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Hampshire girls basketball confident with 3-2 start

FILE PHOTO
Sarah Kober, right, and the Hampshire Regional girls basketball team are off to a 3-2 start this season. Last year the Raiders opened 0-5.

FILE PHOTO Sarah Kober, right, and the Hampshire Regional girls basketball team are off to a 3-2 start this season. Last year the Raiders opened 0-5. Purchase photo reprints »

WESTHAMPTON

This year’s winter break has certainly been more merry than last year’s for the Hampshire Regional girls basketball team.

After entering the 2011-12 season with high expectations, the Raiders headed into the annual week off at 0-4 and then lost a fifth game to Easthampton on Dec. 27.

“It was very frustrating, especially as a junior thinking that everything falls to you because you are one of the older kids on the team,” senior forward Sarah Kober said. “It is really hard to watch your team struggle like that for that long.”

They eventually righted the ship, turned their season around with a 10-5 finish to qualify for the tournament, where Hampshire fell to Easthampton in the quarterfinals.

“Last year was very stressful, but the point was to never give up, to keep fighting and keep working hard,” junior forward Brianna Weltlich said. “Eventually we started winning and we got into our groove.”

This year, Hampshire went 2-2 against the same four teams — South Hadley, Ware, Granby, Sabis — and also defeated Monson on Dec. 21 to head into the one-week break at 3-2.

“I can see the difference just in the way they are moving,” Hampshire coach Rich Moussette said. “When you are 0-5, you can see the shoulders are shrugged, they’re not sure what to do. They kept working but it was a different feel. This year, even though we are not off to the best of starts, we are off to a good enough start to feel more comfortable, now I feel like we can move forward and progress. They are more confident in where we are and where we can get to if we keep working hard.”

There have been numerous differences, starting with the way the team walked into the first day of preseason.

“They were better prepared physically coming in, so I didn’t have to get them in shape. They were already there,” Moussette said. “They knew what happened last year by not coming into (the preseason) in condition.”

Moussette also tried to simplify things early, focusing almost entirely on the defensive end.

“I thought I got too much involved with everything,” he said. “This year, we spent more time on defense and making sure we are comfortable on the defensive side of the ball because eventually your offense will catch up.”

The squad returned nearly its entire roster from last year and many of the younger players have taken big steps forward, like freshman point guard Chelsea Moussette and sophomore wing Lauren Aldrich, who are averaging 7.0 and 7.6 points per game, respectively.

“There’s definitely been more people stepping up this year,” said Kober, who has had double-doubles in each game this year. She’s averaging 20.2 points so far and has 776 for her career. “Everybody has improved since last year. We could see it right from the start (of preseason), so that was a good way to go into the season.”

Last year’s team used the Christmas break to plant the seeds of turning the season around. This year’s team is hoping it will get another boost from the extra practice time in the gym.

“Most people might look at this week as a vacation, a time to relax, but I think this is one of the most important weeks of the season,” Weltlich said. “This is a time when we need to work that hardest.”

Kober said the team isn’t celebrating

“It’s a little more relieving, but we still have to win seven more games just to get to tournament,” Kober said. “That’s always in the back of our minds. We obviously want to get back to the Cage and go all the way, which is my dream as a senior.”

One early concern for Rich Moussette is the way his team is shooting on the road. The squad is 3-0 at home this year and averaging 69.3 points in wins over South Hadley, Ware and Monson. Away from Westhampton, the team is 0-2 and averaging 40.5 in losses to Sabis and Granby. Though some of that differential is likely because of the strength of the Bulldogs and Rams, Moussette is focused on helping his team find its stroke on the road.

He’ll get his next chance Friday at Westfield at 7 p.m. against a Bombers team that has beaten the Raiders in each of the past two years.

“It’s my job to make them comfortable and I think one way to do that is to get into a set routine for road games,” Moussette said. “We’re going to try something new for Westfield and see where that takes us.”

HARRINGTON HANZALIK CLASSIC — The third annual Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Basketball Classic is set for Friday and Saturday at Northampton High School.

The event, which is run as a give-back event by the Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Memorial Fund, begins with a doubleheader Friday. The Pioneer Regional boys take on Turners Falls at 5 p.m., followed by the Northampton girls hosting Central at 7.

Pioneer and Northampton have deep roots with Fund president and cofounder Adam Harrington, who played at Pioneer Regional for Perry Messer, who is now the coach for the Hamp girls.

The event continues Saturday, which begins at 9:30 a.m. with a free hour-long basketball clinic for boys and girls from second to eighth grade.

That is followed by a boys basketball doubleheader with Smith Academy facing Taconic at noon, followed by Northampton squaring off against Westfield at 2.

Admission for each day is $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. There will be food, refreshments, prizes, raffles and entertainment both days.

GAME OF THE WEEK — Boys basketball, Amherst at Commerce, Friday, 7 p.m.

The Hurricanes (2-2) are coming off their big upset win over defending state champion Central and take on another city school with high expectations when they travel to face the Red Raiders (3-1).

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com. For more coverage, including a high school sports blog, go to www.gazettenet.com/sports/highschoolsports.

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