Winter sports preview: Early playoff exit fueling Sophie Gatzounas, South Hadley girls basketball

  • Abby Edge, top, passes against teammate Brooke Zatowski during a South Hadley practice Tuesday at the school.

  • Abby Edge runs a drill during a South Hadley practice Nov. 29.

  • Mia Kelly will start for South Hadley at point guard. “She’s going to surprise a lot of people,” South Hadley coach Paul Dubuc said. “The people that know, know.” Gazette staff/jerrey roberts

  • Marley Medina, right, shoots against Kera Murphy during a South Hadley practice Nov. 29.

  • Abby Edge shoots during a South Hadley practice Nov. 29.

  • Sophie Gatzounas led South Hadley in scoring last season. This year she’s aiming to lead the Tigers back to the Cage. GAZETTE STAFF/Jerrey roberts

Published: 12/9/2016 1:08:24 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Losing in the quarterfinals left a scar.

The South Hadley girls basketball team began last season’s Western Massachusetts Division 3 tournament as the top seed on an 11-game winning streak. A first-round bye advanced the Tigers to the quarterfinals. Jenna Benzinger and Mount Greylock waited. Benzinger scored 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and the Mounties ended South Hadley’s run before it could really start, 62-56.

“That’s one of those things that never stops hurting. The wound never really closes,” South Hadley senior Sophie Gatzounas said. “We did have the potential to go very far. You can’t do much about it but learn from it now. We don’t want that feeling again.”

South Hadley brings back nine players from a team that went 19-2. Gatzounas headlines the group, scoring her 1,000th point last year in just her 57th game. She has 1,264 points.

“We have who we think might be the best player in Western Mass., which makes us feel comfortable,” South Hadley coach Paul Dubuc said. “She’s that good, and she’s better now than she was at the end of last year.”

Gatzounas scored at least 11 points in every game last season, going for more than 20 nine times and breaking 30 on three occasions.

She’s in her third year as a captain.

“She’s great to the kids. She’ll take the kids under her wing, talk to them,” Dubuc said. “I don’t know what goes on in that (locker) room before the games when I’m not in it, but I feel pretty confident something good is happening if she’s back there with them.”

It’s a group that’s very familiar with each other. Most played varsity together last year and on various teams growing up.

“We’re all used to how each other plays, and we all know what each other is going to do,” Marley Medina said.

Especially in transition. South Hadley’s system is predicated on running at every opportunity.

“We don’t want to set up an offense because we probably won’t need to,” Gatzounas said.

Lexi Gawron drove many of those opportunities last season from the point guard position. She graduated, but Mia Kelly will try and keep things running smoothly.

“She’s going to surprise a lot of people. The people that don’t know,” Dubuc said. “The people that know, know.”

Fast breaks often occur as a result of good defense forcing a turnover or after a rebound. Dubuc doesn’t always require the defensive component.

“We’re going to run whether people score against us or not. We’re going to grab it out of the net,” he said. “If we can’t stop people, we’re going to grab it out of the net and try to wear them down.”

The defensive component is one of the Tigers’ main concerns entering the season. They’ll focus on tightening up that end of the floor.

South Hadley can’t do anything about its lack of size, though.

Dubuc plans to lean on his team’s length and athleticism as well as speed to counteract it.

Rebounding will be a group effort led by Medina.

“I’m probably the tallest one here, it’s always my job to hit the boards,” she said.

The Tigers hope it all adds up to a return to Curry Hicks Cage for the sectional semifinals. They missed out last season after reaching the final four of the previous two tournaments.

“I have complete faith in this team. I have complete faith in what we’re going to do,” Gatzounas said. “People have stepped up. Roles have been filled. If everyone wants it, we can go much further than we did last year.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at

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