By Mac Cerullo
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Coming into this year, there’s very little that Kelsi McNamara hadn’t accomplished.
She was a key player on a state championship team as a freshman and a starter on a team that nearly won another as a sophomore. She was also an All-League selection. After consistently stepping up her game in the postseason, she earned a reputation as someone who could be counted on in big spots.
But going into her junior year, McNamara was suddenly faced with a new challenge. For the first time in her high school career, she wouldn’t have the benefit of a large group of talented upperclassmen around her, and as a result, the team’s success would truly rest on her shoulders.
“In the past she’s been the young kid on the team,” said John McNamara, Pentucket’s head coach and Kelsi’s father. “This year she really had to step up and take a leadership role.”
With no returning seniors on the roster, McNamara and fellow junior McKenna Kilian took the reins as captains, and under their leadership the team didn’t miss a beat. Pentucket went 17-7 on the year, finishing second in the Cape Ann League to qualify for the state tournament once again.
Right from the start, McNamara was sensational. She averaged 16.1 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals on the season while also making an average of 2.6 three-pointers a game, numbers that made her a no-brainer selection to the Cape Ann League’s All-League team.
Her best performance of the season came in a 60-52 triple-overtime victory over North Reading on Feb. 7. McNamara scored 32 points in that game, 17 of which came in overtime, and she also hit two monster threes to force extra time, first at the end of regulation and then again to send the game to triple overtime.
“I played so bad basically the entire game, and luckily my team helped to stay close,” she said. “I wasn’t helping out too much, but then something clicked.”
McNamara had a similar performance a week later against Newburyport. Down by nine with only a few minutes to play, McNamara keyed a furious comeback to force overtime, ultimately leading the Sachems to a 52-44 victory with 28 points and 5 made threes.
While McNamara and the Sachems enjoyed similar success as their predecessors in the regular season, things didn’t work out as well in the postseason, as the Sachems were blown out by Arlington Catholic in the North quarterfinals.
McNamara said the tournament loss left her and the rest of the team with a bad taste in their mouths, but given that virtually the entire team will be returning next year, she’s excited to have one last chance to get back to TD Garden.
“I think next year will be huge because me and McKenna and all the other seniors will want to keep going as long as we can so our last game is the championship game,” she said. “Going to the Garden is our goal every year, and I want to leave everything on the court because it’ll be the last time I can do it.”
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