It’s a new year, and with it comes new hope for local high school basketball teams.
For the Manchester Essex girls, it’s the hope that the Hornets can turn things around after an 0-4 start to the season in December, find their groove and earn their way into the postseason.
For the boys’ team, it’s the hope that they can keep the positive momentum of a 5-1 start (4-0 in the Cape Ann League) going while also reintroducing one of the team’s best players to the active roster after his recovery from injury.
“We started the season with some of the toughest competition in the league and picked up a difficult non-league schedule as well, so we are still finding our rhythm on offense,” explains Manchester Essex girls basketball coach Lauren DuBois.
The Hornets were scheduled to face a perennial CAL power in Pentucket at the start of the week, and then face CAL Small Division foe Georgetown on January 7, with DuBois stating, “We are hoping to get back into the swing of things after the break and be competitive in every game.”
To do that, the Hornets will need to continue to rely on captains Emma Fitzgerald at forward and Amelia Donnellan Valade at guard.
“Emma has been our spark on offense, leading the team in scoring, and Amelia has been our go to defender, getting the toughest assignments each night,” says DuBois.
The captains aren’t the only players who Manchester Essex will lean on in the weeks to come. The coach is hoping the Hornets can continue to play with a high-level of effort on defense while picking up their game on the offensive end.
“Everyone has stepped up in different ways,” explains DuBois. “In addition to our captains, senior Parker Brooks has been a stabilizing presence for us on both ends of the court and on the boards. Guards Kendall Newton and Mercedes O'Neil have stepped up to help break the other teams' full court pressure.”
At the other end of the spectrum, the boys’ team has found a way to be successful so far, even in spite of some adversity. Key starter AJ Pallazola has been out due to injury since the start of the season, but that hasn’t slowed the Hornets down. Now the team is in contention with Amesbury and Georgetown to win the CAL Small, with Pallazola now fully recovered and ready to rejoin the team.
“The big surprise is that we are very young, and we’ve done it all without AJ, who was first-team all-league as a junior, and Luke Smith,” explains Manchester Essex boys basketball coach Tim St. Laurent. “We’ve done it without a lot of our senior leadership. We had to figure out our identity and how to play offense and defense without them and we’ve done a great job doing that. Now we are bringing our senior leadership back, and we’re going to just grow from there.”
The Hornets started the season with a big win against Newburyport, followed by victories over Amesbury, Ipswich, Rockport and Hamilton-Wenham (Manchester Essex’s only loss was to Gloucester in a recent holiday tournament). They’ve done it by leaning on talented underclassmen like Cade Furse, Brennan Twombley, Sam Athanas and Patrick Cronin to contribute on offense, and centers Eddie Chareas and Vaughn O’Leary.
“In our first four games, it was a different guy as our leading scorer each game,” says St. Laurent. “We’ve had a real balanced attack on offense, and we’ve been rotating two guys in at center, who have been clogging up the middle and figuring into our defensive efforts.”
The Hornets welcomed Pallazola back at the start of the week in a game against Pentucket, and have a huge game on Friday against Georgetown, one that could help decide who wins the division this winter.
“If we stick to our gameplan and play together, we can do something special,” says St. Laurent.