By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — After watching junior forward Mary Pettigrew break out in her sophomore year last season, Newburyport girls basketball coach Gregg Dollas had a good feeling about the future.
Mary’s little sister, Emily, was on the way up too.
“I’ve known that Emily was coming for a couple of years,” said Dollas. “When I got the job, I looked at the youth program and saw Emily and a couple of kids coming up. And I had a feeling she would be able to be a help to the varsity team as a freshman. I knew that she was going to be a player. She has a great shot. She has some good post moves. She sees the court; now it is just catching up to how fast the game is.”
Even before the Newburyport (3-5) loss to Ipswich last night, big sister Mary led the team in scoring with an 8.6 points per game average. Freshman and fellow forward Emily averages 6.9 points per game. Emily holds the slight rebounding advantage at 5.0 to 4.7.
“They are both forwards, but they can both come out and make a shot,” Dollas said of the sisters. “They are great kids, they are nice to everybody, they talk and they have fun. But they battle on the court. In practice, they are not afraid to hit each other and to play tough. They’ve hit each other in the face and knocked each other over. Sometimes those two sisters come together and play, and I’d like to see it even more.”
Just 16 months apart, the sisters have each been playing basketball since third grade after their father took them to Saturday morning clinics at the Immaculate Conception School. Emily at the time was more interested in soccer, but the court became more attractive to her right away.
“I liked it because it was both a team sport and an individual sport,” Emily said of hoops. “You have to count on your team to get the win. But you have to count on yourself to provide for the team.”
Emily began providing for her team on the court quickly, and Mary took notice.
“I was horrible when I was little,” said Mary. “Emily had natural talent. She was good.”
The sisters came up in the youth programs, but they have never been on the same team until now. That’s where those love taps in practice come from.
“I do get in her face a lot, but I feel it is for her own good,” Mary said like a true big sister. “I just want to make Emily better. We definitely are really competitive with each other, and I guess it works because it makes us work harder. It benefits the team.”
“She is such an inspiration to me,” Emily said of her big sister. “Her playing as a freshman, I always thought I had to follow in her footsteps to get up there in the big leagues, and do what she does. So her watching me in practice just inspires me to do better.”
The combination has had positive effects off the court as well. Mary was much more quiet last season, but Emily has brought out her personality this year. Dollas cites Mary’s leadership as her greatest strength, while he says Emily’s composure is hers.
“She has the ability to take over the game inside when she wants to,” Dollas said of Mary. “With her, it is about the confidence in herself, laying the ball up and finishing her shots. I think she can go even further with her abilities as this year continues, and I really think that she still has even more of an upswing from how she is playing now. She can get even better. And if the two of them can start improving together, I think that our team can become even more successful.”
Currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Mary is looking to combine her leadership with her sister’s composure and believes things will turn out fine.
“We just have to keep composed,” said Mary. “We can’t let a losing streak get to us. Hopefully we can make it into the playoffs. That is our goal. We want to start getting back on track, we want to start winning again.”