Hillies defense not enough
In sports, teams tend to develop an identity.
This past season's New England Patriots were known for their high-powered offense. The Stanley Cup champion Bruins are known for tough, physical brand of hockey. This year, the Haverhill High girls basketball team developed an identity of their own — they became a team with a relentless, stingy defense.
The Hillies bowed out in the first round of the MIAA Division 1 North tournament last week, but the team may have put on its best display of defense in defeat. Haverhill held Acton-Boxborough, one of the top offensive teams in Division 1, to just 47 points. Unfortunately for the Hillies, offense was a constant problem for the team and it struck again in the tournament, as they could only muster 35 points, losing by 12.
"I think we had a very seasoned team this year," said head coach Bob Melillo. "Kids have been playing in our system for two to three years, and they really got what we are trying to teach them."
Melillo said his coaching style is to focus more on defense than offense. He noted the improvement of Hannah Guselli, who would cover the point guard, and Kelleigh Cokely, who as just a sophomore was primarily assigned to cover the opposing team's best scorer. Haverhill held Acton-Boxborough top scorer Elizabeth Belanger to 16 points, down from her season average of 25. Belanger has already committed to play Division 1 basketball at New Hampshire next season.
In the game against Acton-Boxborough, the Hillies were plagued by a poor second quarter in what was otherwise an evenly played game. Melillo noted that key players Guselli and Molly Hoopes were both hampered with sprained ankles that kept them out of practice for nearly two weeks.
"We just weren't the same team (with those players limited)," Melillo said. "I really think (Acton-Boxborough) was a team that we could have beaten."
Next season, Haverhill High will have to deal with the losses of Guselli, Kayla Pellot and Jess Cotto. Pellot was the team's best offensive player and outside shooter. She averaged 13 points per game, which is about a quarter of team's 43-point average. Melillo called Cotto the team's most improved player.
"She really understood what we were trying to do on defense this year after struggling last year," he said. "Her quickness in getting the ball up the court was a reason we tried more fast breaks this year."
Offensively the team will have to rely on junior forward Hoopes to take over the reins. She was the team's leading rebounder, but only averaged eight points per game this season. Melillo also has high hopes for Theresa Ross, a sophomore who excelled on the junior varsity team.
Next season, Haverhill High will have a tougher schedule. The Hillies had a two-year waiver which ended this year, but which prevented them from playing Andover and Central Catholic, the giants of the Merrimack Valley Conference.
"It will be a difficult challenge and we will need to prepare for it," Melillo said. "The girls need to work hard during the off season and come into next year ready to go."
Whittier dream season ends
After a start which had the Whittier Regional High girls basketball team dreaming about playing on the same court as the Boston Celtics, their season ended last Tuesday night with a heartbreaking 65-60 loss to underdog Georgetown.
"That game did a lot for girls basketball," said Whittier head coach Kevin Bradley. "People are still talking about the game several days later."
Whittier ended the season with a 14-7 record, but the seven losses came in the last 13 games.
Last week's final game featured an impressive three-point display by the team. Whittier relied on the three-pointer throughout the year and hit eight of those shots during the game, while Georgetown countered with nine. Georgetown used the three-pointer to make a furious comeback in the third quarter, after going into halftime trailing by eight points.
All eight three-point Whittier shots were made by departing seniors Christina Medley and Kendra Brasil. With Brasil, Medley and point guard Catherine Roche graduating, Whittier may have to transition its style of play next season.
"If you look at (Brasil), she didn't really come into her own until this year as a three-point shooter," Bradley said. "Some people are late bloomers."
Two players being asked to fill the void left by graduating players are freshmen Kayla Riley and Andrea Terranova. Both showed promise in their first year, playing big minutes in key situations.
"The freshmen were really baptized this year," Bradley said. "You look at our schedule and we played tough teams like Brockton, Methuen and North Reading. The reason we play these teams is to progress as a team."
With not many experienced forwards on the team coming into the year, rebounding was a consistent problem for the Wildcats. Too often, they would find themselves getting boxed out and outworked for a rebound. Bradley has high hopes that junior Josie Sanchez and freshmen Sammie Vonleh and Michaela Martin will continue to improve.
Bradley said some of his freshmen who did not expect to see such significant playing time this year are planning on playing more basketball during the offseason. Several are looking into playing AAU ball for the first time or attending offseason basketball camps.
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