CHESHIRE -- In her first season as Wahconah girls basketball coach, June Blake led her team to a Western Massachusetts title and the state semifinals.
It wasn't a bad debut. But for Blake and the Warriors, getting back to UMass Amherst's Curry Hicks Cage was tougher than getting there the first time. A loss to Drury on Feb. 19 kept Wahconah out of the sectional tournament.
"We all remember it," Blake said. "So, it's a motivating factor for them as well. Not so much as me putting it on them but motivation just from themselves. They realize it was a disappointment last year to not get into the tournament. One of their biggest goals this year is to get back there."
Wahconah took the first step in that direction on Wednesday night, knocking off Division II foe Hoosac Valley for the Warriors' first win of the season. Wahconah starts three sophomores after losing a wealth of experience from that Western Mass. championship team.
While seniors Gabby Lavinio and Shannon Lussier will be expected to carry the load, Blake is leaning heavily on her sophomore class to step up this year.
"I'm looking at those guys, with all that experience last year, to come in and play like seniors for me really," Blake said. "They're not freshmen anymore, that's for sure."
The group showed poise in the win over Hoosac. Katie Dumas knocked down a huge 3 at the end of the third quarter just as the Hurricanes were threatening. Maddie Sprague had three big points of her own. Even after being called for charging earlier in the game, the sophomore went up strong in a 2-point game late, getting the 3-point play that eventually iced the win.
"It was a big deal for me to start as a freshman," Sprague said. "I wasn't used to playing at the varsity level. I had my older teammates as role models to get me moving, helping me at practice, telling me what to do. I learned a lot from my teammates."
Of course, Lavinio is a key part of setting that standard for Wahconah. The senior was a key contributer on that Western Mass. title team as a sophomore and has taken the reins of the Warriors, averaging 16.5 points through two games.
"If you want it, you got to work," Lavinio said. "In practice, just helping them along and in games, getting them adjusted to being on the floor in these intense situations. But they were really great. They adjusted really quickly, really well. It's a good group of girls. I love them."
Blake said she sees the same kind of potential she saw a year ago. The question is, will these Warriors be able to reach 10 wins and make it back to the Western Mass. tournament before time runs out?
"It's a big goal," Sprague said. "We want to go far this year."