NEWTON — Newton North High senior Madison Beatrice proudly showed off her black-and-blue marks. The point guard’s knees were dotted with bruises. In between there was a stray scab here, a scar there.
She smiled, knowing that each ding is proof of her sacrifice for her team, which so values an ability to recover loose balls that it drills diving on the floor every chance it gets.
“If you look at our knees, I don’t think anyone on the team doesn’t have a bruise,” Beatrice said. “Few scars, bruises, everything. You can tell we’re always on the ground for a loose ball. That’s what we practice, and I think it really shows in the game.”
The Tigers have paired their scrappy attitude with a talented and athletic core that should make them a vexing foe once the Division 1 North tourney gets underway.
After losing to Braintree in the second game of the season, they dedicated themselves to a fanatical effort on defense — and the floor burns that come with it — and rolled off 15 straight wins. A win last month in their rematch against the Wamps earned the Tigers a share of the top spot in the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division.
Newton North coach Linda Martindale started her coaching career more than 20 years ago, but she insists that this year’s team has a passion for defense unlike any other squad she’s been around.
“This team is exceptionally rare because they really buy into defense,” Martindale said. “If there’s a loose ball, I gotta tell you, it almost always goes to North. These kids will dive on the floor, and people ask me, ‘How do you get kids to dive on the floor?’ You practice it. You practice it. We practice with such a high level of intensity that when we go into games there’s a loose ball, and kids dive on the floor without even thinking. They’re just intense little cats, these ones.”
Their willingness to sprawl across an unforgiving floor for wayward basketballs appears to have become second nature.
In last week’s 59-29 win over Brookline, junior Infiniti Thomas-Waheed saw an opportunity for a turnover rolling around on the ground and pounced. Her team was up big, and the game was almost over, but she dove, head first, into a swarm of sneakers and called timeout to save possession.
“I think the whole team, we’re willing to work hard for the sake of our teammates,” Thomas-Waheed said. “It’s something small — you would never think about how our knees are doing. But it’s a huge statement about our team, about how we’re willing to sacrifice everything we have just for the sake of the game.”
Thomas-Waheed, a 5-foot-11 wing player, is one of Newton North’s hardest workers and its most skilled player. She can score inside and out, defend any position, and rebound when called upon. Against Brookline, she put together a 20-point, 13-rebound, 10-steal triple-double.
She is already receiving interest from local Division 1 colleges — including University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston University, Northeastern University, University of Vermont, and Harvard University — and is only getting better.
Her father, Akbar Waheed , is an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at Boston College, and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to how she can improve on the court.
But for her and her Newton North teammates, it is their defense that gets the most work during practices.
The Tigers have tuned their zone 2-2-1 press into a humming turnover machine, and their help defense in half-court sets is smothering. They are quick enough to jump into passing lanes, and skilled enough to turn their deflections into easy fast-break points at the other end.
“They’re very aggressive,” said Brookline coach Allyson Toney. “They face-guard you and prevent you from getting it in. They don’t make it easy for you to get the ball inbounds. And they’re a very experienced team. They’re athletic, and they’re in very good shape, so that definitely helps.”
As does the willingness to wear their heart on their knees.
Concord-Carlisle boys turn their season around
First it was a 1-point loss to Westford. Then it was an overtime loss to Woburn. After that there was a tough 9-point defeat to Medford.
The Concord-Carlisle boys felt as though they were doing things correctly, but they were not doing enough to win. They shuffled through their first eight games of the season with a record of 3-5.
Since then, though, they have experienced a turnaround. The Patriots (10-6) learned to thrive in the inside-out offense taught by coach David Cohen, and won seven of eight games to put themselves in position to make the postseason.
“For us it’s just about getting better,” Cohen said. “Our system is a little more reliant on balance and understanding than some others, in the sense we have an inside-out game where we use both traditional post play as well as guard play. The coming together of two of those aspects sometimes takes a little longer.”
In wins over Dual County League powers Wayland and Waltham earlier this month, Concord-Carlisle’s various offensive weapons proved that they were hitting their stride at a pivotal point in the season.
Seniors Blaine Taylor (6-foot-5), Chris Sellew (6-5), Alex Sugarman (6-7), and Evan Boynton (6-3) give the Patriots plenty of size in the paint, while senior guard Zach Dowd has provided steady perimeter play alongside junior point guard Jameer Henderson, who leads the team in scoring with 15 points per game.
Whereas the team was searching for consistency to start the year, the Patriots have since established that they can be consistently good.
“We tried to control things early in the year to get it right,” Cohen said. “I think what happens is the kids start to make better decisions and start to play more on their own, and that opens it up and we start scoring more points, and I think we’ve had a better flow over these last couple of weeks.”
Without the team’s less-than-perfect start, Cohen said, he believes his players would not have made the same strides.
“I really do believe the struggle in the beginning helped us because it really demonstrated areas for us to improve,” he said. “Kids have been able to see the team develop and get stronger, which has sort of fueled our ability to work hard in practice.
“I think if we fluffed over those things and some of those close games go the other way, maybe the fuel’s not quite as strong.”
Here and there
Weston senior forward Saliah Serrette scored her career 1,000th point in a 44-35 loss to Newton South. . . Littleton got 17 points from senior Chris Murray , 13 points from senior Matt Jackson , and 10 more from Anthony Gonnella to help the Tigers clear the century mark in a 103-43 win over Murdock last week.
Phil Perry can be reached at paperry27@ gmail.com.