If you ask around the second-seeded Mount Everett girls basketball team, there are a few different instances that the team looks at as seminal moments in their season. The moments that pushed a team on the cusp of a playoff run over the edge and into the Western Massachusetts Division IV championship game against No. 5 Quaboag today at 10:45 a.m.
Some say it was the preseason ride to Cape Cod and the weekend of scrimmages that came with it. Some say it was winning the Franklin Tech Holiday Tournament at the start of the year, and some point to a road game at Hopkins Academy midway through the season.
Regardless of which moment the Eagles pick, though, the theme is the same: These girls were onto something. And they aren't ready to give it up yet.
"It feels good to still be here, because we're not ready to be done yet," Mount Everett senior Emily Coon said. "Normally, we get tired of being in the gym 24/7, but this group of girls hasn't. We just love being here."
It's that sense of love that's kept the Eagles' season going. After two straight years of gut-wrenching losses in the Western Mass. tournament, the Eagles were able to overcome the hurdles this season to get to the D-IV title game. Whether it was blazing through the regular season at 16-4 or finally getting a win over Lee in the Western Mass. tournament, the players are getting a kick out of what their season has produced.
"It's an amazing feeling knowing we've came all this way since December, but its nerve-wracking," Maura Robitaille, another Mount Everett senior, said. "It's very — we're all very nervous, but we're all very excited. It's a mix of emotions."
Now the key for the Eagles is to control those emotions, knowing that if they do they'll get to experience a very special emotion afterwards — the one of bring home the program's first Western Mass. title.
"I'm just so honored and happy," senior Parker Snyder said of being in the championship game. "You look up [in our gym] and don't see another banner [for basketball]. Knowing we could potentially have a Western Mass. banner up there, that's great."
The team the Eagles will play at the Curry Hicks Cage is all too familiar with hoisting banners. Quaboag is two-time defending Western Mass. D-IV champion, the first two years Quaboag has been a part of the Western Mass. tournament. In the Cougars' first year as a Western Mass. tournament team, they dispatched Mount Everett 58-41 in the quarterfinals.
So forget which team is seeded where in this year's tournament. Mount Everett is still embracing the underdog role against the Cougars.
"We are the underdogs. We've always been the underdog," Robitaille said. "We've always played a team that's been in the tournament year after year after year. We're kind of like the new guy."
For coach Scott Rote, the underdog tag isn't necessarily a bad thing. With his core group of seniors — Robitaille, Coon, Snyder and Jess Abbott — in tow plus uber-talented freshman Gwendolyn Carpenter, Rote just wants his team to go out and play its game.
"It's kind of neat being the higher seed but the underdog," Rote said. "There's a little bit more to prove out here and everything."
The Eagles have talked strategy for Saturday. Getting the ball out in space and pushing the tempo is one key, as is trying to get a hold of the rebounding battle to keep the Cougars away from second-chance points. Carpenter will again have to by a dynamo, both scoring and passing the ball, against a dynamic eighth grader in Kiarra Dorman. Kelsey Netzer will have to find her range to help put points on the board. Abbot, Snyder and Madison Ullrich are going to have to battle against Quaboag's Lexi Paquette in the post.
But when it really comes down to it, the Eagles know that they have one powerful tool at their disposal: Belief. A belief that the Eagles belong on this stage, and a belief that they can overcome whatever to finally hang a basketball banner at the school.
"We always say 'believe,' so that's definitely one thing [we need]," Abbot said. "We'll be saying 'believe' all Saturday. We just have to keep our nerves down, stay excited, and keep the energy up."
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.