In high school basketball, they are rarely seen. They sit on the bench with their warm-ups suits on and are generally more suited for the junior varsity team.
For the Whittier girls basketball team, that's all different. The Wildcats are leaning on four freshmen to be key cogs in the rotation, and the results have been superb.
Whittier has a 15-3 record as of last Thursday — second in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference. They have relied on freshmen Michaela Martin, Kayla Riley, Andrea Terranova and Sammie Vonleh to play big roles.
"We've stopped looking at them as freshmen," said Whittier head coach Kevin Bradley.
Bradley knew he would have to rely on the freshmen after losing four seniors to graduation a year ago and not having much depth in the program. Bradley knew that the freshmen would have to play key minutes for his squad during the pre-season to see if he could count on them during the regular season. That came as a big surprise to the girls, however.
"We weren't expecting to have a big impact at all," Terranova said.
Martin has been the biggest surprise so far, and is following in the footsteps of her sister Danielle. The older Martin was a three time Eagle-Tribune All-Star before graduating last spring and Michaela has essentially replaced Danielle on the roster. Although she missed out on playing with her by one year, Michaela still learns lots of valuable lessons from her older sister.
"She taught me a lot about how she balanced school and basketball," Martin said. "She kept her grades up while also playing basketball."
Bradley also commended Martin on her passing, but would like her to keep the ball more and try to score more points. She has scored in double figures in just one game this season and Bradley thinks she has more offense in her arsenal.
"She's got a great defensive attitude," Bradley said. "She's tough and knows how to grind it out. She's very versatile. I could put her on a guard or I could put her on a forward. She's not afraid of anything. She will get rebounds and at the same time she can be a point guard, too."
Martin's biggest contribution came in the Wildcats' game against Shawsheen on Jan. 6. Leading by one points with just seconds to go, Martin blocked a potential game-winning shot, which gave the Wildcats sole possession of first place in the division. It is the only loss Shawsheen has suffered so far.
Martin admitted to feeling pressure to fill her older sister's shoes on the court, but there is another freshman on the team who has constantly lived in their older sibling's shadow. Sammie Vonleh, brother of former Haverhill High phenom Noah, is 6 feet-4 inches tall and comes off the bench as a defensive presence. She is still a raw player, but she has become a more dependable option in the post as the season has progressed. After spending the majority of the games on the bench, Vonleh exploded for 27 points against Greater Lawrence on Jan. 18 and 17 points against Lowell Catholic on Jan. 20.
"She's been a force on the boards," Bradley said. "She's come a long way. When she concentrates she does a great job."
It doesn't phase Vonleh that so much attention has been paid to her brother, even though she has the potential to be a dominant player in her own right.
"He's really good, so sometimes people expect me to be him," she said. "But I just am focusing on playing hard."
Riley and Terranova provide depth and are above-average perimeter shooters. Riley was the team's leading scorer against Greater Lawrence and Terranova has come up with clutch baskets in key moments of games. In the Shawsheen game, she hit the game winning shot with under a minute to go.
The development of these freshmen is vital because several seniors are departing after this year. Christina Medley, Catherine Roche, Kendra Brasil and others will be graduating. With few sophomores and juniors on the roster, the onus will lie on the freshmen to take over the team next season.
"If they keep going the way that they're going," Medley said, "they have a good future ahead of them.''
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to hgazette.com.