CHESHIRE — Madi Ryan and Cassidy McMahon have the potential to do something special this season with the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team.
Now it's up to them to go ahead and do it.
The Hurricanes return to the court this year looking to win their fourth consecutive Western Mass. championship. For seniors Ryan and McMahon, this means they have a shot at hoisting the champions' trophy for all four years of their high school careers.
The duo could also find themselves with an even better send-off if they can take it one step further and bring home a state championship, something the Hurricanes have fallen short of the last two seasons in the D-III state championship game.
It's the type of pressure that could crush those not ready to embrace it.
Ryan and McMahon are.
"It's not that we feel we have to keep it up, but we want to keep it up," McMahon said. "We want to keep this reputation of us going. Coach always drills it in our head that we are the team to beat.
"No cockiness at all, but it is kind of true. We'll see what the season brings, I guess."
The Hurricanes kick off their campaign at a Western Mass. four-peat — the first title was in Division II, the last two in Division III — tonight at home against Athol. While this version of the Hoosac program will look a bit different than it has in the past with players like Emily Rosse and McKenzie Robinson gone, coach Ron Wojcik welcomes back four players that saw significant minutes last year in Ryan, McMahon and juniors Fallon Field and Kailynne Frederick. Outside of them, though, the Hurricanes will look to unproven talent to keep their remarkable run going.
"It's different, we only have four upperclassmen this year," Ryan said. "It's a lot of learning now. Usually we can start practice and drilling, but there are a lot of freshmen and new sophomores coming in, so we have to learn everything over. It's helping, it's a lot of going over everything."
The maturation process will have to come quickly. Wojcik has once again assembled a daunting regular season slate, featuring five games against teams from east of Worcester. Hoosac also plays in multiple tournaments, including its own holiday tournament next weekend, the Coaches vs. Cancer showcase, a trip to the HoopHall Classic, and a journey to St. Mary's Lynn for the Spartan Classic on Valentine's Day weekend. Mix in a meaty Berkshire North slate, and the Hurricanes will learn very quickly what they are made of.
"It's been helpful," Wojcik said of his team's schedule. "There's times we are overmatched, but we talk about that, too. If we are going to try and make that next step and we are fortunate enough to get back to a state title game, at least I think these girls, going into those games, know what to expect. We might be overmatched like we were the last couple of years talent-wise, but it wasn't a surprise to them."
But in true Hoosac Valley fashion, the focus of the team isn't on what might come late in February. It's on the opponent directly in front of them — Athol.
"We try to take the approach over the years that we focus game to game," Wojcik said. "We are playing Athol next Friday, and that's what we are [focusing on]."
Ryan concurs. There are 26 steps for the Hurricanes to make if they are going to win a state championship, and Hoosac is focused on each and every one.
"I just say we take it game by game," the point guard said. "We prepare for each team differently. We don't look at the whole season as a whole, and I feel like that's why we've been so successful. We don't look at Western Mass. right now, we just look at our next game."
And that starts tonight.