Hoosac girls handling pressure en route to Western Mass. basketball final


CHESHIRE -- There are reasons it's a big deal anytime a sports team makes a run at consecutive titles.

From the moment that team wins the first title, it becomes the team to beat. Sometimes it develops into a goal for opponents. There's a pressure that mounts from multiple sources. There's a hype that begins to surround the team.

It happened to the Mount Greylock football team the past three seasons, and it happened to the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team when it claimed its first-ever Western Massachusetts title last March. With every passing victory, the target on the Hurricanes' backs has grown larger.

Sabis' top-ranked girls squad sets its sights on No. 2 Hoosac Valley in Saturday's Western Mass. Division III championship game. Tip-off time at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst is 2:15 p.m.

"It definitely makes us work harder to try to defend our title," Meg Rodowicz said. We work hard at practice and we work hard in the games."

The target may be growing, but teams are having more trouble than ever trying to hit it. Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik thinks keeping them focused on their own game has helped ease the burden of being the "team to beat."

"I don't think they've really played like they've felt the pressure," he said. "I would say there's very few times where I've seen them feeling any pressure. I'm not saying they didn't have nerves before those two tournament games, but I don't think it was as much pressure as it was getting the tempo going."

There has been a pressure from friends, family, coaches and the community. It's a by-product of success. The Hurricanes say they've been able to push that aside when they step on the court.

Some of that ability to handle the expectations comes from having high expectations for themselves.

"Every expectation we have when we come into the season is do the best we can, win the South, try to go to the Cage, and if we get to the Cage, try to win Western Mass." McKenzie Robinson said. "It's always whatever we do and we accomplish, we always want to try to top it."

Being able to ignore the hype when it matters most isn't easy, and that's where Wojcik sees it's his job to step in.

He said he's tried to shoulder as much of that as he can so his team can maintain focus. There have been games when that focus has faded, but the Hurricanes have been able to find ways to refocus and come out on top.

Not assuming a victory Saturday in the Western Massachusetts Division III final and looking ahead to the state tournament will be key.

"They've done a great job going game to game. We've really been preaching that because when you're having large victory margins and kind of running through a lot of teams, it's certainly easy to get caught up in ‘You guys should win Western Mass. You guys should get to states,' " the coach said. "If you get caught up in the big picture, it's easy to misstep."

Saturday's game against top-seeded Sabis is the first time all season Hoosac's officially been the underdog. The No. 3 Hurricanes may have been an underdog when they played Austintown-Fitch (Ohio) in Florida during winter break, but no official rankings were given. Fitch was ranked in the top 10 in Ohio at the time.

"I'll definitely use it in the locker room," Wojcik said. "When we walk out on the court in our reds in the tournament, it means we're not the favorite. We're the underdog right now. Whether we are or not, on paper that's the way it is on the floor."

Even though the Hurricanes may be the third seed, they're still the defending Western Mass. champs. No matter how you spin it, someone will be hunting you.

"There's always a target now because we're the defending Western Mass. champs," Emily Rosse said. "It doesn't matter the seeds, there's always going to be the target on our back."


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