Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of profiles of local athletes.
Haverhill junior Molly Hoopes didn't feel 100 percent when she returned after missing Haverhill's first four games due to a hip injury.
But judging by her play and her stat line, she hasn't missed a beat. Hoopes has sparked the Hillies, who are 5-0 since she returned to the lineup. That includes winning the Epping, N.H., Christmas Tournament.
"It bothered me during the Christmas tournament," said Hoopes. "I would have to sit out and walk around for a little while."
When she is able to stay on the court, Hoopes has looked none the worse for wear. She has had double-digit rebounds in two of her four games back, including a 16-rebound game against Everett on Tuesday.
"She has been awesome," said Haverhill head coach Bob Melillo. "Offensively she's been a little rusty, but defensively she's just been a huge difference maker."
In the five games since she has been back, the Hillies have allowed an average of just 23.2 points per game. Hoopes has helped the entire team play better, Melillo said.
"She's just so good at knowing where to be, and she covers up for other people's mistakes defensively," said Melillo. "She also can be an inspiration for the other girls to play hard on defense."
Hoopes' rebounding skills can also make a difference on the offensive end of the court. With Hoopes' 5-foot-11 frame inside, the Hillies can count on her for rebounds and don't send to send all the players to hit the boards. Instead they can take off on fast breaks and score some easy baskets.
More offense will be needed as the team encounters the more difficult conference schedule. Although they will not be playing the conference heavyweights, the Hillies still have yet to play the more difficult portion of their schedule. Haverhill (7-2) still has games left to play against MVC foes Tewksbury, Lawrence, Dracut and Chelmsford.