The gymnasium at Boston Latin Academy is proudly decorated with a number of championship banners.
But on the banner for girls’ basketball, an ominous gap is obvious. It looms over the court below, and also on the mind of Fiona Mannion.
“Not since 1992,” she said. “I look at that every day.”
That is the last year that the Latin Academy girls captured the Boston City League title, a drought that spans the length of seven graduating classes. For Mannion, now a senior in her sixth year playing varsity ball for the Dragons, that helps fuel her drive to win.
Latin Academy has advanced to the city final twice in her five seasons, most recently last season in a loss to Fenway, in addition to a loss in the semifinal two years ago.
“Having been in multiple championships and losing them is definitely very frustrating,” said Mannion. “Being in that environment, in a championship, you always want to win.”
Mannion, who made a commitment to Adelphi University in December, is averaging 23.4 points per games through five starts, including a 26-point effort in a loss to Fenway.
Take any sample of Mannion’s play and her unique skill set quickly becomes clear. She possesses a tight handle that allows her to carry the ball up the court, and despite being undersized for a post player, she utilizes her strength and nifty footwork to set up finishes with either hand. And when the defense collapses on her drives to the rim, she’s a more-than-willing facilitator.
“I trust my teammates a lot, and having that trust just lets me relax and know I can play my game without worrying about other stuff,” said Mannion. “I can just help my teammates out, make the simple pass, and have them score. It’s the easy way to play basketball.”
Her court vision and game-IQ doesn’t just stand out when it comes to finding the open player.
“It’s crazy, going into halftime I can ask [Mannion] what she thinks before we make the new game plan going forward,” said Latin Academy coach Bill Dever. “It’s huge. She can point things out to the new ninth and 10th graders, she sees things very quickly.”
Mannion started taking the game seriously in the third grade. But she really started to find her niche as a seventh- and eighth-grader. She credits her sister Aisling, a two-year captain for the Dragons who graduated last year, as someone who helped her develop her all-around game.
“She was a point guard and I learned from her how hard it was to bring the ball up the court. I realized that I need to help her, I can’t just leave her,” said Mannion. “But I was also always taller when I was younger, so that’s when I developed post moves.”
Despite Mannion’s strong start, the Dragons haven’t kicked off their title challenge the way they would have liked: BLA entered Wednesday’s City League matchup with TechBoston at 1-4.
“The only thing we haven’t done is play a game for four quarters, and it’s probably the biggest key,” said Dever. “[Against Archbishop Williams] we were good for t09wo quarters, Fenway we were good for two, and you don’t beat good teams playing two good quarters of basketball.”
That record comes with some qualifiers.
BLA lost to a talented Archbishop Williams side that went toe-to-toe with third-ranked Cathedral, and trailed by just 2 points entering the fourth quarter against defending BCL champion Fenway. There was 1-point loss to Abington, and a 4-point defeat against East Bridgewater. The Dragons have also put up at least 41 points in every game.
The depth of this year’s squad is working in the Dragons’ favor. It’s still a young team, with senior captain Elizabeth Frattaroli (a BCL all-star for soccer last fall) and junior captain Jordan Bellot as veteran anchors. But Dever says he can look to a seven or eight-deep rotation that helps mix and match for certain matchups — a boost compared to years past.
“As a teammate and as a leader [Mannion is] really encouraging, and really expects the best out of her players,” said Bellot, whom Dever tabbed as the team’s best defensive player ever since her freshman year. “I feel like I’ve been able to progress as much as I have thanks to her.”
Latin Academy knows what it’s going to take to get a “2020” underneath the “1992” that has been unaccompanied for too long. The core of this year’s team has been there before. A staunch Fenway side — which BLA hasn’t defeated since 2009 — is one of many familiar foes standing in the way. But a confident Mannion isn’t intimidated.
“We know we can win, we know what we have to do, it’s just about putting it into action,” Mannion said. “We want that banner up.”
■ Shay Bollin and Kenzie Matulonis form an impressive 1-2 punch for No. 2 Bridgewater-Raynham. The addition of junior Tahlia Tah , a transfer from Archbishop Williams, helped propel the Trojans (6-0) to an unbeaten start.
“She’s come in here and has been a seamless contribution for us,” B-R coach Cheryl Seavey said. “Her character speaks volumes, she has absolutely integrated into the culture at B-R: understanding that defense wins games, that it’s a team-first philosophy, that we’re going to do the little things that turn into big things.”
“She really has bought into our team and our team philosophy seamlessly.”
Tah nailed the go-ahead 3-pointer in the second half B-R’s 49-43 win on the road at No. 12 Newton North Sunday.
And looking ahead, B-R has been moved up to the D1 bracket for the Comcast Tourney next month, earning a matchup against top-ranked Franklin Feb. 15 (5 p.m.) at Woburn High.
■ Since falling in its first game, No. 9 St. Mary’s has ripped off eight wins entering a Friday night showdown with No. 3 Cathedral. Junior Maiya Bergdorf, a transfer from Belmont, has made an impact.
Games to watch
Friday, Cathedral at St. Mary’s, 6:30 p.m. – Mackenzie Daleba, Ariana Vanderhoop and the No. 3 Panthers travel to face Maiya Bergdorf, Yirsy Queliz and the No. 4 Spartans in a tantalizing tilt.
Friday, Norwell at Rockland, 6:30 p.m. – The No. 11 Bulldogs host reigning South Shore League MVP Kristi Vierra and the Clippers.
Saturday, Bishop Fenwick at Bishop Feehan, 1 p.m. – A solid weekend matchups pits the upstart Shamrocks hosting a Crusader that has one loss, to Cathedral.
Tuesday, Hingham at Plymouth North, 6:30 p.m. – The Patriot League favorites take on Caroline and Jacqui Tripp and the Eagles.
Tuesday, Braintree at Natick, 6:30 p.m. – The two-time defending D1 state champion Wamps (4-3) hit the road to play reigning All-Scholastic Brenna McDonald and the No. 8 Red Hawks (4-1).
Seamus McAvoy can be reached at email@example.com.