North Berkshire basketball jamboree setting the tone for the coming season
The Blue Devils were joined by boys and girls teams from Hoosac Valley, Mount Greylock and McCann Tech for the event, which featured four 20-minute games in front of a packed house, eager for the 2017-18 hoop season to get underway.
The night opened with a broken-record performance by perennial girls powerhouse Hoosac Valley looking like it lost no steps in the wake of graduating Fallon Field and Kailynne Frederick. The five-time defending Western Massachusetts Division III champions ran a smooth offense and lit it up from the perimeter to top Greylock. The Hurricanes put down nine three-pointers, including three by Riley Robinson. Returning starters Alie Mendel and Lexi Mercier led the way with 12 and 11 points, respectively, while senior captains Skylar Case and Kayla Garabedian liked what they saw.
"We worked on some of the plays we've been integrating into practice, worked on defense," said Case. "Our big thing this year is talking, for the young girls and even our veterans, we want to communicate more."
"We're making progress with that. We were all in tune with each other today and it flowed really well," added Garabedian.
For Mount Greylock, what it lost to graduation will be more significant. The presence of current Brown University freshman Jenna Benzinger inside was immense and something the Mounties are going to figure out through a process. John Jacobbe's squad showed a couple flashes with captains Lauren Howard and Maddie Albert working an inside-outside game.
"We need to find a higher compete level. We know we're playing the top team in Berkshire County, but we've got to find a higher level of compete in practice and games," said Jacobbe. "We've got a ton of room for improvement. Saw some good things, some not good things. Hoosac came in doing a lot of the things they've done for years. We need to work on a bunch of new things because we lost such a key cog in our offense."
On the boys side, Hoosac had its full squad together on the court for only the second time all season. Several members of the hoops squad played in the Division VIII state football championship last Saturday. Mount Greylock returned to the court after finishing second in Western Mass. Division III last season. The game was back-and-forth, and felt nothing like an exhibition game. Both sides dove on the ground for loose balls and drives to the basket were heavily contested. Izaha Stubs knocked down a couple 3-point baskets for Hoosac. Toby and Brady Foehl were also on target from deep.
The host girls game wound up being the real thriller of the night, with McCann Tech escaping neighboring rival Drury with a 26-24 win on a pair of last-second free-throws.
"It made things exciting to start the season. It'd be nice if the season is this exciting," said McCann coach Kathy Budaj. "We had a slow start, got into it late and we're mixing up a lot of things. We saw some things we need to work on, but this was good for the girls, a good morale-booster going into the season."
The Hornets were behind early, with Brooke DiGennarro guiding an 11-2 run to open the night for the home crowd. The steady play of Budaj's young group evened things out, though, and the visitors soon built up their own lead. Captains Aimee Dowling and Paige Shepard reiterated their coach's sentiment on this serving as a confidence boost heading into real games.
Drury had an up-and-down outing its first time suiting up for new head coach Ian Downey. A longtime coach at the youth level in North Adams, Downey takes over for Brian Flagg and has gone to work inserting a new offense and culture within a Blue Devils program that graduated three seniors.
"I'm looking to see how well they're picking up a brand new offense, looking to see where the conditioning is at, which players play well together," said Downey. "There is so much to cram into their brains and I know they're going a thousand miles an hour right now. We're really trying to build a program from the varsity down through the youth league, and that's going to take time and I understand that."
The Blue Devils are led by senior captain Cassie Crosier, who had four points, and junior captains Brooke DiGennaro and Laura Thomas.
"I was excited to see how we would play as a team and what our coaching is going to be like," said DiGennaro.
The Drury and McCann Tech boys game was played at a break-neck pace. Blue Devils coach Jack Racette wants to play uptempo, and guards Reece Racette and Scott McGuire pushed the ball all night. This game also featured a lot of hard fouls and scrambles for the ball. The Blue Devils' pressure defense was effective, forcing several McCann turnovers. McCann made use of its height advantage inside, however, with Lukas Zelazo grabbing several rebounds and converting baskets in the post.
Reach Mike Walsh at email@example.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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