Green Wave leads local girls’ hoop contingent

  • Mahar's Hannah Paul will be one player the Senators rely on this winter after the team lost its top three scorers from a year ago when the team made the WMass Division III semifinals. Recorder file photo

  • Abby Loynd and Aliyah Sanders are part of a large group of senior leaders on a Turners Falls team that will look to get back to Curry Hicks Cage this season. Recorder FILE PHOTO

  • Greenfield's Raegan Hickey jumps up for a shot guarded by Smith Academy's Hannah Rickert during their game Monday, January 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Greenfield's Samantha Smith jumps up for a shot after a fast break trailed by Smith Academy's Emma Kelly during their game Monday, January 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Greenfield's Raegan Hickey jumps up for a shot guarded by Mahar's Maeve Powell and Kenzie Tenney during their game Monday, January 16, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mohawk's Mackenzi Coulombe, left, and Grace Poplawski fight for a loose ball with Pioneer's Steph Scoville last season. All three are back to help their teams this winter. Recorder file photo

  • Frontier's Tori Speth drives towards the basket guarded by Turners Falls' Lexi Lacey during their game Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Greenfield's Raegan Hickey (5) brings the ball up the court in the first quarter against Sabis on Monday , Dec. 11, 2017 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield's Katie Haselton scored 18 points in the season opener and provides another scoring option for a Green Wave team that should be among the best in the area after back-to-back 19-1 records over the past two winters. Greenfield still has not made it to Curry Hicks Cage despite the regular-season success, something the Wave looks to change this year. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 14, 2017

With nearly its entirely roster returning from back-to-back 19 win seasons, is this the year Greenfield High School breaks through and reaches the Curry Hicks Cage?

The Green Wave enter this winter as the favorites in the Franklin County League North, as they move over from the South to join Athol High School, Frontier Regional School, Hopkins Academy and Mahar Regional School in what is shaping up to be a very competitive league. Greenfield went a perfect 8-0 in the South to capture last year’s league crown, while Mahar was also 8-0 to win the North.

Despite expectations being high for his club, Greenfield head coach John Hickey knows that the path toward a deep postseason run won’t be easy.

“Division III is tough,” he began. “Now that we’re in the (North), back to where we used to be with Frontier, Mahar, Hopkins, Athol… it’s going to be a difficult task. We will be competitive every night. Whether or not that turns into wins, that remains to be seen.”

While the FCL North has the most local teams, the rest of the schools have shifted a bit. Turners Falls High School and Pioneer Valley Regional School, both tournament teams a year ago, remain in the South. Those squads are joined by Ware High School, Southwick-Tolland Regional High School and Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.

Mohawk Trail Regional High School is the lone local team in the FCL West, and the Warriors are joined by Easthampton High School, Smith Academy, McCann Technical School and Pope Francis High School.

Here’s a closer look at the local teams in the Franklin County League:

Athol (8-12)

The offense is going to need to come from different sources this winter, as the Red Raiders graduated their top two scorers from last year’s team.

Hope Parker led the Recorder-area in scoring a season ago, pouring in 16.7 points per game in her senior season. Parker scored in double figures in all but two games, and she topped the 20-point mark five times.

Parker wasn’t the only major loss to graduation however, as Julia Carey also departed after joining her in double figures with a hefty 12.7 point per game average — good enough for sixth in the area.

New head coach Kelly Kaczmarczyk inherits a team that does have plenty of athletic players, and the team’s experienced senior class will look to carry the load.

Point guard Amber Mahoney averaged 4.1 points per game a year ago and returns, while fellow seniors Destiny Wrigley (guard) and Peyton Parker (forward) also return. Forward Krystina Barber is the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-10, while guard Amanda Fuller rounds out the senior class.

There are no juniors on the Athol roster, though the sophomore class is sizable with seven members from that grade on the squad. Center Taylor Cleveland is a top returning player, as is guard Haley Bigwood.

Guards Angelica Baptista and Jenna St. Cyr are other players looking to make their mark, while fellow sophomores Sophie Putnam, Aryah Lee and Haley Wrigley should contribute as forwards.

Two freshmen round out the roster, as guards Lily King and Danielle Swan are new to the varsity squad.

Athol finished 8-12 overall a year ago, good enough for third in the FCL North (4-4).

Frontier (9-12)

If Frontier is going to get back to the postseason this season, it is going to have to rely on some young players to step up.

