Berkshire County girls basketball previews, 2016-17
Last Season: 16-7, lost in Western Mass. Division III championship
Coach: Brian Flagg (2nd year)
Key Returnees: Sarah Lamarre; Brooke DiGennaro; Miranda Wissman
Outlook: The Drury girls worked the right formula in Brian Flagg's first year last season, riding a defense-first mentality to the Western Mass. Division III championship game. A large chunk of the playing pieces from that team are gone, but the returning players are still keyed in on defense this year.
Senior Sarah Lamarre and sophomore Brooke DiGennaro are the two returning players who saw a lot of court time last year, and the duo will be paired in the backcourt for the Blue Devils. Lamarre should pick up the majority of the ball-handling duties, while DiGennaro has the tools to lead the team offensively. Hayley Shook, Miranda Wissman and Taylor Giron are also back for Drury this year. Lamarre, Giron and Wissman will captain the side. Wissman will be a key defensive figure for Drury on the wings.
Inside, Flagg is going with a committee of three to figure out the two starting forward spots. Giron, Laura Thomas and Mackenzie McGuire will all get cracks at the starting roles inside.
In addition to the always-competitive Berkshire North, Drury has a tough non-league schedule. The Blue Devils open up again with the Gene Wein Tournament, followed by a trio of non-leaguers against Pioneer, at Brattleboro (Vt.) and at Granby. Drury will also play Athol in the final game of the year.
Last Season: 21-6, lost in MIAA Division III championship
Coach: Ron Wojcik (7th year)
Key Returnees: Fallon Field; Kailynne Frederick; Alie Mendel
Outlook: The state runners-up in Division III last year return this season with another formidable unit, anchored by senior co-captains Fallon Field and Kailynne Frederick.
Field and Frederick were key cogs in last year's campaign, and both spent the summer playing travel basketball in preparation for this season. The two were the frontcourt pairing last year, and the duo can both put the ball in the basket and keep it out at the other end.
Also back is sophomore guard Alie Mendel, who was thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman and excelled as a scorer and ball-handler. Two other rotation pieces, Skylar Case and Lexi Mercier, are also back with another year of experience under their belts.
Junior Kayla Garabedian will see an increased role this year, and freshmen Sarah Field and Riley Robinson are two young guns that will get chances to be critical pieces off of the bench.
The Hurricanes have a busy non-conference schedule, as usual, highlighted by the team's holiday tournament that welcomes Auburn, South Hadley and Greenfield. Hoosac will also welcome Quaboag, travel to Granby and play Longmeadow in the team's Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. The Hurricanes will wrap up the season at the Foxboro Tournament.
Last Season: 6-14
Coach: Steve Soule (3rd year)
Key Returnees: Addie McLaughlin; Hailey Higgins; Emily Rada
Outlook: The Spartans were hit with losses from all angles coming into this season, with two seniors graduating, a star sophomore transferring to prep school and senior Halle Hassett going down with a knee injury in soccer season.
Don't expect Monument to cry about its misfortunes, though. Instead, the Spartans are rallying the wagons for the upcoming campaign, and a core of senior leaders will lead the way. Addie McLaughlin, Emily Rada, Hailey Higgins and Kayla Dupont all played last season, and classmate Allison Kinne is back after a year away from the game.
McLaughlin will have to put the ball in the hole to make up for the loss of Anika Helmke. Higgins and Dupont will also have to shoulder a bigger load, and Rada and Kinne will have to bring the defensive muscle inside.
Sophomore Meridith Powell is also back and will see an increased role. In total, coach Steve Soule has 10 girls on the roster, nine that will suit up on opening night.
In addition to a tough Berkshire North slate, the Spartans will play Brattleboro (Vt.), Mahar, Putnam, Easthampton and others in non-league action.
Last Season: 18-5, lost in Western Mass. Division II championship
Coach: Joe Racicot (6th year)
Key Returnees: Peyton Steinman, Bella Aitken, Toni Satrape
Outlook: After knocking on the door of a Western Mass. Division II title the last few seasons, Pittsfield enters the year ready to break through the door. Senior Peyton Steinman is back to lead the way, and the 1,000-point scorer has little else to focus on this winter other than winning after she committed to play at Division II St. Anselm. The dynamic guard can score points in a hurry, but her overall game is going to be just as important for Pittsfield this year.
Bella Aitken is also back, and the junior showed a penchant for scoring at times last season. Consistency will be key, and a reliable secondary scorer will free up Steinman.
