By Tim Lima
---- — WEST NEWBURY — If Pentucket girls basketball is going to continue on a path of dominating basketball as it has for John McNamara’s seven seasons as a head coach, it will have to do so without any seniors.
Over the past seven years and 178 basketball games that McNamara has coached Pentucket, the Sachems have won 158. To post a winning percentage of 89 percent, five sectional titles and a nearly annual trip to play at the TD Garden in the Division 3 state semifinal, a team must first establish a strong program of winning basketball and be lucky enough to have athletes who buy into it.
“We have had a lot of good, dedicated players that have bought into our system, and I think that’s the key ingredient,” McNamara said. “We have had players that trust the coaching staff and who sacrifice their individual stats for the betterment of the team, which is huge.”
Three of those players were Tess Nogueira, Coley Viselli and Alex Moore, each of whom were members of last year’s All-Cape Ann team. When his top trio of players finished their respective high school careers last season, McNamara turned his sights onto 2013 knowing that a team with no seniors will have a far different feel.
“We are young,” McNamara said. “The short preseason is every coach’s nightmare because you think about a lot of the things that you want to get in that you can’t in that time frame. With a younger team, it’s even more difficult. As a coaching staff, we can’t rush things. We have to be patient. The short preseason is a big problem for all the coaches, but it is magnified for such a young team.”
To withstand the brunt of the challenges that this season promises, junior Kelsi McNamara will have a far different role as one of the program’s only battle-tested athletes.
“Going into this season is very different from past seasons since I am now an upperclassman,” Kelsi said. “The seniors last year were really good leaders, and since they are gone now, everyone needs to step up and fill their roles. We are such a young team that everyone has the responsibility of taking charge and helping each other out.”
Kelsi was also named to last year’s All-League team — a tremendous feat for just a sophomore. While her production on the court is certain to be valuable, her role will be altered in more ways than just putting points on the board. Part of her new responsibility will be getting the rest of the team prepared to move forward.
“This year will definitely be a different role for her,” said Coach McNamara, talking about his daughter. “The past couple years we have had a couple upperclassmen who have set the tone. This year she and other players have to set the tone and it’s their chance now to step in and get big minutes. It’s up to them to continue the program on the right path.”
Adding to a season of unknowns is a growth in competition from within the league. McNamara knows that Newburyport may very well provide a strong challenge to adding another league championship to his resume. The Clippers will look to play five girls who recently won the Division 3 state championship in soccer. Though a different sport, the ability to and the knowledge of how to win the big game are skills that can be transplanted into different seasons.
“When you have success, you can carry that over into different sports and instill that into different teams,” McNamara said. “Newburyport promises to be one of the better teams and a strong competitor in the Cape Ann League.”
The McNamara Era
Pentucket’s record by season
*Won Division 3 state championship