The Red Hawks have just two seniors and one junior on the varsity squad this season, meaning that many of the minutes are going to be filled by sophomores and freshmen.

“We are young and we will have some growing pains, no question about it,” Frontier coach Marty Sanderson said. “I hope they can progress and compete successfully at the varsity level.”

Sanderson said that the good news is that many of the players — even the seven freshmen who figure to be in the mix this season — have experience. That will also help offset the fact that he only has eight full-time varsity players.

“We don't have a lot of numbers so we are going to have to think outside the box about how we are going to use kids,” Sanderson said. “The good news is that we have a lot of returners. We are doing a lot of review right now, which puts us way ahead of where we were this time last year as far as knowing the system.”

Sanderson also stressed that his team will have to remain out of foul trouble this season and can't afford injuries. His team will also have to pick its spots when it comes to pressing, something Sanderson would like to do more of, but with just eight full-time varsity players, he admitted will be challenging at times.

“They have to be in good condition if we want them to play the minutes we are asking,” Sanderson said. “We aren't in the condition we need to be in yet. When we are, we will be fine. We can't play real fast, but if the opportunity is there, we are going to take it.”

Despite the youth movement, Sanderson believes his team can build off its 9-12 record from a season ago, which included a second-place finish in the FCL North and a tournament berth. The Red Hawks fell to Mahar in the first round.

The good news for Frontier is that the team has one of the top offensive players in the area in senior guard Ella Deane, who averaged 9.4 points per game last season and will see that number jump this winter. Deane cannot only score, she is also a strong point guard who will help make everyone better around her according to her coach.

“She brings great leadership and she plays smart basketball,” he began. “She brings everything we need. She can handle the ball, score the ball and is a great 3-point shooter. And she defends great, too. She is multi-faceted.”

Deane will be joined in the starting lineup by fellow senior Lexa Boyden, who is the center and who averaged 3.5 points per game last year, but will see a boost this season as her role increases. The lone junior on the team, Ariana Walker, will play the other guard on the team and can handle the ball and score.

The two sophomores on the team round out the starting five, as Marie Diemand will play small forward after scoring 4.7 points per game as a freshman. Classmate Tori Speth also played varsity last season and returns 2.2 points per game as the power forward.

Freshman Olivia Deane will be the first guard off the bench, classmate Amelia Sobieski will be the first forward off the bench, and the third freshman on the team — Charlotte Doulette — will play center.

Sanderson also has four other youngsters who will play split time. Freshmen Meghan Self, Abbe Roberts and Sierra Warren are all guards, and eighth-grader Kaitlyn Mackin is a forward.

Greenfield (19-2)

The stakes continue to rise for Greenfield, which won 19 games for the second year in a row but was unable to pick up a postseason victory. After winning the FCL South title, the Green Wave lost to Mahar in the Div. III quarterfinals, falling short of a trip to the Cage in the process.

In order to help get over that next hurdle, head coach John Hickey scheduled aggressively this winter. The Wave will play the likes of West Springfield High School and South Hadley High School, with a potential game against defending WMass Div. III champion Hoosac Valley Regional School this weekend. The move to the FCL North should also prove to be more challenging in preparing Greenfield for the postseason grind.

“Going 19-1 has been great for our program and the community, but it hasn’t really helped us come tournament-time,” admitted Hickey, whose team went 19-1 each of the past two years in the regular season. “Playing these tougher schools was something we wanted to do to challenge them and get them ready for the postseason run. All we need is 10 (wins) to get in. That’s our goal every year. We’re definitely challenging ourselves, but hopefully it’ll pay off in the end.”

Despite the schedule, the good news is that Greenfield is once again loaded. The team returns five of its top six scorers from last year, including offensive forces Raegan Hickey (16.3 ppg) and Samantha Smith (15.2 ppg). The juniors finished second and fourth in the area in scoring a year ago.

Hickey will run the point, while Smith is the team’s starting center. Freshman Katie Haselton, who averaged 7.7 points per game as an eighth-grader, joins Hickey in the starting back court, while seniors Kirsten Ward (4.1 ppg) and Lizzy Howland (5.9 ppg) round out the starting five as forwards surrounding Smith.

“I want to keep Raegan at the (point) as much as I can for her playmaking ability, but we do have some options there with her height to move her to forward and Katie can run the point,” Hickey offered.

