It's been a long road back for Lenox's latest 1,000-point scorer, Alice Najimy
"I really didn't think, going into this season. I thought it might happen, but I can't get my hopes up," said the Lenox senior. "It was really Friday that I realized I was 25 away and that put a lot of pressure on this game."
Najimy suited up for a big home game against Berkshire South rival Mount Everett needing 25 points to breach 1,000 for her career. It was a moment that, had she not been sidelined for her final 12 games as a junior due to a torn ACL that required surgery, would have likely come a lot sooner.
Equally far away was the day she would commit to play college basketball.
However, time heals all, and before she knew it she was working on flat-footed shooting and light dribbling in late spring. When the fall rolled around, she gave AAU a try, but felt the ACL twist and instead opted for rest.
Rest for Najimy meant of course meant throwing on running shoes and a hefty knee brace to race cross-country with her Lenox teammates all over the Berkshires, Western Massachusetts and even to Wrentham for the state meet.
All that led up a return to the hardwood for the Millioniares this winter and a decision made last week to continue her academic and athletic career at Simmons College in Boston. She'll play basketball for the Division III Sharks and study nursing.
"Coming into this season I didn't really know what to expect," Najimy said. "It's a slow process for sure, but it's made me a better player and made me appreciate the game a lot more."
The first few games went smoothly. Her typically potent offensive game was taking some time to come back, though.
"Of all nights, it being on my Senior Night. I've been playing on this court since sixth grade, so this is a special place. It's where I've made all my memories with my teammates and every one who helped me get here," said Najimy. "It meant the world to that."
She was averaging around 11 points per game in December, but her teammates could tell the old Alice wasn't quite back yet.
"She's definitely gotten more confident with her shot. In the beginning of the year she was more willing to give it up when she had the open shots," said junior captain Nicole Gamberoni. "Now she's taking it in and getting it done."
With Lenox's next game on the road at Mount Greylock, 25 points was a lot to ask for Monday night against a tough Eagles defense. However, this wasn't the Najimy from December anymore. She had strung together five consecutive games of more than 20 points after not breaking 20 at all over the first nine games of the season.
"I was thinking about it so much at the start of the season. I wouldn't let myself go to the hoop," said Najimy. "Now, I forget about my knee and just play. It feels great."
After she got a 3-pointer to go down in the first quarter, it was off to the races. With Gamberoni and the rest of her teammates feeding her, she rolled up 19 points in the first half. Another 3-ball went through in the third, but as the fourth quarter wore on the shots weren't falling and the game got tight. Focus shifted back onto beating the Eagles, save for the "Let's go Alice" chants from a packed house.
Late in the fourth, Gamberoni dished on a drive and Najimy got a layup to go. With two minutes to play, and the Millionaires up 43-42, Najimy drew contact and got to the line. With the pressure on, she went to the line and did what she had done 999 times before in her high school career: put points on the board. Her 1,000th made it 44-42, and after a period of flowers, cheers and hugs from teammates and Mount Everett's own 1,000-point scorer Gwen Carpenter, her 1,001st point gave the Millioniares a 45-42 lead.
"We set everything up. We wanted her to get it on Senior Night, and it was awesome that she did," said Gamberoni, who's half-court heave at the buzzer two minutes later came up an inch short.
Mount Everett left the court 47-45 victors, but Najimy and her tournament-bound Lenox squad know all about overcoming adversity.
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh and 413-496-6240.
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