and defensive shell walk-through.
The practice session Tuesday afternoon, for a team that had rattled off 11 wins in its last 12 games, though, was a little quiet.
The previous night, the Sachems had absorbed their most difficult loss of the season, falling to unbeaten Masconomet Regional, their Cape Ann League rival, 39-38.
Coach John McNamara’s squad failed to capitalize on a few opportunities late in the game that could have ended the Chieftains’ perfect start and extended their own winning streak to 12 games.
“We were a little drained emotionally because we put a lot into that game last night,” McNamara said of the early afternoon workout. “We left it all on the court and came up a bit short.”
They came up a bit short against Masco, but McNamara’s squad has come a long way this season.
The Sachems entered the year with more question marks than answers. Four seniors graduated from last year’s squad, including three starters (Alex Moore , Tess Noguiera , and Coley Viselli ) who are now playing college basketball.
That left two returning starters, McNamara’s daughter Kelsi , a junior, and McKenna Kilian .
The youthful inexperience was clearly evident in a 1-3 start. But the two returning starters then led a Sachem squad with no seniors, four juniors, six sophomores, and two freshmen on an 11-1 run.
“At this point of the season we’re not young any more, we can’t use that as an excuse,” said the elder McNamara, in his eighth season as coach. “The first few games were new to the majority of the girls, they had to adjust to treating each game differently, with its own game plan.”
The Sachems have bought in. The players are starting to play the type of lock-down defense that anchored runs to the Division 3 state final in 2011 and 2012.
On Monday, Pentucket Regional limited Masconomet Regional to a season-low 39 points (Masco came in averaging 63 points per game).
“Every game they’re just getting better and better, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” said Masco coach Bob Romeo , whose squad handed Pentucket a 26-point loss in their first meeting in December. “They’re a very young team that’s starting to make the right read, the right pass, and finding the right teammates much better now.”
The Sachems run their offense through Kelsi McNamara (16 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and four steals per game), a 5-foot-6 point guard who is in her second year as a starter. And in her third year on the varsity, she has learned to deal with her father’s demanding style on the court.
Her older sister Erin , who now plays at Southern Maine, was in the same situation as a four-year starter from 2008-2011.
Their father said he’s “developed some routines” in his second time coaching one of his daughters. He calls it a “special opportunity which we both appreciate.”
“I definitely feel comfortable telling him anything,” said Kelsi. “I don’t hold back anything I have to say.
“I know I can trust him with whatever he tells me,” she added. “Basketball brings us together since we both share a love for it.”
The rest of the players get a kick out of the father-daughter relationship.
Sophomores Riley Holden and Rebecca Torrisi describe the unique pairing as a “funny” scenario: coach and daughter going back and forth between jokes and arguments.
Kilian, who has played with Kelsi on travel and Amateur Athletic Union teams since the fifth grade, said: “I know she loves playing for her dad; it’s cute. Sometimes they can get a little heated, but we know it’s for the better.”
The McNamaras are looking to continue the success that has put Pentucket on the map as a perennial contender.
The 5-8 Kilian (10 points, seven rebounds per game) has the versatility and length to switch between the guard and forward positions for a team that lacks size up front.
“We’ve been through a lot together throughout the years,” said Kelsi McNamara of her teammate. “It’s developed a good friendship between us two that we might not have had without basketball.”
Torrisi calls Kilian the team’s “unsung hero,” and refers to Kelsi as the reason the Sachems have been competitive in so many games. Holden says the two players hold everyone on the team accountable and make sure they are playing up to their potential.
“We just have to continue to develop in every phase,” said Kilian. “Those will come as the season goes on, and it’s shown since we’ve matured throughout the year.”
The Masconomet loss, said Kelsi McNamara, “will go a long away in helping us, it was a tournament environment.”
“We’re fighting in every single game like it’s a big game,” she said. “We’re starting to get into the flow, when we set our minds to playing tough, we do that.”
Despite multiple changes on and off the court in the offseason, the Danvers High boys have not skipped a beat.
The two-time defending Division 3 champs, who will move up to Division 2 play for the tournament this season, started the year 12-2. The Falcons won their first eight games before falling to Salem (41-38) on Jan. 14.
Danvers graduated nine seniors, and its only returning starter, junior Vinny Clifford , is out for the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament last summer.
An all-new starting five has just two seniors, Mark McCarthy and Kieran Beck .
“He’s taken on that leadership role and really sets an example for the young kids,” coach John Walsh said of McCarthy, who is averaging 8.6 points per game as the starting point guard. “Without him, I don’t know where we would be.”
Beck, the team’s best defender, is averaging 12 points per game. Devin Harris, a 6-3 junior forward, leads with 18.3 points per game, while classmate Peter Merry, a 6-9 center, is at 12.4 points per game.
Perry settles in
In his first season as the girls’ coach at Andover High, EJ Perry has made a smooth transition to a program known for its recent dominance.
After guiding the Golden Warriors to three straight Division 1 state titles (2010-12), Jim Tildsley stepped down as coach after last season. Perry, who led Salem High (N.H.) to a pair of state titles, has directed Andover to a 12-4 record. He calls the group “the hardest-working team I have ever had.”
Rebecca Alois , a 5-9 senior forward averaging 8.6 points and 12 rebounds per game, is a fearless leader, according to Perry. Colleen Caveney , a 5-8 junior with a killer crossover dribble, averages a team-leading 15.7 points per game.
Papas reaches 500
In his fifth season as the boys’ varsity coach at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, and 37th overall, Nick Papas earned his 500th career victory Jan. 25 with a 73-67 Independent School League victory over Brooks.
“I was able to develop at each school with some great student-athletes,” said Papas, who previously coached at Minuteman Tech in Lexington, Melrose, and Burlington. “I had tremendous loyalty and dedication from my assistant coaches, who always do a lot of the behind the scenes work that deserves great recognition. I was very fortunate to have great school and community support.”
Lynch honor Tuesday
On Tuesday night at 6:30, the gymnasium/field house at Swampscott High will be named in honor of Dick Lynch , a highly respected teacher, coach, and administrator at the school. The ceremony was postponed last Wednesday because of the snowstorm.Joseph Saade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.