2021-22 Gazette Girls Basketball of the Year: Bianca Ortiz, Holyoke

  • Holyoke’s Bianca Ortiz, right, dribbles while defended by Northampton’s Sofia Ciaglo during the Western Mass. quarterfinals earlier this winter. Ortiz was named the 2021-22 Gazette Girls Basketball Player of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/6/2022 9:05:04 PM
Modified: 5/6/2022 9:03:34 PM

Even now, Holyoke girls basketball coach Dre Enright remembers the first time she saw Bianca Ortiz play. It was the kind of moment that stays with you, even though Ortiz says she doesn’t remember it.

Enright wasn’t coaching at Holyoke yet, but she’d heard about this middle-schooler who was lighting up the court. The head coach of Ortiz’s co-ed intramural squad asked Enright to help out from time to time, and though she was usually busy, that day she had an opening. She headed over to see exactly what Ortiz could do on the hardwood.

“There's what looks like an eighth grade man standing there [on defense] and [Ortiz] just goes up, she makes [the shot] — and she doesn’t remember this, I don't know if she knew the guy or not — but she got in his face and goes ‘And one!’ and bumps him, and then she makes both free throws,” Enright said. “I'm sitting there like as a coach, I want to rip her a new one. As a female, that is the best thing I've ever seen in my life.”

That kind of fiery passion defines Ortiz’s game, and it’s what makes the lefty one of the most feared players in Western Massachusetts. She was selected as the Gazette’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

Ortiz, known as ‘B’ by her coaches and friends, has been playing basketball since she was five, and knew pretty early on that it was the sport for her.

“I played softball when I was 12, 13. I tried that but I didn't really like it as much, but I knew basketball was my passion and my love,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz started with the Our Lady of Guadalupe CYO basketball team in Holyoke, and has worked her way up playing for a variety of different youth teams and AAU programs. Though she’s worked tirelessly to hone her basketball skills, it was clear early that she was usually one of the more skilled players on whatever court she stepped on, and she usually played against competition that was bigger and stronger.

“[With] my talent against other girls, I would always play up and play against older girls,” Ortiz said. “It was actually more challenging and more fun for me.”

That’s a theme that came up repeatedly for Ortiz when she talked about her basketball career — she thrives when presented with a challenge. While some players may shrink away from adversity, Ortiz rises up to meet it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an eighth grader standing between her and the hoop, or her coach calling her out during a particularly difficult practice. No matter the obstacle, Ortiz has a focused approach to the game — get better and help her team win. 

“We need her to score, she needs to score, but her points aren't in the forefront of her mind. It's what needs to get done to win the game, to accomplish our goals,” Enright said. “She got hurt in our Longmeadow away game pretty early on. We got her taped up, tried to put her back in and it was clear she wasn't getting up and down the court.

“So she’s on the bench and she’s just coaching,” she continued. “She's pulling kids aside who are struggling, at halftime talking to the coaches saying,’this is what you need and this is what I think.’ And I think for that last part of the season and going into next year, that's going to be what we're going to rely on her… She's been a huge part [of our team], she’s started since freshman year, but now this is your team.”

Despite an ankle injury, Ortiz had the best season of her high school career. She scored 340 points in 18 games. That included her 1,000th career point during her last game of the season, a playoff contest against Worcester South. Normally a cool, calm and collected player, Ortiz was a little shaky knowing she had the chance to hit such a major milestone as a junior. 

“During warm-ups and just the beginning before the game even started, my emotions were up and running, [and] I was kind of nervous seeing all those people,” Ortiz said. “That was a big accomplishment for me. I looked forward for hitting 1,000 points before I left high school, so it was very big.”

It helps that Ortiz is surrounded by teammates she grew up playing with. This year’s group was brimming with chemistry and high-skilled players like Yamaya Perez, Ashley Vazquez and Kleriz Matos, among others. They’ll lose some of that next year with the departures of Perez and Matos, but Ortiz will return to anchor the Purple Knights. She’ll also serve as inspiration for the next generation of Holyoke basketball players that will come after her.

“It was really cool knowing who she was as an eight- or nine-year-old and seeing her grow and mature and now mentor younger kids. She's so appreciative of the opportunities that she's had, [and] the kids think she's the coolest thing they've ever seen,” Enright said. “It’s just cool for me to see those kids grow up and the cycle of [watching] them mature, and then they become the idols of of the younger kids.” 

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

• Yamaya Perez, senior, Holyoke

• Ashley Vazquez, junior, Holyoke

• Bianca Ortiz, junior, Holyoke

• Lauren Morse, junior, Easthampton

• Delaney MacPhetres, senior, Amherst

• Tessa Kawall, junior, Amherst

• Gabby Walz, senior, Granby

• Avery Klingensmith, senior, Belchertown

• Ava Azzaro, sophomore, Northampton

• Bri Heafey, freshman, Northampton

• Kylie Laford, junior, Frontier

• Kaitlyn Mackin, senior, Frontier

• Olivia Marion, senior, South Hadley

• Talia Uribe, senior, South Hadley

• Chloe Jekanowski, junior, Hopkins

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

• Kleriz Matos, senior, Holyoke

• Maria Belfakih, junior, Easthampton 

• Nessrine Bentley, senior, Easthampton

• Emma Czarniecki, junior, Hampshire

• Alex Jackson, junior, South Hadley 

• Sara Hastie, junior, Amherst

• Alexa LaFlamme, senior, Belchertown

• Jessa Troy, senior, Belchertown

• Chloe Denhart, junior, Northampton

• Kacie Levrault, junior South Hadley

• Meg Carey, senior, South Hadley

• Makayla Tatro, freshman, Smith Voc.

HONORABLE MENTION ALL-STARS

• Emma Allyn, Hampshire

• Tessa Boisvert, sophomore, Smith Voc.

• Liz Colon-Garcia, junior, Hampshire

• Kayley Downie, sophomore, Easthampton

• Rina Damon, senior, Easthampton

• Sophie Higham, junior, Amherst 

• Kora Kelly, junior, Smith Voc. 

• Chloe LaRoche, freshman, Belchertown

• Madysen LePage​​​​​​, sophomore, Belchertown

• Daizany Mares, junior, Amherst

• Bailey McCoy, senior, Smith Academy

• Amanda Novak, senior, Smith Academy 

• Sloane Spanknebel, senior, PVCICS

• Drew Alley, sophomore, South Hadley


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