In the front court, Pittsfield has to replace the ever-reliable Allie Hunt. Toni Satrape and Britney Perkett spent time as forwards last year, and will be the two main figures to step up in Hunt's place. Alexis Garvey, a sophomore, will also get some time after sitting out last year with a knee injury. Julia Eline-Wright and Natasha Shade also come back, and Shade has the potential to be a starter for the Generals.
Newcomers to watch include Taea Bramer, Lachazity Shaver and Jordyn Lummus.
After finishing as co-champions in the Berkshire North last season, the Generals will once again try to navigate a tricky league schedule. Outside of the Berkshires, the Generals will face Longmeadow in a championship rematch, and head to a holiday tournament over the Christmas break.
Last Season: 6-14
Coach: Matt Mickle (6th year)
Key Returnees: Maddie Quinto; Ashley Rufo; Jasmine Rodriguez
Outlook: Taconic has it easier than most teams this winter, because the first week of practice wasn't about picking a new team — it was about tweaking what the Braves already had. With the entire roster back from last year, coach Matt Mickle and his Braves are poised to improve upon their record and make a run at the Western Mass. Division II tournament.
The strength of the team will be its seniors. The Braves have seven seniors on the roster, with Jasmine Rodriguez, Maddie Quinto, Giana Paris and Janee Walker all return after playing significant minutes last season, and Shalee Conyers returns for her senior campaign after sitting out last season with a knee injury. Quinto will be a driving force in the middle for Taconic, while Rodriguez and Walker can score points and Conyers will be another scoring option when she gets back up to speed.
Juniors Ashley Rufo and Aubrey Lazits will also see court time this year, and senior Brittany Henault will get a chance to crack the rotation, as well. Paris and Henault will captain the team.
Coach Mickle said the depth of his team will be a big benefit this season.
The Braves will once again navigate a difficult Berkshire North slate, and the team's non-league schedule may be just as difficult. The Braves opened at Milford, then host Ludlow and Pope Francis. Taconic will also play Belchertown and South Hadley at home, and face off with Athol in Hoosac Valley's Coaches versus Cancer event.
Last Season:14-8, lost in Western Mass. Division III quarterfinals
Coach: Liz Kay (3rd year)
Key Returnees: Ashley Zink; Lily Pudlo; Julia O'Connor
Outlook: Year 3 of the Liz Kay tenure has the Warriors in a very good place. With a strong core of seniors and some experienced juniors, Wahconah has a legitimate chance to contend in both the Berkshire North and in Division III.
The strength of the Warriors lies in not just one player, but in multiple. Seniors Ashley Zink, Lily Pudlo and Emmy Cote took turns leading the team in scoring last season, and classmate Kenna McIlquham had multiple double-digit scoring nights last year. A fifth senior is also back this year in Amelia Dougherty
Junior Julia O'Connor returns to help inside for Wahconah after starting last season, and Kelly McMahon also returns off the bench. The Warriors also have other players that saw limited action or swung between JV and varsity last year that will round out the roster, including Victoria Gamberoni and Suzie Stefanik.
The Warriors will test themselves both in the Berkshire North and in the non-league schedule. The team will face Coventry, Conn. in the Massachusetts-Connecticut Challenge, travel to Bishop Ludden in New York for a holiday tournament, and also face Granby and Hampshire.
Last Season: 13-10, lost in Western Mass. Division IV semifinals
Coach: Rick Puleri (1st year)
Key Returnees: Karli Retzel; Cara Walker; Brianna Hawley
Outlook: Most first-year coaches enter their situations looking at a rebuild. Rick Puleri comes to Lee and is greeted by a team that's back in its entirety from last year's Western Mass. D-IV semifinal appearance.
Senior guard Karli Retzel will once again be the focus. Scoring 20+ points multiple times last year, Retzel will be a driving force for the offense.
Inside, Lee welcomes back Brianna Hawley, Cara Walker and Kendra Williams. Mikayla DeSantis also returns as another capable scorer, and Shannon Finnegan provides an additional threat from 3-point range.
Puleri noted that the senior-laden side has made it easier for him to come in and make his mark on the team.
Puleri coached the Lee boys' team in the past, and as a graduate of the school, he knows the expectations that come with the Wildcats' program. That, though, isn't weighing on him much as Puleri settles into his new role.
The Wildcats will have a tough Berkshire South slate to navigate, with Mount Greylock and Mount Everett finishing above Lee last year while Lenox is a much-improved side. With no St. Joseph, the South falls to a four-team league. Outside of the county, the Wildcats will play Turners Falls, Monson and Sabis, among others.
