By John Shimer
---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket High girls basketball team has been the marquee squad in the Cape Ann League for the past seven years.
But for all the Sachems’ wins, tournament championships, sectional titles and last year’s state championship, only one player has earned a scholarship straight out of high school — Kirsten Daamen at Central Connecticut State.
The number rises to two in the case of Ashley Viselli, who garnered a scholarship after she began playing for St. Anselm.
Senior Alex Moore now joins that illustrious list after signing a partial scholarship to play for UMass Lowell, which moves up to Division 1 next season in the America East Conference.
“It’s a really big step for me considering that UMass Lowell is moving up to Division 1, so that should be really fun,” Moore said. “I’m just really excited to have the opportunity to play for coach (Sarah) Behn, and all the assistant coaches in the program. It’s just a good all-around coaching staff.”
Moore is one of the “core four” players Pentucket coach John McNamara has talked about for the past three years.
The team captain really hit UMass Lowell’s radar when she helped lead the Sachems to the the university’s High School Shootout weekend tournament championship.
“This summer, she had a great summer and played some great basketball,” McNamara said. “We went to the UMass Lowell summer weekend tournament, and Alex played six games against some pretty good competition and played exceptional. UMass Lowell saw her and fell in love with her potential for what she could be in college. Basically within a two-week period, they had offered her a scholarship, so it was pretty neat to see the process happen like that.”
Moore, who also helped Pentucket win the tough Andover High School Summer League, said her offensive game “really started clicking” last summer and she wound up averaging 12 to 15 points a game.
“I think that just carried my confidence to a whole new level, showed I can really play this game and I have potential to score more points than I have,” she said.
Moore has never put up gaudy stats in any particular area for Pentucket, but she has been almost as dominant as a perimeter defender as Daamen was in the paint. Moore does the job on a night-in, night-out basis of locking down and shutting out the opposing team’s best player and ball-handler.
“People kind of look at stats and say you’re this or that; in our system, Kirsten Daamen didn’t have outrageous numbers, Ashley didn’t have outrageous numbers and the fact that Alex plays the toughest opposing team’s top ball-handler every night, you know that’s going to impact your stats,” McNamara said. “I’m glad some schools realize that and look at the entire package of what she does on the court, not just a box score.”
The results speak for themselves. Moore has been a star player throughout her high school career, contributing to a team that has gone 92-11 over the past four years, including 50-2 in the Cape Ann League (three league titles); won two North Sectional titles and is favored to win a third later today when it takes on Watertown, and won the Division 3 state championship last year.
Wednesday night’s game was a great example of Moore’s defensive ability as she held Ipswich’s sophomore All-League point guard Masey Zegarowski to just five points. As a team, the Tigers could not find their rhythm without Zegarowski and only scored one bucket the entire fourth quarter as the Sachems turned a close first half into a 20-point blowout, 46-26.
“We’ve played Masey four times and she hasn’t scored more than seven points against us, so that’s a testament to Alex and our team,” McNamara said. “But Alex takes that on individually. Now we’re going after Watertown and they have a point guard who’s probably better than Masey, and Alex is going to take her on too. We kid her, it’s like another notch on her belt, you’ve got to take on their best guard, and it gets tougher and tougher as you go deeper into the tournament.”
Moore said being tapped to guard the best players means she’s won the respect of her coach who expects her to get the job done.
“I take pride in that, because if I don’t get the job done, then I’ve disappointed Mr. Mac, and so I push myself to shut them down and have a good game and everyone will be pleased with me,” she said. “I think defense really gets the team going. Playing defense really makes the game more enjoyable because when you play good defense, there’s steals, there’s traps; it just gets the crowd going and I just really enjoy playing defense.”
The future River Hawk thanked both her coach and teammates for helping to prepare her for the next step in her playing career.
“Well, I couldn’t have gotten this far without my teammates, and they help me and they did a great job getting me to be the player that I am now,” Moore said. “My coach, John McNamara, really has made me the player that I am, and I couldn’t have gotten as far without him. He’s just a great coach and sees potential in everybody, and he tries to focus on what we have.”