WEST NEWBURY — When your harshest critic is your head coach and he describes your preseason practices as kindergarteners trying to learn the basics, you know he’s not going to let you off the hook on anything — even when you are the defending state champs.
That’s the position the Pentucket girls basketball team finds itself in this preseason.
The pedigree is there; the Sachems have been to the TD Bank Garden as sectional champs four times in six years, they have then advanced to the state title game twice, and most recently won the state title last year.
The team this year returns four key cogs. Seniors Alex Moore, Coley Viselli and Tess Nogueira are all returning starters, and sophomore Kelsi McNamara was a very reliable player off the bench who should become the team’s starting point guard this season.
The girls also looked great in the offseason, capturing the Andover Hoops for Hope summer league championship that included teams like reigning Division 1 state champs Andover and New Hampshire’s state champs Bishop Guertin as well as several other bigger programs. The Sachems also captured a summer league tournament championship in southern Maine.
But as coach John McNamara likes to point out, high school state championships are not won in the summer. And there’s plenty of new faces on this year’s squad. Seven of the 15 players on the roster were not varsity players, and during the preseason McNamara has really implemented a “back to the basics” approach to get the new kids caught up to speed.
“I don’t know even know if we’ve mentioned the state championship at any of the practices, and it’s mainly because we have seven new bodies, and it’s trying to get them caught up to speed and teach them how we do things,” McNamara said. “We don’t want to not mention the word, that’s crazy, we’ve got eight kids coming back that won a state championship. There’s nothing wrong with that. But this is also not the same team; it’s not like baseball of the ’60s and ’70s where every team was set year after year. Every year here is different.”