Winter sports preview: Northampton girls basketball aiming to finish the job after losing state final

  • The six seniors on the Northamptno girls basketball team are shown during the preseason. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The six seniors on the Northamptno girls basketball team are shown during the preseason. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The six seniors on the Northamptno girls basketball team are shown during the preseason. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The six seniors on the Northamptno girls basketball team are shown during the preseason. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The six seniors on the Northamptno girls basketball team are shown during the preseason. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The six seniors on the Northamptno girls basketball team are shown during the preseason. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton coach Perry Messer talks to his team during practice at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Emily Sledziewski shoots during practice Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amanda Mieczkowski shoots during practice Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jill McGrath shoots during practice Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Caroline Tanner shoots during practice Nov. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amanda Mieczkowski drives past Emily Sledzieski during practice Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Syd Lewandowski shoots during practice Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Emily Sledziewski, right, plays one-on-one against Amanda Mieczkowski during preseason practice, Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Syd Lewandowski shoots during practice at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amanda Mieczkowski shoots during practice Dec. 5 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/13/2019 3:00:30 PM
Modified: 12/13/2019 3:00:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Winning the past two Western Massachusetts Division 2 championships doesn’t matter to the Northampton girls basketball team nearly as much as losing last year’s state final.

“We’re not really focusing on what we’ve accomplished,” senior point guard Amanda Mieczkowski said. “Coming so close last year and not being able to finish the job angered us a lot. This year we’ll have that much more motivation to actually finish the job.”

The Blue Devils have the firepower to do it. They return five seniors from last year’s squad and added a sixth when Olivia Dubuque came back to Northampton following a year at Springfield Central. Northampton picked up close to where it left off at the end of last season when practice finally began in earnest after snow delays.

“We know what to expect,” senior Jill McGrath said. “We know how everybody plays and what everyone’s quirks and strengths and weaknesses are.”

Like any of coach Perry Messer’s previous 10 years, defense will be the priority.

“If you can’t play defense, you don’t play,” McGrath said.

But defense can only get the Blue Devils so far. Northampton held Pentucket to 43 points in the state final, one of its lowest totals of the season. But the Blue Devils only scored 26 – by far a season low – in the loss.

“We’re honest with our guys all the time, we gotta get better offensively,” Messer said. “We gotta shoot the ball consistently.”

Caroline Tanner at full strength will help. She missed nearly the entire season last year with a stress fracture in the L5 vertebrae of her back. Tanner can play any position on the floor, shoots well and can be a menace on defense.

“The sky’s the limit,” Messer said. “She’s a prototype – great wingspan, can run the floor, get to the basket, defend people.”

Bringing Dubuque back will also shore up one of Northampton’s shortcomings in recent seasons: height. The Blue Devils have relied on senior Sydney Lewandowski in the post, and she’s acquitted herself admirably through effort despite standing under 6 feet tall. Dubuque last played for Northampton as a sophomore and was the team’s leading rebounder when it lost the 2017 state semifinals against Hopkinton.

“We’re going to have more of a post presence,” Mieczkowski said.

But guards will be the engine in Northampton’s offense. Mieczkowski handles the point but can score however she wants. McGrath, Tanner and Emily Sledzieski can all shoot, create and – most importantly – defend.

“They’re all interchangeable – that amoeba type offense or defense,” Messer said. “The whole team’s got a lot of versatility.”

Mieczkowski runs the show. The Assumption College commit started since her freshman year and has improved not only her game but her aggressiveness.

“When we were freshman she was intimidated, and now she’s not afraid of anything,” Tanner said.

Messer wants to move Mieczkowski off the ball more and put her in easier scoring situations. The improvement and versatility of her teammates makes that possible. She’s closing in on 1,000 points in her career.

“Go out there and prove you’re the best player in western Mass,” Messer said. “That’s how I want her to play.”

Mieczkowski is an unselfish player. She’ll pass up a good shot for herself for a better one for a teammate. That ethos permeates throughout Northampton’s team.

“We all want the best from each other,” Lewandowski said. “We all have that mentality of playing for each other more than ourselves.”

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

Amherst Regional

COACH: Ralph Loos, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Central/2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 9-11

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2018, lost 63-29 to East Longmeadow in WMass Division 2 quarterfinals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Erin Klaes, G; Juniors — Petua Mukimba, F; Mayouri Yath, G. Sophomore — Delaney MacPhetres, F;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior — Skye Nolan, G; Sophomore — Esme Siegel, G;

NEWCOMERS: Juniors — Clara Lopez, F; Reveala Peters, G; Freshmen — Audrey Bowen, F; Sara Hastie, F; Sophia Higham, F; Tessa Kawall, G; Daizany Mares, G;

OUTLOOK: The Hurricanes will feature an experienced core led by Klaes, one of the best shooters in western Mass. MacPhetres established herself as a key player last season. Loos will have the team play fast and rely on its athleticism to make Amherst difficult to play against.

