Saturday March 16, 2013

LEE -- Two women manned the check-in desk deep in the bowels of the DCU Center before the state semifinals on Monday.

"The first game is Main South and who?" one asked.

"Lee, they're always here," replied the other.

It sure seems that way after the Wildcats booked their third trip in four years to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Assoc-iation's Division III state final with a 69-37 rout of Main South. This year's seniors will try for the second state title of their careers -- and the eighth in school history -- against Archbishop Williams this morning at 10:45 in Worcester.

Stephanie Young, a 1,000-point scorer, is among those seniors playing in her third state championship game. Young was a freshman the last time Lee (19-5) won.

"I was really little," the 5-foot-11 Young said. "I was so little. I was starting but I feel like I didn't know what was going on. I was just kind of playing. ... I feel like I've grown a lot since then. I've come into my place on the team."

And in school history. This class of six seniors enters its final game today having gone a remarkable 86-11 over four years. Eileen Dooley, who is second on the team in scoring to Young, said she remembers watching Lee teams as a kid and thinking "Wow, these girls are good."

The Wildcats shouldered those expectations and may have even exceeded them.

"These kids, they want to succeed," said Wildcat coach Gary Wellington.


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"They want to play right to the end."

The end comes this morning against the Bishops (22-5), but maybe that's the wrong word for it. While Wellington is stepping down and the team will graduate six seniors -- including all five projected starters -- there's already signs of a strong future.

Freshman Courtney Picard has scored 28 points in this playoff run, including some big shots in the Western Mass. Division III final against Sabis. The last time Lee won a state title, when Picard was in sixth grade, she, like Dooley before her, watched the Wildcats in awe. Young said she sees almost a younger version of her in the 5-foot-8 freshman. She's tried to help out the rookie when she can, remembering how lost she was on plays three years ago.

That transition from present to future is almost poetic.

"I think it's exciting," Picard said. "But we have high expectations to live up to. We're going to have to work really hard next year to be like them. ... I never imagined that I would be playing with them. I thought they were just amazing and I didn't have a chance to even be on this team."

Those expectations are a given in Lee, and it's hard to believe this will be the last trip to Worcester for the Wildcats. These girls embrace the banners they see at practice every day.

"I've loved it," Dooley said. "I'm going to miss it a lot. It's been so much fun. Sometimes the pressure's fun. It pushes you. It's exciting."

To reach Christopher James:
cjames@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6252.
On Twitter: @BECJ2K