By John Shimer
---- — Each year the Pentucket Sachems girls basketball team has gone off on a tear, there has been one player who has occupied a special position within the team — the unsung senior role player.
In years past players like Andi Attenasio, Kelly Murphy, Lyndsay Beaton and Jessica Gayton all filled the role. A year ago it was Leigh McNamara. Now in the 2012-13 season, Emily Dresser has taken her turn.
The role is not an official captain’s position, although several have been captains in the past. It’s that of a player who has persevered, stuck with the program and earned minutes — sometimes few minutes — helping to keep the Pentucket green machine full steam ahead.
“Emily is a great story about high school sports, it’s just kind of meant to be,” said coach John McNamara. “She played with Coley (Viselli), and Tess (Nogueira) and Alex (Moore) in travel through eighth-grade and those girls made varsity as freshmen when Emily didn’t even make JV.
“She was on the freshmen team and I don’t think they won a game. Next year she was a sophomore she was on JV, and we didn’t have enough kids, so we had to get a waiver to get eighth-graders to come play.
“She’s just persevered and worked hard and made herself a better player,” McNamara said. “She is truly one of the key players this year not only on the court, but off the court as well. I’ve been lucky to basically inherit a fourth captain with Emily this year.”
“It’s amazing because my freshman year was a really hard year,” Dresser remembered. “Our team had eight girls, six of which had probably never played basketball, and at the end of the year I got moved up to JV. Sophomore year I started at JV, and junior year I finally moved up to varsity without playing at all. Then I decided to play on an AAU team (after her junior season) and I improved so much it was a huge difference so far.
“I think it was just wanting to get better,” Dresser continued. “I have been playing with those girls since fifth grade, so I knew what my role was. And to be playing with them again, it’s just crazy to know they’re all so good, and I can help them become better, and I can make an impact on the team. It’s surreal.”
Dresser is a program player, not a stat-sheet stuffer. She’s someone who sees the big picture and is more than happy to accept a smaller role that helps keep the chemistry and cohesion of the team overtly positive.
“She’s not afraid to have a stat line where she’s got zero points and two fouls and two rebounds and went in and did her job for us,” said the coach of the defending Division 3 state champs. “Not a lot of high school kids get that, and that’s kind of special.
“One thing is every time I have freshmen and sophomores running plays and Emily’s not in with the starting group, she’s down the other end with the younger girls,” McNamara said. “She will shadow kids and walk with them and teach them the offense and where they need to be. She does that totally on her own, and I never even have to ask her to do that.”
“She’s probably the most supportive girl on the team, and she’s always there for us, cheering for us,” said sophomore point guard Kelsi McNamara. “If any of us get down, she always has such a positive attitude helping us during the game. I can hear her voice cheering us on and it helps me a lot.
“Last year I remember our tournament games I was so nervous and she would always be there giving me pep talks, helping me,” said Kelsi McNamara of her memorable freshman tournament campaign that saw her emerge as the next Sachem star. “I remember whenever I made a big shot, I would hear her screaming. She’s just always there for me.”
Taking her lead from Leigh McNamara is truly fitting. Like Dresser, McNamara went through adversity her first few years in the program. In fact, on the night before tryouts her junior year, she sat at Dick’s Sporting Goods trying to decide what pair of shoes to buy for the upcoming winter sports season — track shoes or basketball shoes. Ultimately basketball won out, and McNamara was a vital cog in the state championship team a year ago.
Dresser said watching last year’s senior captain provided a great example of the responsibilities that come with being a leader and a senior in a program like Pentucket.
“Leigh was a really good role model,” Dresser reiterated. “She was a leader, she knew how to push the girls, and to follow in her footsteps is cool. Maybe one of the younger girls will follow in mine one day.”
Now it’s her time to shine.
“It’s incredible to have a season like this year after last year,” Dresser said. “We know what it takes; it’s just crazy to go through this because the playoffs are insane.”
The Sachems continue their road to the championship today in a game against Ipswich at 7 p.m. at Beverly High School.