Win over Northampton just the beginning for Amherst girls basketball

  • Amherst senior forward Delaney MacPhetres, left, and Northampton sophomore guard Ava Azzaro take the tip-off to begin their match at Northampton on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst junior guard Tessa Kawall, left, keeps her gaze on Northampton freshman point guard Bri Heafey in the first half of the Hurricanes' 48-41 road win over the Blue Devils on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst sophomore guard Shannon Klaes, left, takes a tumble while trying to protect the ball from Northampton sophomore guard Ava Azzaro in the first half of the Hurricanes' 48-41 road win over the Blue Devils on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Klaes hit the floor but the Hurricanes kept possession as the ball went out of bounds on Azzaro's touch. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst junior forward Sara Hastie, center, sends a pass between Northampton guards Sofia Ciaglo, left, and Bri Heafey in the first half of their match at Northampton on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2021 4:47:11 PM
Modified: 12/14/2021 4:46:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON – Amherst’s bench spilled onto the floor as the final buzzer sounded. A cheer exhaled from the players on the court and the Hurricanes fans that trekked across the Calvin Coolidge Bridge.

The Hurricanes defeated Northampton 48-41 in a girls basketball game Monday for the first time since March 3, 2012, nearly a decade of rivalry game disappointments exorcised. It was a regular season victory in the Blue Devils’ season opener and Amherst’s second game of the year, but the achievement signified more.

In the intervening 3,572 days, the Hurricanes went 66-116, losing nine games against Northampton. Nearly half of those victories (32) have come since Ralph Loos took over the program in 2019.

Amherst reached the postseason in 2020, qualifying for just the third time in a decade. The Hurricanes reached the semifinals that season after upsetting No. 2 Longmeadow. They also made the 2012 tournament with a 17-3 record and the 2018 postseason after finishing second in the league.

“This group is changing the perception of what Amherst (girls) basketball is,” Loos said.

As much as beating Northampton marked the culmination of years of building, it isn’t an end point. It’s just the beginning.

“This is my 10th year doing this. You can tell when a team likes being in the gym. That’s half the battle,” Loos said. “I don’t have to say ‘practice is tomorrow’ and you get two or three uhhhhs. They want to be in the gym.”

The Hurricanes practiced at 8 a.m. last Saturday, and the entire team showed up ready to start at the top of the hour.

“That’s not easy,” senior Delaney MacPhetres said. “There’s never the hesitation to want to play. Everyone’s there and dedicated, and I think that’s special on a high school team.”

Many of those bonds have been forged over the past two seasons. Practicing and playing basketball was one of the only times the players saw friends or people outside their families last winter amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They stayed in their own pod to not put each other at risk when they were separate. Amherst never had to pause games for contact tracing or a positive test.

There are six juniors and just one senior on the roster, all of whom played together last year. Daizany Mares, Audrey Bowen, Sophie Higham and Sara Hastie have been together for Loos’ entire tenure, while MacPhetres is in her fourth varsity season.

“We are extremely close, we are able to depend on each other on and off the court which helps on the court knowing it’s OK and everyone has your back especially after a turnover or a bad play,” MacPhetres said.

They’ve learned how to lean on each other in challenging situations. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 10-3 lead Monday and ground the pace of the game to a halt. At one point there were more fouls than total points early in the second quarter. Amherst prefers to play fast and leverage its athleticism in an up and down game.

“I told them you can’t get to the place that other schools have gotten to without fighting through these moments,” Loos said. “There’s gonna be ups and downs, and for us to get where we’re gonna go, I don’t think anybody’s gonna let us walk to the finish line. You’re gonna get punched in the face sometimes, and I think that you have to be able to respond.”

Amherst scored 19 of the next 24 points to wrest control of the game and stamp a signature victory. 

“We all just knew what we're capable of. We believed in each other and so there was never a doubt in our mind,” Hastie said. “One thing can’t dictate how we play an entire game, and that’s going to be really needed for whatever goals we have this season.”

The Hurricanes haven’t won a Western Massachusetts championship since 2011. They have four sectional trophies in their case and are aiming for more. At 2-0, Amherst is on its way.

“We're not giving up. We're not backing down,” MacPhetres said. “We're not going to give up, we're not going to bend.”


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