The Medfield High girls’ basketball team entered this season with six straight Tri-Valley League titles and a Division 2 state championship in 2013. The Warriors’ record the past three years: 70-8.
But coach Mark Nickerson opened the season minus six of his top seven players from a year ago, all to graduation.
“You could just feel teams were gearing up ready to play us, excited for the opportunity to get their revenge on us from the last six years or so,” said Nickerson.
“I think most people saw us as a middle-of-the-pack team coming into the season, maybe even a bottom-tier team, just because we lost so much.”
He desperately needed a spark plug, a leader to guide a very young squad. He turned to the only senior on the team: Payton Ouimette.
The 5-foot-10 forward had never averaged more than 10.7 points per game, but the captain has taken charge, putting up 20.6 points and 13.9 rebounds per game and guiding Medfield back to the top of the TVL, with an 11-2 record against league foes.
Vital to Medfield’s success has been Ouimette’s transition from a role player to the star of the team.
“I’d always been the one to catch the ball and dish a good pass off, set some good screens,” said Ouimette, a Connecticut College recruit.
“I’ve never been the one to hold on to the ball so much, I’ve never scored as much as I am now, but I think in knowing that I needed to work so hard this year, and knowing that we need the points that I’m putting up, causes me to drive to the hoop, causes me to do everything that I do just a little bit better.”
Of course, the on-court efforts of one player cannot alone fill the void of eight departures; but her leadership and guidance can.
Nickerson starts, along with Ouimette, three sophomores and a freshman who “are really counting on her to be the leader,” he said. “She’s been tremendous about building confidence in the younger players, and she’s kind of like the big sister to all of the girls on the team.”
One of the sophomore starters really is her younger sister; Sophia Ouimette says she and her teammates look up to Payton and rely on her as a shoulder to lean on during difficult times.
“She’ll call us in if we’re kind of flustered in a game and she’ll calm us down and talk to us about it,” said the 15-year-old forward. “She’s just a good role model for us.”
The elder Ouimette knows that there is still a lot of work to do, and the biggest test — the MIAA state tournament, which begins later this month — has yet to arrive. But she’s proud of how far her team has come despite the odds presented at the beginning of the season.
“Everyone individually has had to step up so much for us to do as well as we have,” said Ouimette.
“We’re a young team, but the fact that they’ve been so mentally and physically tough is the reason why we are on top right now,” she said.
The Bedford High girls clinched their fourth straight Dual County League Small Division title, and, like Medfield, they’ve done so despite having a huge void to fill: the graduation of Samantha Cowen , a 1,000-point scorer now at Catholic University, and 6-foot-3 center Alaina Greaney (Saint Michael’s College).
Senior guard Amanda Cohen said that ever since she was a freshman “a lot of teams would kind of think of Bedford as their Super Bowl, but I think that since we lost Sam and Alaina they’re definitely not thinking that as much.”
Coach Matt Ryan noted that the Buccaneers have been the shortest team in all 17 games they have played this year, but his five-guard system has worked: Bedford is 8-0 in league play.
DCL foes have underestimated them because of their lack of height, but senior point guard Kristen Bullock said “that gives us a drive because they think they’ll win since they have size.”
“Matt always tells us, if they have size, we have speed, and we’re going to be faster than every single team we play, and use that to our advantage in every single game.”
Bullock and Cohen are both 5-foot-6, but have guarded opposing front-court players near the basket.
“They’re always in the post,” Ryan said, “so they’re always coming out of games with more bruises than they’re used to, but they’ve been doing a great job.”
Bullock plays the point on offense, then switches to center on defense. The shift hints at why she leads the team in points (10.5), rebounds (8.0), and assists (6.0).
“This year we all have to be scrappy,” said Bullock. “Now I’m going for a lot more rebounds than I would have before, and I’m getting shoved a lot more than before; it’s a lot easier to get into a fight when you’re down low compared to being at guard.”
Cohen (10 points, 8 rebounds, 4.5 steals per game) said because of the height disadvantage, the whole team helps out down low.
“What’s great about this year is that we set our expectations low earlier in the season, and mentally it’s just awesome for us, because knowing that we’ve been doing better than our expectations,” she said.
“It pushes us to want more and set higher goals for the end of the season.”