Maya Kerstetter fuels Northampton’s run to Division 1 sectional final
Maya Kerstetter, left, of Northampton, does a little bit of everything for the Blue Devils, who play Chicopee Saturday at 5:45 p.m. in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament championship at Curry Hicks Cage. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — When the Northampton girls basketball team’s offense sputtered against Pittsfield in the quarterfinals, Maya Kerstetter took over and kept things close enough for an improbable fourth quarter comeback, which was capped by her own buzzer-beater.
When the Blue Devils faced a significant height disadvantage against Central in the semifinals, Kerstetter played much bigger than her listed 5-foot-9 and hauled in a team-high 15 rebounds.
“I just try to play my game,” she said. “I don’t try to go out and do one specific thing. I don’t want to focus on that one thing too much. I want to just go out and play.”
No. 1 Northampton (18-4) plays in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament championship game against No. 7 Chicopee (15-7) on Saturday at the Curry Hicks Cage at 5:45 p.m.
For Kerstetter, simply being 100 percent this time of year feels special. The junior guard/forward missed 12 games last year with a stress fracture in her left foot. She returned in time for the final two regular season games and the postseason, but never felt 100 percent until weeks later.
The injury “was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “If I play too hard, would the stress fracture come back? I tried to get it out of my mind and just play, but it was hard and I was definitely not in the same shape I had been before the injury.”
Kerstetter’s injury proved costly last season.
The team entered its Dec. 31, 2011 game against Pittsfield at 4-1 and Kerstetter’s 12 early points had Northampton in control. Kerstetter had been playing through the pain to that point, but finally couldn’t go anymore. That’s when the Generals made their late run and pulled away for a victory.
Including that loss, the Blue Devils went just 6-7 without Kerstetter. They rebounded with two wins to wrap up the regular season, but the damage was done with a low seed and a tough matchup at Amherst Regional, where Northampton fell 56-50 in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 quarterfinals.
The benefit, however, were the extra varsity minutes gained by Charlotte Maurer, Khaila Ramirez and Nadine Harris, who have all been key contributors this season.
“We are a better team this year because of that injury,” Messer said. “Charlotte picked up a lot of those minutes and really grew as a player. It gave Nadine and Khaila a lot of opportunities. It strengthened our team and this is the time for it to pay off.”
Kersetter, meanwhile, has played in every game this year and established herself as one of the best two-way players in western Massachusetts, averaging 12.7 points per game while contributing everywhere on the court.
“I definitely appreciate being able to play every game,” Kerstetter said. “It just makes you want to go out and work twice as hard. You never know when you might play your last game.”
Messer has seen Kerstetter’s resolve and growth firsthand.
“She’s made herself into a better player on the court. She can do more things than she could before. She always played defense, but now she’s getting to the point where she knows what (the other team) is trying to do and how to react without thinking about it.
“She doesn’t get frustrated when a defense is keying on here. She finds ways to impact the game, defensively, on the boards, passing the ball.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GazetteHS.