Girls basketball preview: Amherst has completely different look
Elizabeth Whitney of Easthampton, left, shoots against Libby Kielb of Hopkins Academy Monday at Hopkins. Purchase photo reprints »
Xin Xin Tarren of Amherst, right, looks for a way around Longmeadow defenders Zoe Ochoa, left, and Jen Hurwitz Friday in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
Considering what happened the last time the Amherst Regional girls basketball team was deemed to be in rebuilding mode — they reached the state Division 1 title game — it is probably a bad idea to dismiss the Hurricanes heading into the 2012-13 season.
One thing for certain is that the team will certainly look much different as the Hurricanes have a new coach and eight newcomers.
“They are very young, but our leadership is so good,” first-year coach Liz Kay said. “The upperclassmen are the first to finish the sprints and communicate defensively. They are the first ones to cheer on their teammates, so the new kids know they have to do that, too. That’s nothing I’m doing just the nature of who they are.”
Kay takes over for Christal Murphy, who left the program following six years on the Amherst sidelines. The Hurricanes went 99-35 under Murphy and reached the state championship game in 2011, a season that began with the return of just one starting player.
Those are unfair expectations to lay on Kay and the Hurricanes this season, but the new coach, who had led Coventry (Conn.) for the past seven years, has liked what she’s seen in the preseason.
“This is honestly probably among the hardest working group of girls I’ve ever been around,” said Kay, a Bates College alum who led Conventry to the state finals twice. “They are all like that. The tone is set by the upperclassmen.”
Key to the team’s success will be the players’ embracing new roles after the graduation of four starters, who were also the team’s top four scorers.
“It’s an entirely different situation for them this year,” Kay said. “I had to tell them, ‘If you don’t score, we don’t score.’ That wasn’t the case for these same kids” last year.
Senior Sarah Mangels and junior Elena Valenzuela-Stookey each started games last year for the Hurricanes (18-4), who reached the western Mass. semifinals. They each averaged 2.1 points per game, but both can shoot from the outside.
Juniors Xin-Xin Tarren, a guard, and Julia Fay, a post player, saw action in virtually every game.
Tarren, who will take over at point guard this season, impressed with her defensive play throughout the season and is one player who could emerge as a standout this year. She’s also the top returning scorer from last year after scoring 3.0 points per game.
“She’s a kid that wants to lead so badly and wants to set the tone, not by anything she says because she’s so quiet, but by her actions,” Fay said. “She and I have been talking about how she’s got to be vocal on the floor.”
Sophomore forward Taylor Bartmon, whose potential Fay raved about, is the other returning player.
Among the newcomers, the Hurricanes are also carrying two sophomores and five freshmen.
Amherst opens with a brutal stretch, playing four teams — East Longmeadow, Pittsfield, Holyoke, Central — with legitimate chances to make deep runs in the D-1 tournament, but Kay is happy to have it that way.
“When you are the young underdog team, you want to be battle-tested,” Kay said. “It makes the freshmen grow up in a hurry. It makes the upperclassmen lead right away. I like it when they are uncomfortable because they get better. That’s how practice has been.”
MORE NEW COACHES — Aside from Kay, three other programs have new coaches this season.
Frank Keimig takes over as the head coach at Frontier Regional, where the Red Hawks are looking for their fifth straight trip to the postseason.
Former Frontier coach Ralph Loos has taken over at Westfield.
Glenn Doulette left Smith Vocational, where he was also the athletic director, to take the AD job at Turners Falls. Dan Peters has taken over the Vikings.
Doulette, meanwhile, hired former Smith Academy coach Ted Wilcox to coach at Turners and Fred Glanville is the Falcons’ new coach.
Smith reached the postseason four straight times under Wilcox, a Turners Falls resident, and advanced to the WMass D-3 finals in 2010.
MILESTONE WATCH — Three local players — all seniors — are within reach of 1,000 career points.
Easthampton’s Elizabeth Whitney is the top active player with 924 points. The center scored 404 points as junior last year and led the Eagles to a 18-5 record.
Hopkins Academy’s Olivia Mathieu enters the season with 792 career points. The guard scored 311 as a junior as the Golden Hawks finished 15-7.
Hampshire Regional’s Sarah Kober has 675 points. The forward scored 272 points as junior for the Raiders, who went 10-11.
WEEK GUIDES & RANKINGS — The Gazette’s weekly schedule guides, which include teams throughout WMass, will run on the high school sports blog each Sunday, while the power rankings and divisional top 10s will be posted on every Thursday.
The blog can be found at www.gazettenet.com/Blogs/HighSchoolSports.
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at email@example.com.