Belchertown

COACH: Jason Woodcock, 12th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 8-12

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2017, lost 69-44 to Pittsfield in WMass championship.

RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior — Sonia Dugger, F; Juniors — Meredith Medina, F; Sophomores — Gina Camerota, F; Avery Klingensmith, F; Alexa LaFlamme, G; Jessa Troy, F;

NEWCOMERS: Seniors — Kyleigh Girard, G; Elisha Wenc, G; Juniors — Erin Lucas, F; Olivia Vogel, G;

OUTLOOK: Orioles have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and graduated five seniors from last year’s team. Dugger was going to be the team’s best player but tore her ACL and will miss the season. Medina will step into a larger role, while four sophomores gained valuable varsity experience last season.

Easthampton

COACH: Brian Miller, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin West/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 3-14

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2013, lost 68-56 to South Hadley in WMass Division 2 first round

RETURNING STARTERS: Senior — Kyla Roy, F; Sophomores — Emma Downer, G; Sofia Massa, F;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior — Abbey Coleman, G; Sophomores — Nessrine Bentley, G; Rina Damon, F/C;

NEWCOMERS: Junior — Kiersten Vishaway, F; Sophomores — Grace Downer, F; Marley Reardon, G; Makalyn Wolcott, C; Freshmen — Maria Belfakih, F; Jessica Cloutier, F; Lauren Morse, G;

OUTLOOK: Miller took over the girls program after leading Easthampton’s boys team for two decades. The Eagles will have seven sophomores and four freshmen — a fresh start. Roy is the team’s captain. She also captained Miller’s soccer team. Morse and Belfakih have also shown promise.

Frontier Regional

COACH: Dave Machon, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin North/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-11

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 35-25 to Sabis in WMass first round.

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Marie Diemand, G; Tori Speth, G; Junior — Amelia Sobieski, F;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Juniors — Becca Bridwell, F; Alena Maes-Polan, G; Sierra Warren, G; Sophomore — Kaitlyn Mackin, F;

NEWCOMERS: Junior — Meghan Self, G; Sophomore — Sydney Taylor, G; Freshmen — Abi Howard, F; Kylie Laford, G; Cadi Wells-Robinson, F;

OUTLOOK: The Red Hawks have reached the tournament in each of the past three seasons with a different coach each year. Diemand, Sobieski and Speth will provide a solid foundation that the team can build around.

Gateway Regional

COACH: Elijah Robins, 12th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County South/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 14-7

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 51-20 to Mount Everett in WMass first round.

RETURNING STARTERS: Senior — Grace Van Buren, F/C; Juniors — Peyton Bucko, F; Hannah Duggan, G;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Crystal Rucki, F; Donna Viel, F; Sophomore — Stephanie Paiva, G/F;

NEWCOMERS: Freshman — Nancy Mueller, F/C; Eighth grade — Alexi Bonenfant, G; Kaitlyn Maynard, G/F; Seventh grade — Amy Fisk, G/F; Isabella LeBarron, G;

OUTLOOK: The Gators won a league championship last season but fell in the tournament’s opening round for the third year in a row. Bucko, Duggan, Viel, Paiva and Van Buren saw time in the postseason and can build off that experience.

Granby

COACH: Tom Burke, 13th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-11

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 47-24 to Wahconah in WMass quarterfinals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Kaeleigh Croteau, G; Julia Frappier, G; Julia Gauvin, F; Nora Young, G/F;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Faith Bergeron, G/F; Kayla McCreary, G/F; Junior — Justice Delaney, F; Sophomore — Sienna Hill, G; Kristen Trembley, G;

NEWCOMERS: Sophomores — Paige Galasha, C; Brie Sosa, G; Gabrielle Walz, G; Freshmen — Abigail Feldman, G; Ella Laliberte, G;

OUTLOOK: After repeating as Central League champions, the Rams moved up to the Suburban to play with teams like Belchertown, Hampshire Regional and South Hadley. Injuries have hampered Granby in recent seasons, but the team is at full strength. The Rams have been young in recent years but that has produced an experienced roster.

Hampshire Regional

COACH: Dan Labrie, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-11

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 60-33 to Greenfield in WMass quarterfinals

ROSTER: Seniors — Jackie Babyak, G; Naomi Golasinski, F; Katie Taylor, F; Juniors — ​​​​​​Lila Labrie, G; Delaney Marek, F; Maddie Pond, G; Maggie Rubeck, G; Jocelyn Salomao, G; Sophomore — Brie Salomao, G; Freshmen — Elizabeth Colon Garcia, F; Emma Czarniecki, G: Ashley Legowski, G;

OUTLOOK: Veteran squad with a strong, experienced junior core. Many players remain from 2018 state final run, and the Raiders will rely on that experience. Pond is one of the most dangerous shooters in the area, while Rubeck controls the glass.

