Blue Devils’ assistant coaches responded to sting of defeat with championship the next year
Coach Perry Messer and asssistants Alannah Driscoll-Sbar, standing second from right, and Jamie Messer, standing right, with the Northampton girls basketball team during the Western Massachusetts Division 1 final against Chicopee on Saturday at the Curry Hicks Cage. Chicopee won 49-47. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — If the Northampton girls basketball team needs a reminder of how to respond to the disappointment of Saturday’s championship game loss, it won’t have to look far.
Two of the team’s assistant coaches, Jamie Messer and Alannah Driscoll-Sbar, walked out of the Curry Hicks Cage as Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament runners-up in 2007, were motivated by the frustration for 12 months and redeemed themselves one year later with both a sectional title and state championship in 2008.
“It hurts a lot. The feeling of being so close, especially with this kind of game,” said Messer, who is the daughter of Northampton coach Perry Messer. “It motivates you. It’s not a good feeling. It’s never a good feeling to lose, but to lose this way in this setting is especially tough.”
Messer was a junior on the 2007 team, which lost to Central 55-51 at the Cage. The Blue Devils then came roaring back in 2008, defeating the Golden Eagles 60-49 en route to earning the program’s lone state championship.
“We have a lot of girls who can come back and have another opportunity,” she said. “They need to realize there are things they can do to not let that happen next year.”
This year’s Blue Devils graduate one senior, guard Susan Bell, and will return five seniors next season — Nadine Harris, Khaila Ramirez, Anna Moore, Anna Walther and Maya Kerstetter. That group will be in the same situation Messer found herself as a senior.
“When you come back as a senior and you know that’s the only opportunity you are going to get, you’re just going to do everything you can, every play, every loose ball,” Messer said. “That’s something we didn’t do tonight. I know they played very hard, but there’s always more you could have done. I think next time they will both understand that and also be a little less nervous.”
This season was Messer’s first as an assistant coach. She moved back to the area from Florida in mid-December and started going to practices right away.
Coaching “has been amazing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be on the bench at all (for games), but I decided it was something I really wanted to be a part of,” she said. “I went to every practice that I could be at.
“It was really nice to be able to be a part of the team, come to games and be on the bench with the girls,” Messer added. “I was glad that I could do whatever I could to help them.”
The team will have to find a way to replace Bell, a four-year starter and standout defender and captain.
“She’s a great leader for us,” Kerstetter said. “She’s a defensive force. She puts great ball-pressure on. It’s going to be a tough loss for us.”
This year’s Blue Devils grew up cheering for Messer, Driscoll-Sbar and their teammates. The five current juniors were on the sixth grade Suburban team in 2008 and practice schedules that season were worked around the Blue Devils’ games.
“We were playing on the Suburban teams supporting, just like we have our little guys coming now and supporting us, too,” Ramirez said. “A big thing for them was being role models in the community and that’s a big thing for us, too.”
Perry Messer has seen the impact of the assistant coaches on his current team.
“It is nice to have their voices and perspective in practice and on the bench,” Perry Messer said. “Our kids look up to them and it definitely has an impact.
Messer added, “Sometimes I hear Jamie talking and it is like my words coming out of her mouth, so I guess some of my stuff got through after all those years.”
For Jamie Messer, coaching has the added benefit of continuing her relationship within the sport with her father, who coached her for many years growing up.
“To be working with my dad is just the best feeling in the world,” she said. “Basketball is huge for us. I don’t think we could ever go a year without basketball, so it was awesome to coach with him.
“I can’t lie, it is stressful being on this end and not having the control. But I love every one of my girls and I’m so proud of what they accomplished this year. I’m beyond happy to be a part of it.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GazetteHS.