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Granby, South Hadley girls tip off in Hoophall Classic

From the youth ranks up to the high school level, Tom Burke and Paul Dubuc have been coaching against one another for more than 20 years.

On Friday, the long-time friends will lead their teams into one of the biggest high school events in the country.

Burke’s Granby girls basketball team squares off against Dubuc’s South Hadley squad when the rivals meet at the Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College on Friday at 4:30 p.m.

“It’s exciting,” said Burke, who has coached in the event seven times — twice at Granby and five times at Cathedral — before Friday. “When (Hoophall tournament director) Greg Procino talked to me about coming back, he asked me who would you say would be a good rival and somebody that would bring a good crowd and I immediately said South Hadley.”

The rivalry is more friendly now than it was before Burke and then Dubuc took over the respective programs.

“I’m good friends with (Burke) and our teams do some things in the preseason together, so the kids know each other pretty well,” said Dubuc, who will be coaching in his first Hoophall Classic game. “I’ve known him for years. He’s the best. It should be fun.”

Both squads have had strong seasons so far. Granby (10-0, 2-0 Bi-County Central) qualified for the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament with Tuesday’s 41-28 victory at Ware, while the Tigers (7-3, 1-2) are looking to bounce back from a 66-49 loss at Monson on the same night.

“We joke with one another all the time that our kids know one another’s plays as well as they know their own,” Burke said. “We don’t change a heck of a lot as far as the main things that we do. For the most part, you go with what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been successful with.”

South Hadley has employed a frenetic pace this season, putting pressure on their opponents up and down the court for all 32 minutes. In a 49-40 win against Ware, the Tigers created 80 field goal attempts.

“I’m excited. We’re rivals with Granby, so that will just make it that much more special,” Tigers senior Megan Lynes said. “I think our intensity will be better because there will probably be more people there and we’ll be more excited. The more the crowd is, we get more intense and more excited. The bigger the game is, we get more excited.”

The Rams don’t mind getting up and down the court, either, but will want to utilize their size advantage with junior center Rebecca Sapoukey (12.9 points per game). Kelly Pouliot (10.8) and Meg Lynes (10.3) lead South Hadley in scoring.

“It’s hard because you know that (the pressure) is coming, but it’s not like we can’t play against it,” Burke said. “The challenge is that we haven’t seen many teams that are playing at that pace, especially on the bigger floor. That should make it more interesting. It’s going to be even more of a wide-open game.”

Dubuc said most of his team hasn’t been to the event.

“They don’t understand that some of the best teams in the country are playing in the same event on this nice, big college court,” Dubuc said. “Hopefully it will help us further down the road no matter if we win or lose. I don’t think it can do anything but help us.”

Burke, meanwhile, told his players “what a great experience it is. It’s a college atmosphere and you’ve just got to embrace it and enjoy it. There’s only so many local teams that get to play in it. We are very fortunate to have this opportunity.”

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

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