Seniors Leah Bosco and Jenna Silk will be the team’s first options off the bench, and they’re experienced after seeing minutes a year ago. Sophomores Mackenzie Pollins, Bry Rivera and Kristina Reed are also on the squad, as is junior Kailee Stovall.

“We’re going to need some other kids to have key moments this year,” explained Hickey. “They’ll need to step up. People know what we have, they know Raegan and Sam and Katie. The other girls need to fill in the other pieces of the puzzle.”

After a 40-point win over Sabis International Charter School Monday night, Greenfield is back at it tonight when it heads to the Berkshires to take part in Hoosac Valley’s tournament along with South Hadley and Auburn High School. The Wave play South Hadley today and then either Hoosac or Auburn on Saturday.

Mahar (17-6)

The Senators knocked off Greenfield in last year’s Div. III quarterfinals to reach the Cage for the first time since 2013.

Fast forward a year, however, and Mahar must replace a trio of double-digit scorers lost to graduation. Cassidy Verheyen (13.8 ppg) was fifth in the area in scoring, while Kenzie Tenney (12.6) was seventh. Both players graduated after stellar careers, as did Kadie Jillson, who was another double-digit scorer before going down with a season-ending injury in early Feb.

“I didn’t think replacing that offense would be an issue but through two games, we’ve struggled to score,” admitted Mahar coach Larry Fisher, whose team fell to 0-2 with a loss to Palmer High School on Wednesday. “We’re getting decent looks, but not finishing them so far.”

Mahar, which won the FCL North last year with a perfect 8-0 record, does return several players who contributed in the postseason. Senior guard Hannah Paul leads that pack, as she averaged 8.3 points per game and is a captain this winter.

“We’re expecting points from here. She’s going to be worth 15 to 16 points per game,” Fisher said of Paul. “And she needs to take that leadership role on as well.”

Senior Kianna Reilly is the other back court starter alongside Paul, though she’ll play a combo guard/forward role for the Senators.

The starting front court features senior Maeve Powell and juniors Tori Tenney and Jazmyn Vautour. All three saw minutes in Mahar’s rotation a year ago.

“We’ve got good, athletic basketball players and I think we’re going to have a good year but we’re going to need contributions from a lot of people,” Fisher explained.

Juniors Sophia Apteker (forward), Abby Bonk (guard), Sarah Graeff (forward) and Lauren Henne (guard) are joined by senior Sam Rowe (center) as upperclassmen looking to make their marks.

Freshman guards Delaney Parker and Micalyn Mailloux round out the roster.

“We’re going to go deep into the bench,” said Fisher. “And the younger girls, they’ll need to get their feet wet this year.”

Mahar opens up FCL North play Monday when it travels to play at Hopkins Academy.

Mohawk (1-19)

The progression forward continues for Mohawk this winter, as head coach Larissa Miner enters her third season with the varsity team. The Warriors have a plethora of returning players, and they aim to build off last year’s 1-19 campaign.

“We do not have a single ‘All-Star’ player, instead, I have nine hard-working team players who all are looking to improve individually, but most importantly as a team,” offered Miner.

Junior guard Ashley Reynolds is the team’s top returning scorer after finishing with 8.1 points per game a year ago. Senior forward Emma Poplawski was right behind with 7.6 points per game, while sophomore forward Grace Poplawski was another consistent scorer with 6 points per game as a freshman.

The experienced roster includes senior guards Ashley Walker (4.0 ppg) and Emmarae Reid (4.2 ppg), as well as fellow seniors Mackenzi Coulombe (guard) and Brianne Cousineau, who join the varsity squad full-time. Sophomore guard Reagan Dupree and freshman forward Grace Ward round out the club as newcomers.

Miner said the team hopes to get out and run more this year, quickly turning defense into offense.

“Since I've taken over the varsity coaching position, my goal was to move away from the half court offense and shift toward transition basketball,” the coach began. “This being my third year with these girls, things are starting to click. I believe my team’s diversity will be challenging for our opponents to defend.”

While getting out and running is one thing, Miner knows it all begins on the defensive end of the floor.

“Defense has been our focus since Day 1,” she said. “We plan on using our defense to score, so we have to take advantage of what we can and get points in transition.”

Employing an experienced team does have its advantages. Mohawk has its top five scorers returning, and the team’s overall athleticism is something Miner is excited about.

