2008 state title still echoes with Northampton girls basketball team

  • Northampton head coach Perry Messer, front, signals to his players on offense in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 56-43 win over Nashoba in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday. Northampton plays Pentucket in the state finals, Saturday. The Blue Devils won the 2008 state Division 1 title under then-head coach Tom Parent, back center. Assistant coach Brad McGrath is pictured left. Trainer Gary Elson is at right. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior guard Jillian McGrath (4) chases down a rebound in front of Alexis Richard (5) of Nashoba in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior forward Sydney Lewandowski, left, shoots over Brienne Donahue of Nashoba in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior guard Amanda Mieczkowski, left, is halted by Nashoba defenders Julia Roth, center, and Abigail McNulty in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton senior center Kolbie Jones, center, forces a jump ball with Brienne Donahue of Nashoba in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior guard Jilllian McGrath, let, sends a pass over Abigail McNulty of Nashoba in the first half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2019 7:51:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Jill McGrath looked up to the 2008 state champion Northampton girls basketball team. Her father, Brad, brought her to their practices and games.

“I remember watching them and being like ‘they’re so good’ and wanting to be that good one day,” she said.

McGrath and her Northampton teammates have a chance to equal the 2008 team’s crowning achievement if they beat Pentucket in the state Division 2 final Saturday. The game starts at 4:30 p.m. at Holy Cross.

The 2008 team also played its state final in Worcester. Those Blue Devils beat Andover, 50-37, at the DCU Center. Current Northampton coach Perry Messer coached a majority of the squad during their AAU seasons leading up to that year. He couldn’t be on the bench with Northampton coach Tom Parent because of MIAA rules.

“We traveled all over the country in AAU. Those guys were like family,” Messer said. “We played as tough of competition we could find all over.”

Parent retired after the state championship season, and Messer took over. Messer ran basketball camps in Northampton’s gym during the summer for young kids using his current players as counselors.

They took place over two weeks that Messer said were always the hottest of the summer.

“You guarantee it was the best time to take a summer vacation,” he said. “It’d be 100 degrees.”

To counteract that, Messer split the camps into groups. While some played basketball, the remaining group would head over to Messer’s pool for a swim.

Many players on this year’s team interacted with the 2008 team at those camps.

“I remember when the girls were younger how excited we were to be able to work with those girls. Seeing kids so young that see state championship, and it’s almost like that’s their dream,” said Cassandra Sicard, who was on the 2008 team. “Their eyes get so big.”

Players like Sicard, Jamie Messer and Alannah Driscoll-Sbarr became role models for the current generation of Blue Devils.

“It’s crazy because as a little kid that was always my dream to be one of them and now I’m here,” Northampton junior Emily Sledzieski said.

The 2008 team is still involved with the program. Some of them and their families attended Northampton’s state semifinal win over Nashoba, and they occasionally stop by practice.

“I feel so at home. Every time we walk into the gym, we have to tilt our heads up and look up at the banner and get flooded with the memories,” Sicard said. “Even though everybody is in so many different directions, when people come home it’s always checking in, ‘how are the girls doing, how’s Perry’s season going?’ Everyone’s still so involved.”

Regardless of how Saturday’s game goes, that tradition of community will continue in Northampton. Messer is bringing back the summer camps after a short hiatus, and his current players will be the counselors for another, younger generation.

“They want to give back and that’s that tradition of getting the young guys to understand the time commitment you have to put in the work ethic you’ve got to have,” Messer said. “That’s how you sustain programs and keep it going.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.



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