Junior Aliyah Brito and senior Tatiana Dias , cocaptains of the Brockton High girls’ basketball team, could tell something was different as soon as they stepped into their basketball coaches’ office. Assistant coach David Rea was not his jovial self, they noticed, and head coach April Dingwell was not there at all.
The previous night, the players had learned that Patrick Brennan , Brockton’s girls’ basketball coach as recently as 2006, had died. Before their Feb. 14 game against Scituate, they saw how the news affected Dingwell, who played and coached under Brennan, and they decided to make the weekend as easy as possible for the coach.
“We could tell in her face that she was hurt, they definitely were not the same that day,” Dias said. “We were just trying to pick them up in addition to getting the W.”
Freshman guard Jalani Jackson led Brockton with 22 points that night in a 68-37 win over the Sailors. Two days later, Brito and Dias finished in double figures in a 63-37 win over Oliver Ames in the IAABO 54/Harry Lehman Memorial Tournament. The entire team wore Coach Brennan shirts before the game.
“They knew that, as a coaching staff, we were having a hard time, and some of them picked it up to a whole new level that we hadn’t seen,” Dingwell said of her team’s play during the weekend. “They knew how important he was to all of us and all they said was, ‘We got you, Coach.’ They were there for all of us, and it was awesome.”
In the tournament’s championship game Monday though, the Boxers had one of their worst performances of the year, tallying a season-low in points in a 41-25 loss to undefeated Duxbury. Dragons junior cocaptain guard Maddie Foote earned MVP honors after the win, and fellow junior guard Jackie Sullivan tallied 12 points while shutting down Dias for most of the game.
On the boy’s side of the tournament, Oliver Ames, where Brennan was an assistant before his death, won twice to move to 10-10 and clinch a playoff berth after an emotional weekend.
After the loss to Duxbury, Dingwell thanked her team.
“The last four days have been a complete blur and you guys kept us in it,” she told her players. “You guys were the highlight of our day.”
A former Boxer, Dingwell took over at Brockton during the 2011-12 season, inheriting six freshmen who now make up the team’s core as juniors. The Boxers started 1-9 in Dingwell’s first year, and snuck into the playoffs at 10-10 last season, upsetting Attleboro in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs before falling to North Attleborough.
“I think they woke up last year realizing the potential they had,” Dingwell said. “Right from that day they said we are going to do better next year. They pulled together as a team in the offseason and pushed each other and worked to a level we hadn’t seen before.”
Coming into the year, Dingwell was not sure what type of team she was going to have. Dias was a returning starter, but the rest of the roster was made of players still developing — or at least that is what the coach thought. At the first tryout, she saw a group of juniors who looked totally different than the sophomores she had coached the year before.
“I saw a change in attitudes and work ethic,” Dingwell said. “They totally transformed their game, their fitness level — they were working out together every single day — they look like they are in different bodies.”
The Boxers opened the year 11-1 and were 16-3 after Monday’s loss, still second-best in D1 South.
The strong record comes despite a lack of experience. Dias is the team’s only senior, and even she has not been a Boxer for four years, transferring from Southeastern Regional to her hometown school before her junior season. Despite being a relative newcomer, she is a clear leader on the team, guiding teammates through warm-ups, encouraging players during drills, and directing others in games. She knew most of the players growing up, and her bond with the rest of this year’s team showed in offseason play as the Boxers went 6-1 at the Stonehill Summer Jam and did not lose in fall play.
Running the point, she has a bevy of weapons from which to choose. Jackson and junior guard Geornaisha Silva-Moore are both lethal shooters, and junior forward Catherine Louis can also shoot well.
Down low, Brito and sophomore Toni Fairhurst have benefited from opposing teams extending to guard the 3-point line. Fairhurst had 16 points in Friday’s win over Scituate.
Dingwell said all of the players have helped her work to achieve the level of success Brennan had at the school.
“I hope I can continue his tradition and honor his legacy here,” she said. “It sure has been a lot easier with these girls because they have been so amazing.”
Girls’ teams to watch
■ Braintree (19-1): The Wamps’ only regular-season loss this year came to New York’s Christ the King at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield. Braintree enters the tournament coming off a victory over Medfield in the Comcast Classic final Monday.
■ Sharon (11-7): The Eagles struggled to find consistency this year, but still won the Hockomock League for the first time in 37 tries as senior guard Karlie O’Driscoll led the conference with 16 points per game.
■ Abington (18-2): A win against Division 1 Mansfield in the Mansfield Roundball Classic should give the Green Wave more confidence as one of the top seeds in the Division 3 field.
■ West Bridgewater (20-0): Seniors Brittany Stone , Caroline Nee , Tiarra Murrell, and Christine Schondek have led the Wildcats to an undefeated season, and now they want to return to the Division 4 South semifinals for a fourth straight year.
Boys’ teams to watch
■ Marshfield (11-9): After a slow start to the season, the Rams will enter the tournament having won five of their last six games.
■ Whitman-Hanson (17-3): A double-overtime win against Scituate in the Panther Winter Classic avenged an earlier loss to the Sailors and secured a top Division 2 seed for the Panthers.
■ Rockland (15-4): Sophomore forward John Furr helped the Bulldogs spoil Cohasset’s undefeated season in overtime Saturday, and he will look to continue providing a secondary scoring threat for senior captain Matt Nicholson .
■ Hull (11-8): Senior forwards Michael Warren and Kris Scanlon present a potent front court for the Pirates, who won their fifth straight game by beating Nantucket Monday.
■ Canton (13-7): Led by 1,000-point scorer Sam Larson , who averages 21 points per game, the Bulldogs have not lost since Jan. 21. They have won nine straight.Jacob Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.