“Offensively we are looking to push the ball up the court and to use our bigs to our advantage,” she said. “My guards will add quickness and athleticism that will make our team fun to watch.”

Pioneer (12-10)

Pioneer is another team that will rely heavily on young players this season.

The Panthers have just one senior and two juniors on a team that is coming off a 12-10 record last season and an appearance in the WMass Division IV quarterfinals, where it fell to eventual WMass-champion Quaboag Regional High School.

“We are young and raw and that can be a good thing and not so good,” Pioneer coach Meg Burrington said. “There will be growing pains, but the girls are hungry and working hard.”

Pioneer graduated six of its top eight scorers from a year ago including Jess Scoville, who scored 11.8 points per game — eighth in the area. The team will build around returning center Olivia Rowe, who is one of the best post players in the area and is coming off a sophomore season where she scored 7.5 points per game.

“Olivia’s got to set the pace on offense and defense,” Burrington said. “Having her on the back side of the defense is great. She knows how to communicate and the girls will learn from her. It’s going to be a little difficult this year, because she will have to do more offensively and defensively. But that is true of many of our players.”

Another player who will be heavily relied on is sophomore guard Steph Scoville, who saw good minutes off the bench last season but will be a starter this winter and will be the three-guard on the team. Freshman Paige Loughman finished last season on varsity as an eighth-grader and she now has the all-important task of running the point as a starter. Sophomore Abby Briggs will move into a starting role as the two-guard, and senior Elizabeth Lambert returns to the team after taking a year off and will start at power forward.

Freshman Sarah Ellis will be the first guard off the bench and can play both backcourt positions, while classmate Lily Faille will be the first post player off the bench. Junior Autumn Flagg returns this season and will see her minutes increase, while sophomore Aliyah Kimball (guard) and freshmen Charlotte Kahler (guard) and Emily Tibbetts (forward) are also making their varsity debuts this winter.

Turners Falls (16-6)

It has been a slow build for the Turners Falls girls’ basketball team and this season promises to be special.

For the past four years, area basketball fans have gotten the chance to watch Turners Falls go from perennial doormat to become one of the top teams in Franklin County. The same type of growth seen by the Greenfield basketball program. Many of the players responsible for the emergence have reached their senior season, including Maddy Chmyzinski, Chloe Ellis, Abby Loynd, Emma Miner and Aliyah Sanders. 

The growth can be directly linked to those players coming of age, as many started with the team as eighth graders and freshmen and the squad has steadily improved on its record each season, going from a three-win team in 2014-15, to a 10-win team in 2015-16, which also saw the team gain a postseason berth for the first time in 21 years. Last winter saw Turners Falls finish 15-5 in the regular season. It then won its first tournament game since 1993-94 and got the chance to play a WMass Division IV semifinal game at historic Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

“You can follow our growth with the players,” Turners Falls coach Ted Wilcox said. “Our goal again this season is to win the league and get back to the Cage.”

Chmyzinski has developed into one of the top scorers in the area, finishing third in the Recorder-area at 15.5 points per game. The guard is a strong ball-handler and can beat defenders on the dribble as well as with a strong outside shot.

“Early in her career, she was just a pure shooter who would maybe score on some fast breaks,” Wilcox said. “As it’s gone along, it’s become fast breaks, shooting, stop and pop. She’s added different skills along the way that have made her such a weapon. It’s not just a maturity thing, it’s adding onto the skills she has.”

Sanders has also developed into a strong scorer for Turners and is coming off a 7.3 points per game output last season. She will also serve as the point guard on the team, although Wilcox said the backcourt is interchangeable. 

The front-court is a place to really keep an eye on this season due to a pair of returning starters and a new addition that give Turners more height than its had in the past. Loynd will play the small forward and scored 5.2 points per game last season, although she is a fierce player who plays bigger than she is. Sophomore Dabney Rollins is the newcomer to the lineup and is not only tall, but another fierce inside pressence who should be the top rebounder on the team. Ellis will start at center and is another strong player inside. She returns after scoring 5.4 points per game last season.

“We are going to have a bigger inside presence,” Wilcox said. “It’s only going to help make us a more dangerous team.”

Another player who projects to help out this season is freshman Taylor Murphy, another strong forward adding to the mix. She will be joined up front by Miner, junior Sarah Waldron and sophomore Hailey Bogusz.

Sophomores Karissa Fleming and Eliza Johnson will be the guards off the bench.