Many have asked, many have wondered: is Braintree the best high school girls’ basketball team in Massachusetts history?
Since the state tournament began in 1975, Massachusetts has witnessed some of the best high school girls’ basketball players. The state claims greats such as Rebecca Lobo, Carla Berube, Jillian Danker, and Naomi Graves. These athletes were the stars on their respective teams, and many consider them as some of the greatest players of all time.
But did these players suit up for the greatest teams of all time?
The Globe dug through decades of girls’ basketball history to find the top 10 teams that stand out from the rest:
1. Haverhill (1994-96)
Dominant. Tough. Amazing.
Those are just a few words to describe the Haverhill high school girls’ basketball team of the mid-’90s.
But the term that best describes that Haverhill squad? Champions.
Haverhill became the first Division 1 team to hoist three consecutive state titles from 1994-96. Though Haverhill demonstrated its greatness long before its three-year championship span, during its three years as the top team in Division 1, Haverhill was simply unbeatable in the playoffs.
Under coach Kevin Woelfel’s leadership, the Hillies went on to win four titles in five years after winning the program’s third championship in 1992.
2. Minnechaug (1997-98 & 2000)
All-American Jillian Danker was the cornerstone of Minnechaug’s 1997 and ’98 championship teams. Before ending her career with 2,179 points, Danker helped the Falcons capture the school’s first two Division 1 state titles.
While Minnechaug owes a lot of its success to Danker’s offensive ability, the Falcons and coach Dave Yelle also had talented players such as Christal Murphy, Maureen Leahy, and Melissa Kowalski.
“Coach Yelle really emphasized teamwork,” Murphy said. “Players really worked on their games during the offseason and we had a stretch of years with a lot of talent that came through.”
3. Oxford (1992-93)
Former University of Connecticut player Carla Berube is no stranger to perfect seasons. Before playing for the undefeated 1995 NCAA champion Huskies, Berube was on Oxford’s undefeated teams.
For two years, Oxford was unbeatable. The Pirates ended their perfect seasons with two Division 2 state championships.
Many things led to the Pirates’ victories, but one in particular was the prominence of Berube, who finished her career with 2,179 points.
“I feel very fortunate to have played for such a storied girls’ basketball team during the early ’90s,” said Berube, who is now the coach at Tufts. “Those were some really amazing years being able to play the game I love with my best friends and win championships on top of that.”
4. Lee (1989-91)
If asked, Tom Cinella would tell you he’s a teacher first, then a coach.
In the classroom, Cinella was a math teacher. On the court, he taught defense.
His game plan was straightforward. All Cinella asked of his team was to “play hard. Play as a team. And play defense.”
His pregame speech was simple: “Defensive pride wins games.”
Cinella didn’t have a complicated flex offense, Auburn shuffle, or double-back screens. His teams were talented, but one player didn’t dominate as Lee won three straight state titles following Cinella’s defensive game plan.
“I always figured [defense] was the only constant in basketball,” Cinella said. “You can’t control the lighting in the gym, the temperature, the referees, how you’re shooting, the rims, all those factors. But you can control the defense more than offense.”
5. Andover (2010-13)
Andover is the fourth and most recent girls’ basketball team to complete a three-peat.
The team featured two-time Gatorade Player of the Year and 2,000-point scorer Nicole Boudreau, who continued her basketball career at Boston College.
For two years after Andover captured its first title, Boudreau and the Golden Warriors played with a target on their back, but they won the state title in each, and went undefeated fashion in 2013.
Boudreau credited “a special group of girls” for the Golden Warriors’ success.
“Everyone bought into the team and was willing to do whatever it took to win,” Boudreau said. “There weren’t any jealousies and everyone had a role and knew and accepted that role. That doesn’t happen often and I strongly believe that’s why we were so successful because we didn’t have the biggest, most talented team, we just had girls that all had one goal in mind and were willing to do anything to accomplish that goal.”
6. Brockton (1991)
There was something special about the ’91 Boxers team. Not only did Brockton complete a perfect season with 24 wins and a state championship, but the entire starting lineup went on to play in college.
Jen Riordan (Harvard), Kristen O’Connell (UNH), Angela Crowder (Boston College), Michelle Doonan (Stonehill), and Kim Cummings (Bentley) all received scholarships to extend their basketball careers.
7. Amherst (1993)
If it weren’t for Amherst, Haverhill likely would have won five consecutive Division 1 state championships.
But they didn’t. In the 1992-93 season, Amherst was determined to make a run in the playoffs.
The team did more than that, going undefeated throughout the season, setting up a meeting with the defending champion, Haverhill.
Amherst upset Haverhill, 74-36, in the state championship game, carving a place in history and putting a dent in Haverhill’s dynasty.
8. Braintree (2014)
The favorite memory of six-year head coach Kristen McDonnell and her coaching staff from Braintree’s championship season in 2014 was not going to going to TD Garden or winning a state championship.
The memory that sticks out the most is a victory over Franklin at UMass Boston, which clinched the Wamps’ first state semifinal appearance.
“This was the first time in my staff’s tenure that we made it to the Garden. I think all of us — coaches and players — felt like we were little kids going to Disney World,” McDonnell said. “I don’t think you can ever replicate that feeling.”
The Wamps haven’t lost a game to a Massachusetts team in two seasons. Ranked No. 1 to start this season, Molly Reagan, Britney and Brianna Herlihy, and Ashley Russell are pursuing another championship.
“I genuinely consider myself the luckiest person out there to be able to coach such high-caliber athletes and people,” McDonnell said. “This team has taken us all on a very fun ride over the past four years, and it’s been a privilege to play even a small part in that journey. They are a very special group of young women. It’s a huge honor to have our team mentioned on the same list as these other powerhouses.”
9. Hampshire Regional (1975-78)
Just three years after Title IX passed, Massachusetts implemented its first state championships in 1975.
The first four state-sanctioned girls’ basketball championships all belonged to Hampshire Regional, the only girls’ team to win four straight. Those titles came in three different divisions, the only team to accomplish that feat.
Led by Naomi Graves, who is now the coach at Springfield College, Hampshire Regionals won 98 games and lost only four during its championship reign.
“I don’t think I realized how far ahead our girls’ team was for the times,” Graves said. “Title IX was just coming about, and I am grateful for all the opportunities I was afforded at my high school.”
10. Chicopee Comp (1978)
Hampshire Regionals’ girls’ team set a standard when it dominated the state tournament, and that caught the attention of the Chicopee Comp girls’ basketball team.
Though the Colts never played Hampshire, they still wanted to prove that they were one of the best teams in the state.
“We really wanted to prove that we were one of the best teams,” said Gail Boudreaux, a former Colts center. “So, yeah, we absolutely had of a goal of repeating as a state champion and demonstrating that we were one of the best teams in the state.”
Led by core players Boudreaux (née Koziara), Diane Murphy, and Kathy Patterson (née Delisle), the Colts did prove they were one of the best when they won their second straight Division 1 title in 1978. That year, Chicopee Comp did not lose a game and won the state title game, 90-47, the most points ever scored by a girls’ team in a state title game.
Follow Michelle Fenelon on Twitter @michfenelon.