Last Season: 5-15
Coach: Mike Nykorchuck (2nd year)
Key Returnees: Jackie Hathaway; Alice Najimy; Nicole Gamberoni
Outlook: After taking plenty of lumps last season, the Millionaires enter the year as a team ready to try and make some noise in Division IV.
Leading scorer Jackie Hathaway is back for her senior campaign, and provides an inside-outside threat for Lenox. Guard Alice Najimy also returns, and is the team's knockdown shooter from the perimeter. Nicole Gamberoni also returns after gaining valuable experience as a freshman last season.
Inside, Rose Pehlert returns to anchor the middle. Mollie Herrick and Kate Arace are also back this year to provide Lenox with a great base to build up.
Second-year coach Mike Nykorchuck emphasized the importance of defense again this season, and said the goal for the team now is to turn some of the close losses from last year into wins, so that the team can try and hit the 10-win mark for Western Mass. qualification.
Ten wins will be important, because the loss of St. Joseph in the Berkshire South means that the four-team league only gets one automatic qualifier for Western Mass. — the league champion. In past years, the five-team league could send the No. 2 team to the tournament if it had a sub-.500 record.
Lenox's non-league schedule is grueling. The Millionaires will play up a bunch, with Sci-Tech, Putnam, Pope Francis and Commerce on the schedule.
Last Season: 18-5, lost in Western Mass. Division IV championship
Coach: Scott Rote (16th year)
Key Returnees: Gwendolyn Carpenter; Kelsey Netzer; Madison Ullrich
Outlook: The Eagles announced their presence to the Division IV world with a Western Mass. championship game appearance last season. Now the goal is to try and get back there. The Eagles will lack in the height category this season, but with a dynamo like Gwendolyn Carpenter on the perimeter, Mount Everett has the tools to be a successful side.
Carpenter is back for her sophomore campaign, and the year-wiser player will continue to flourish for coach Scott Rote. Senior Kelsey Netzer will also provide scoring from the wings, and can pull up for a shot or drive to the basket.
Inside, Madison Ullrich returns for her sophomore season, and Kayla Krom returns for her senior season after sitting out last year. Both will have to pick up for the production lost by graduation a year ago.
Marion Devoti also returns and will aid in the paint for Mount Everett. Newcomer Sarah Beckwith, who bounced between JV and varsity last season, will also get a chance for significant minutes.
Mount Everett's schedule ramped up this season, and outside of Berkshire South play, the Eagles will play in the Franklin Tech tournament, head to Sci-Tech and Sabis and welcome Amherst.
Last Season: 15-8, lost in Western Mass. Division III semifinals
Coach: John Jacobbe (2nd year)
Key Returnees: Jenna Benzinger, Lauren Howard, Sarah Stripp
Outlook: The defending Berkshire South champions enter the year with a thinner roster than last season, but with 6-foot-4 Jenna Benzinger patrolling the middle of the floor, the Mounties are still a threat in the county and in Division III.
Benzinger is back for her senior season, and classmate Sarah Stripp also returns to lead the team in the back court. A third key contributor from last year, Lauren Howard, also comes back and provides the Mounties with an inside-outside threat to keep teams honest.
Maddie Albert returns with varsity experience and should slot into the starting lineup, while the fifth starting spot will go to freshman Madi Ross at first. Ross will handle the ball a majority of the time for the Mounties, and the young point guard's growth will be critical to the team's development.
Outside the starting five is where the Mounties might run into trouble. With a four-deep bench, the combination of Holly Byrnes, Brooke Masse, Clare Sheedy and Ciera Schwartzer will have to come along quickly to fill valuable minutes.
Outside of the Berkshire South slate, Greylock will play McCann Tech, Westfield and Monson, and will also participate in the Gene Wein Tournament at Drury.
Last Season: 5-14
Coach: Kathy Budaj (1st year)
Key Returnees: Aimee Dowling; Alanza Quinones; Allie Gibeau
Outlook: After two years of coaching the JV unit, coach Kathy Budaj moves up to varsity this season for the Hornets. The first-year coach has familiarity in the program, and that's half the battle as McCann looks to improve on last year's record.
The return of Aimee Dowling means the Hornets have a capable scorer back. Allie Gibeau also had a penchant for putting the ball in the hole, and is back for her senior year. Senior big Alanza Quinones is back in the middle, and classmate Michaela Malloy will also be an important figure for the county's lone Franklin East team. Jordan Budaj is also back for her senior year with the Hornets.
Budaj's 10-person roster is all upperclassmen. The team plays 16 of its games in the Franklin East/South, with the four non-league games coming against Mount Greylock, twice against Pathfinder and once against Smith Vocational.
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