Holyoke

COACH: Andrea Enright, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION:Valley League/1

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 4-16

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2017, lost 53-43 to Northampton win WMass quarterfinals

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Destiny Calderon, G; Abby Glasheen, G; Victoria Lopez, F/C; Kiaralys Santiago, G; Juniors — Roselyn Baez, F; Teniyah Morales, G; Taryn Ryan, F/C; Natalie Vasquez, G; Sophomore — Yamaya Perez, G;

NEWCOMERS: Senior — Nayelie Velez, G; Sophomores — Anna Alicea, F/C; Asha Zayas, G; Freshmen — Bianca Ortiz, G; Ashley Vazquez, G;

OUTLOOK: Enright takes over at her alma mater after six years at Longmeadow. She teaches in Holyoke and had many of her current players in class when they were in elementary school. The Purple Knights are experienced in the post and will rely on its defense and a young, talented back court.

Hopkins Academy

COACH: Mike Prattico, second year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin North/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 19-7

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, won WMass title 76-64 over Mount Everett. Lost 66-36 to Cathedral in state final.

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Thea Hanscom, F; Allison Kowal-Safron, G; Junior — Sara Beauchamp, G;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Hailey Boisvert, C; Carolyn Kowal-Safron, F; Gabrielle Palmisano, C; Freshman — Kasey Earle, G;

NEWCOMERS: Seniors — Emma Elson, G; Felicia Fil, F; Maegan Quinlan, F; Sophomores — Gabriella Dyjach, F; Tia Fyden, G; Freshman — Chloe Jekanowski, C;

OUTLOOK: Only two seniors graduated from the most successful team in program history. They left large roles to fill, and it won’t be up to individual players to account for their production. Allison Kowal-Safron showed scoring acumen, while Beauchamp and Hanscom provided versatility.

Northampton

COACH: Perry Messer, 11th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Valley League/2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 19-5

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, won WMass title 46-42 over Taconic; Lost 43-26 to Pentucket in state final

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Olivia Dubuque F; Sydney Lewandowski, C; Jill McGrath, G; Amanda Mieczkowski, G; Emily Sledzieski, G; Caroline Tanner, G/F; Junior — Ella Moreau, F; Sophomores — Riley Allen, G; Allison Flynn, G/F; Alaina Smith, G/F;

NEWCOMERS: Junior — Linnea Zimmer — G; Freshman — Chloe Denhart, G/F;

OUTLOOK: The two-time sectional champions have their sights set on a three-peat and a state title. The Blue Devils’ entire starting lineup is filled with seniors and they can bring a sixth off the bench. Mieczkowski is on the cusp of 1,000 points and already committed to Assumption. Having Tanner healthy the whole season will unlock options for Northampton. Allen gained valuable experience as a freshman last year.

Smith Academy

COACH: Allison Slysz, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin West/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 11-10

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 53-34 to Renaissance in WMass first round.

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Erin Gilrein, F; Karlie Guimond, G; Junior — Emma Kelly, F;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior — Ashley Fill, F; Sophomores — Elena Baranoski, G; Maisy Dyer, F; Bailey McCoy, G;

NEWCOMERS: Sophomores — Rose McCollough, F; Amanda Novak, F; Freshman — Story Goldman, G; Eighth grade — Maisie Bowler, G; Emma Moynihan, G;

OUTLOOK: Only four upperclassmen, but they bring years of tournament experience. Kelly is an accomplished post player working to diversify her game. Guimond brings athleticism to the point guard position. Gilrein is in her second year recovered from an ACL tear and is back to her old self.

Smith Vocational

COACH: Kristen Tirado, second year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County South/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 6-13

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2016, lost 60-35 to North Brookfield in WMass first round

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Megan Cone, F; Nevaeh Stone, F; Juniors — Haleigh Pensivy, F; Ella Sherman, G;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Iara Oliveira-Torres, G; Morgan Roberts, G; Juniors — Lilly Graves, G; Abby McDonald, G; Yenaira Pazo, G; Ashley Schabacker, G;

NEWCOMERS: Freshman — Kora Kelly, F;

OUTLOOK: The Vikings are going back to the fundamentals to try and return to the postseason. Tirado is trying to have the team work better together than stand out individually. Pensivy is a strong post player. Cone and Roberts provide experience.

South Hadley

COACH: Paul Dubuc, 10th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 16-6

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 55-53 to Greenfield in WMass semifinals

RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior — Bridget Sears; Juniors — Taylor Borowski, Anna Evans, Teagan Gawron, Allie Laporte, Paige Marjanski, Kate Walas; Sophomores — Ange Bessone, Olivia Marion, Talia Uribe;

NEWCOMERS: Sophomore — Gabi Moroney; Freshmen — Megan Carey, Alex Jackson, Kacie Levrault;

OUTLOOK: It will be a more balanced effort from the Tigers after leading scorer Mia Kelly graduated and is playing at Stonehill. Marjanski, Gawron, Walas, Sears and Evans played in the sectional semifinals last season. It was South Hadley’s fourth loss at the Cage since 2014. Defense and fast breaking will once again be the bedrocks of the Tigers’ program.




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