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Girls basketball preview: Northampton believes this is its year

  • Northampton's Anna Moore takes a shot at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Northampton's Anna Moore takes a shot at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton's Susan Bell leads the team at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Northampton's Susan Bell leads the team at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Coach Perry Messer conducts practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Coach Perry Messer conducts practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton's Susan Bell passes to Maya Kerstetter during a drill at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Northampton's Susan Bell passes to Maya Kerstetter during a drill at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton's Anna Moore takes a shot at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Northampton's Susan Bell leads the team at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Coach Perry Messer conducts practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Northampton's Susan Bell passes to Maya Kerstetter during a drill at practice in Northampton High School's gymnasium Wednesday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

NORTHAMPTON — For the third straight year, the Northampton girls basketball team has just one senior on its roster.

But unlike the two previous seasons, the Blue Devils are plenty experienced and enter the 2012-13 season with high expectations.

“We want to win states,” the team’s lone senior, guard Susan Bell said. “We want to win everything.”

With just one senior — Sam Barnes — and one junior — Bell — on the roster last season, Northampton went 12-9 and took rival Amherst Regional down the wire in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament quarterfinals.

This year, the Blue Devils think they can break through.

“I look around at my teammates and I feel like we’re all really equal. This is a great group,” junior forward Anna Moore said. “Coming back after having done this two years, everything seems so familiar, and I think that makes it easier to try new things, take risks and keep working hard.”

The last two seasons have ended against a loaded Amherst Regional and Hamp coach Perry Messer spent the preseason reminding his team that every game is important for seeding purposes and early tourney matchups.

“The thing that I like is that we are not that far away, but the things that have killed us have been the immaturity,” said Messer, whose team lost the two games to Amherst by a combined 13 points. “You lose a game in the season where you had a lead and don’t execute down the stretch or you go on the road and don’t play with the intensity you should and you lose to a team you should beat. Those things kill you in the seedings.

“We’ve gotten what we’ve deserved the last couple of years. Now we are hoping with maturity we won’t make those same mistakes. We won’t turn the ball over as much. We will get the big defensive stops and rebounds we need. It’s all experience. We’ve gotten the experience with freshmen and sophomores two years in a row in the tournament and we’ve gotten good effort. We haven’t been happy with the result, but I can’t fault them with their effort.”

The Blue Devils were also dealt a challenge that may have hurt last year’s team, but helped this year’s when then-sophomore Maya Kerstetter went down with a foot injury midway through the sixth game of the year.

Kerstetter, one of the team’s cornerstone players, missed the next 12 games and didn’t have enough time at the end of the season to return to her regular self.

Still, those minutes went to then-freshmen Charlotte Maurer (guard) and Maggie Mahoney (forward).

“Charlotte and Maggie made huge strides last year, getting those minutes that (Maya) would have had,” Messer said. “If we can stay healthy this year, that’s only going to make us tougher.”

The junior class is among the best in western Mass., led by guard Anna Walther (14.1 points per game), forward Anna Moore (7.6 ppg, four double-doubles), and Kerstetter (8.4).

“These guys who are juniors now, I expect them to take the next step,” Messer said. “It’s a great group of kids. They are smart kids. They are great students. That’s what makes it so enjoyable to come in and coach them. They want to be good. They’ve been working very hard and there is great depth. They are all interchangeable.”

Moore is a brutal matchup for opposing teams, possessing both good size and athleticism. She can score from any angle, run the floor and is excellent on defense.

“I think she’s one of the best players in western Mass.,” Messer said. “There aren’t a lot of kids her size who can handle the ball the way she does. She’s working on her outside shot. She presents a matchup problem with her long arms and she’s great in the post, but I think she’s even better when she pulls people away from the basket because there aren’t too many bigs who can handle her one-on-one off the dribble.”

As always, defense will be the backbone for the Blue Devils and the added depth will help the team remain aggressive even in the face of early foul trouble.

“We are working very hard,” Bell said. “We practice all the little technical things on defense. It gets us ready to play defense in games.”

When the team is playing at its best, the offense comes from creating havoc on the defensive end. But Messer wants the team to improve its ability to score in 5-on-5 situations as well.

“We get a lot of points off our pressure and our defense, but when you are playing a good offensive team that is going to score, you have to be able to create in the half-court set,” he said. “That’s something these guys have to do a little better. They’ve got to knock down the outside shot a little better.”

Having a veteran team should help in that end, as the team can add wrinkles and looks earlier in the season than it otherwise wouldn’t.

“That experience is starting to catch up with us and we can be so versatile,” Messer said. “We put a lot in for them. They know a lot, but we can keep adding to the mix. We are reviewing some stuff for the new kids, but we’ve been able to put a lot of stuff in.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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