NORTH ADAMS -- Since they were younger kids, the seniors on the Drury girls basketball team have run into roadblocks.
As middle-school basketball players, these kids had always run into a Lee roadblock. In high school, the Blue Devil seniors have yet to make a trip to the Curry Hicks Cage for a Western Massachusetts Division II semifinal.
"We’ve had some really special senior classes over the 11 years I’ve been here, but this group is right at the top with the best of them," Drury coach John Franzoni said. "They’re great kids. They’re great athletes. They are tremendous role models for our younger players."
Led by seniors Danielle Racette, Ali Tatro and Shannon Garvey, the Blue Devils are in the thick of things for the Northern Division title and a pretty high seed in the Division II tournament.
"We’ve all been together for so long," said Garvey, before taking the court for a recent practice. "To play with Danielle, Ali and Morgan [Lamarre], the four of us have been together since third and fourth grade."
Garvey laughed when the question was asked if they planned to play for a title as seniors, and did they know as third or fourth graders they could be this good?
"I think it was more on the seventh and eighth-grad travel team where I [thought] we’re going to be good," Garvey said.
It was a 47-37 win over the Wildcats in Lee that got the attention of basketball coaches and fans from the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires. While that game put some additional pep in the players’ step, it was not a sign that this Blue Devils team was going to be good.
"Honestly, the first practice after tryouts," Tatro said. "It was almost the same team and we knew we clicked together -- it’s a cliché -- [but] on and off the court, we know where each other are."
Franzoni, in his 11th year as the Drury head coach, said the senior leadership has been critical to his team’s success. Their leadership has helped the younger Drury players get better.
That development all starts at the top of the roster.
"When we’re out on the court together, we all click really well," said Racette. "Even off the court, we all have a really good time together."
Franzoni has called this team a very close-knit one, and one that does things together on court, in school and in their spare time.
The girls do travel to watch the Drury boys play games on the road, and can often be found in the Bucky Bullett Gym watching Danielle’s father Jack coach the Blue Devils.
Jack Racette had a hand in helping build this cohesive group. He coached a girls AAU team in the summer that basically consisted of the current Drury roster.
Now, about that game in Lee.
Communities from North Adams to Sheffield have youth basketball programs and travel teams. For the current Drury seniors, that meant facing age group teams in orange and black over the years.
"Yep, and we never beat them," Tatro said. "It felt really good. Looking up at the clock every time we were ahead, it just made me smile. It made me work harder every play."
If the Blue Devils are going to make noise in Division II, Franzoni might just look back on a loss to Wahconah in the Coaches vs. Cancer event as a turning point.
The Warriors knocked off the Blue Devils 45-34 in that game. Franzoni had seven days to practice between games, which apparently paid off, because the Blue Devils have won three straight since.
In those three wins, the Blue Devils have averaged 49 points and given up only an average of 37 points. Those kind of numbers could give Blue Devil backers some confidence heading into the Division II tournament.
Drury hasn’t won a Western Mass. title since beating Monument Mountain in 2001. The last time Franzoni got to the Cage was 2006, when the Blue Devils lost to Hampshire Regional.
After not making the Division II field in 2008, Drury has lost in the quarterfinals each of the next four seasons. Last year, as the No. 3 seed, the Blue Devils had a first-round bye, but lost 33-25 to Athol.
"We definitely think we should have made it farther last year," said Danielle Racette, "and we want to make it farther this year."
"Every game is the first step," said Tatro, "so you have to go through them all. You just can’t jump to the top. We know we want to get there.
"When it’s time, we’ll be ready."
To reach Howard Herman:
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