Monument girls in a basketball rebuilding mode
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The upper half of the walls in the Monument Mountain High School gymnasium are covered with maroon and white banners, symbolizing various championships.
Some of the banners honor the 11 Western Massachusetts Division II championships won by the girls basketball team. Seeing those banners every day is something that is not lost on the current group of Monument players.
"I definitely think it's something we aspire toward," said junior Hunter Cormier.
The Spartans, who once spent years as the dominant force in Division II basketball -- a late 1990s run of five consecutive titles as evidence of that -- are trying to restore their team to those lofty heights.
"I would definitely use them as inspiring," junior Haley Korte said before a recent practice. "It's cool to look up and see all the banners for basketball."
Monument won a Western Mass. Division II title in 2009 and last made a final in 2010. But after finishing 13-8 in 2011, the Spartans fell to 4-16 last year and didn't make the tournament.
While none of the current crop of Spartans played on that 2010 team, senior Hannah Rolf would have been a freshman that year.
"After last season, we all wanted different results," she said. "We were determined as a group to get better over the summer and work really hard to improve our game and come into the season with high energy."
Going into Wednesday's game with Greylock, the Spartans have already equaled last year's win total, as they are 6-7. Monument has had one three-game winning streak and a two-game win streak.
"Last year was not an easy year," said Monument's second-year head coach Chris Unsworth.
This year is still part of his rebuilding the program. Three Spartans -- Kayla Aberdale, Heather Hassett and Ashley Harrington -- are basically newcomers because of past knee injuries.
Last year was Unsworth's first as a head coach so it was a learning experience for him and for his players. With that first year under everyone's belt, now it is time to move on.
"This year, we just had to take it on an individual basis and set our own individual goals," he said. "We wanted the message to be that we feel we can compete with anybody on any given night and get [the players] to believe that. I think they have."
For this group, it all started in the summer. The girls played together as a team and had more success than during the 2011-12 high school season.
The lack of success last season didn't make it really easy stepping into the new season. Unsworth said that the message is that every practice this year is important and every game is important. He wants his team to understand that they have to earn everything they get.
The game that got everyone's attention in Berkshire County was when Monument beat Pittsfield 39-29 on Jan. 17. The Spartans outscored Pittsfield 15-3 in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.
It might have been a game nine days earlier that told the Monument players that they could be successful.
"I think the turning point was the game against Lee," said Korte, referring to a 42-32 defeat that saw the Spartans in it for 32 minutes. "We felt we could beat them and we were close to beating them [that night]. Beating Pittsfield was definitely a big part of our season."
"We always had the confidence in ourselves," Rolf said. "When we beat Pittsfield, it told us that we can play with any team. I think everything clicked. We had confidence in ourselves."
The road to a possible Western Mass. Tournament berth will not be an easy one. Monument will be spending much of February on the road after having a lot of January home games. Unsworth said that will be a challenge for his team.
"It's not perfect," said Cormier. "We're still working on things. We're getting better every day.
"Our goal is the tournament, and I think we can make that because of the way we are working hard every day."
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