BEVERLY — No team in the River Rival Region can match the consistent excellence of the Pentucket girls basketball team over the last six seasons.
As evidence, consider this: A typical winter sports season includes 20 games prior to state-tournament play. Pentucket clinched its sixth consecutive 20-win season last evening.
As has been the case over the six-year stretch known as the John McNamara Era, this year's 20-win season includes a deep run in the state tournament. Last night, the third-seeded Sachems knocked off second-seed Swampscott 51-27 at the Beverly High Field House.
The Sachems (20-4) will have an opportunity to claim their fourth sectional title in a six-year span when they face fourth-seed Ipswich (18-4) tomorrow (10:30 a.m.) at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
As is often the case with any six-year stretch of dominance in high-school sports, the one constant for Pentucket during this stretch is the head coach, John McNamara, who took over the program at the start of the 2006-2007 season. Pentucket had logged a record of 20-39 in the previous three seasons, and the state-tournament was a distant memory for a struggling program.
The Pentucket program has been as good as any on the North Shore since. McNamara's teams have gone 109-17, with three sectional titles (2007, 2008, 2010) and one state championship game appearance (2010).
The remarkable part of the prolonged stretch of excellence is the program's consistency in the face of attrition. The Sachems graduated one Division 1 collegiate player in Kirsten Daamen in 2009, and two players who eclipsed 1,000 career points in high school — Ashley Viselli and Erin McNamara — in 2010.
Viselli attended last night's game as a spectator.
"Mr. (McNamara) did a great job with his first group (in 2006)," Viselli said. "He said, 'This is the law. We are not going to be a doormat like we used to be.' All of those players passed along what they learned to the younger kids before we graduated. Now, the younger kids are passing it along again."