By John Shimer
---- — The Pentucket girls basketball team’s senior class has a resume that speaks for itself — a 90-11 record, three Cape Ann League championships, a CAL record of 50-2.
The list goes on: two Division 3 North sectional titles and two trips to the Division 3 state title game, a pair of Central Catholic tournament titles, a York Christmas tournament championship, a Masconomet Christmas tournament championship, and a Haverhill Christmas tournament championship.
And of course the program’s coveted first state title.
This is the legacy Coley Viselli, Tess Nogueira, Alex Moore and Emily Dresser leave behind. The list of accomplishments is gaudy, the .891 winning percentage is staggering and they stack up against the previously most successful senior class in school history – Ashley Viselli, Erin McNamara, Holly Jakobsons, Emily Lane, Abby Stephenson and Jessica Gayton – who finished their careers 91-9 having lost to the eventual D3 state champion team each of their four years.
The pillar that has held everything in place over that stretch is coach John McNamara. Since he came to town the road to the Division 3 state title has always gone through the Sachems.
Knocking on the door for the first five years, the Sachems would eventually go down to the state champions at various stages (state semis, state semis, D3 North sectional final, state championship game, D3 North sectional semis) before the breakthrough last year. As the defending champs, this year’s team clearly has what it takes to repeat their feat.
“I thought maybe four years ago that I had maybe a special senior class with Holly, Emily, Erin and Ash. I didn’t think I’d be seeing another group that meant so much to the program and so enjoyable to coach as this group,” McNamara said. “(This group is) a special group in their own right and now the fourth one, Emily Dresser, has come on and been a great leader for our girls – a true high school success story.
“Emily’s someone that was on the freshmen team as a freshmen, played JV basketball as a sophomore while the other three were on varsity, and she just worked her way up,” said the seventh-year coach. “The four of them have a pretty good bond, and they mean a lot to the basketball program. They’ve left quite a legacy of their own building off what the other girls had started.”
Intangibles, chemistry, and the ability to execute the Pentucket way have enabled this group to carry on what was passed down to them – a winning tradition.
“What makes this group special is they just play the game the right way,” said McNamara, who has long stated discipline and execution on defense are the building blocks for everything the Sachems do.
“They focus on defense and make a commitment to the defensive end. They sacrifice their own game for defense,” McNamara said. “You know the other night we asked Alex Moore to cover the best point guard on the other team, and Coley we asked to cover their best big so we could have the flexibility with Tess to go off and do some trapping. Not one of them complained that they might get tired or that it might affect their offensive game. They did their job and shut down the other team.
“And on the offensive end of the floor they are so unselfish,” continued the Sachems coach. “They’ll make the extra pass, they’ll know who’s hot and look for that kid. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and where they will be on the court. There’s a bond they have that they don’t even have to talk and they what they’re about to do. I wish I could take credit for that, but they deserve all the credit.”
Although perhaps each one of the players has grown into the central positions of leadership on the team having had other girls like Sarah Higgins last year or McNamara, Viselli and Jakobsons in the past. Motivation has never been an issue, in fact playing in the shadows of those great players has only made this group want to accomplish even more than their predecessors.
“Tess has talked about how as a freshmen she was intimidated and feared the older girls and looked up to them,” McNamara explained. “She didn’t want to let them down by not coming to practice every day ready to go because that group demanded it. Now this group does the same thing. They were driven by that group and I think they wanted to take it to the next level, which they did when they went all the way and won the state championship.
“They’re all probably going to go off and play in college, but they recognize what they’re doing right now is special.”
The Pentucket girls drew the top seed in the Division 3 North tournament. The Sachems (21-1) will have a first-round bye before playing the winner of the matchup between No. 8 Bishop-Fenwick and No. 9 Stoneham Saturday at home.
The Newburyport girls drew the 10th seed in the same bracket. The Clippers will face No. 7 Bedford Wednesday (7 p.m.) on the road. No. 14 Amesbury will open its tournament schedule the same night (Wednesday, 7 p.m.) when it faces off with No. 3 Excel. Georgetown drew the 16th seed in the Division 4 North tournament, earning a first-round matchup against No. 17 Matignon Monday (7 p.m.) at home.
On the boys’ side, Newburyport drew the sixth seed in the Division 3 North tournament. The Clippers will face off with No. 11 Hamilton-Wenham Monday (7 p.m.) at home. Newburyport was 1-1 against CAL foe Hamilton-Wenham this season. No. 14 Amesbury will return to the tournament for the first time in more than 10 years. The Indians have a first-round matchup against No. 3 Whittier Monday at 7 p.m. on the road.