Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of profiles of local athletes.
Senior Kayla Pellot may be small in stature, but that doesn't stop her from playing a big role in the Haverhill High girls basketball team's success this season.
The Hillies rely on the 5-foot-7-inch guard to provide scoring. She is the team's go-to option in late game situations.
"She may not be tall, but she is definitely one of the strongest players out on the court," said head coach Bob Melillo.
Pellot is playing point guard on one of the most successful teams that the Haverhill girls have had in recent years. The squad had 14 wins and six losses as of Monday, and has clinched a spot in the MIAA Division 1 tournament. Once the tournament begins, the Hillies will be in for a challenge, as they face tougher teams than during the regular season. Haverhill was granted a waiver, which excluded its from playing Merrimack Valley Conference powers Andover and Central Catholic during the regular season.
"We will need our best scorers to step up in the tournament," Melillo said. "Players like Kayla will need to score above their season averages if we want to win."
Pellot has stepped up this season and is averaging about 13 points per game, after scoring 11.9 as a junior last season. She poured in 21 points on Feb. 3 against Notre Dame and was the catalyst for the most dramatic moment of the Hillies season.
On Jan. 31, the Hillies were in an up-and-down game with winless Lawrence, in which neither team was able to hold a substantial lead. After Lawrence tied the game late in the fourth quarter, Haverhill had 1.8 seconds to execute a successful play for the win. The coach turned to Pellot.
"We set up a play for her and I hoped that she got open," Melillo said. "She was able to get away from her defender and get to a spot where she has hit so many shots this year. She got the ball and took a perfect shot. All net."
The shot catapulted Haverhill to a 51-49 win and sparked the team to a hot streak. The Hillies won three of their next four games. Through it all, Pellot has developed into a consistent player, while not playing her natural position.
"She's more of a shooting guard than a point guard," Melillo said. "But we don't have a true point guard, so she's been playing that position. She has done well and most importantly, she rarely turns the ball over. She's got total court awareness, which is key for that position."
The Haverhill Gazette sat down with Pellot to talk about life on and off the court.
Has the season been successful for the team so far?
We've done really well so far. We've improved a lot since last year, but I still think there are things that we can work on. We're definitely coming together as a team and playing as a team. We're listening to (the coach) and doing what we have to do to get the job done.
How do you adjust your game in the playoffs, as you will be playing some tougher teams than you faced during the regular season?
It will depend on who we're facing, but I think we need to toughen up our defense a little bit. With strong defense, the offense will come.
You have been scoring a lot more. What has changed in your game over the last year.
I've been working a lot harder at my game. My coach has been working with me shooting off the ball. I want to make myself a better player that helps out my teammates.
Describe the feeling when you hit the game-winning shot to defeat Lawrence.
I don't think I had ever hit a buzzer beater before, and I don't think I can truly even describe the moment. It was definitely something I can never forget.
What does Coach Melillo try to get you to improve on the most in your game?
He is constantly telling me to improve on my defense. Offense doesn't win games, defense does.
What is your favorite aspect of basketball?
That we are a team. I love my team more than anything. I couldn't ask for a better group of girls to compete with. Everyone works hard and we each have our own roles on the team to get the job done.
How did you get started in basketball?
I started in third grade. I played in a Catholic league with my school and I haven't stopped since then. I've played in AAU and travel teams in the past, and during the offseason I play pickup basketball at Cedardale.
Do you play other sports?
I play softball during the spring, where I play shortstop. I also played volleyball my first three years at Haverhill, but I did not play this fall.
Which do you enjoy more, softball or basketball?
I consider softball to be more freelance, where basketball is much more serious. I have a huge role on this team. Softball might be more fun, but basketball is definitely a lot more serious of the two sports.
Do you hope to play any of those sports in college?
I haven't decided yet. I am going to Westfield State next year, but I haven't approached their coaches yet about playing either sport there yet.
Who is your inspiration in either sport?
My dad's played a huge role in my success. I don't think he has ever missed a game. He's constantly pushing me and allowing me to go to camps, so he has played a huge role in my sports life.
Let's do some favorites. What's your favorite band/artist?
Bruins forward Tyler Seguin
Mark's Deli in downtown Haverhill
"One Tree Hill''