The Manchester Essex girls’ basketball team already has a few big wins in its pocket this season, and the potential is there for them to add to that collection.
Just past the midpoint of the season, the Hornets are 10-3 (7-2 in the Cape Ann League) and have looked good against some of the tougher opponents on the schedule – all of which portends to a likely postseason berth in the MIAA Div. 4 Tournament and the possibility of making a deep run into the postseason.
“We have some tough matchups coming up, so we want to stay focused and keep battling,” explains Manchester Essex girls basketball coach Lauren DuBois. “The success is all due to the toughness of our players. They come to battle every game and have really stepped up in big moments on both ends of the court. We talk about focusing on what we can control, and they have really been playing smart basketball as a result.”
Thanks to that focus, positive results have followed. The Hornets swept a challenging divisional foe in Hamilton-Wenham with a recent 48-39 win over the Generals on the road on Jan. 26, after going to double-overtime to beat them earlier this season. There were also statement wins over North Reading in late December and a 41-32 win over Triton on Jan. 23.
“We just had a huge win over Triton,” says DuBois. “We lost to them earlier in the season by 12 in a non-league matchup, so to come back and beat them by nine in the league game was huge – and our defense was the difference in the two games.”
Things are no easier for the Hornets after their recent slate of victories, however. CAL Large teams Pentucket (Jan. 29) and Newburyport (Feb. 5) were immediate challenges after the wins over Triton and the Generals. An away game against nemesis Georgetown looms on Feb. 8 after Manchester Essex lost to the Royals by a 46-35 score on Jan. 5.
“Georgetown is going to be a huge game for us in two weeks,” says Dubois. “We are playing at their gym which is a tough place to play, but we will be ready to make adjustments from our first game against them earlier this season.”
The key to success for Manchester Essex this season has been defense.
“Our focus is always defense first,” explains DuBois. “We want to create offense from our defense in transition. We play aggressive and we have started playing better defense as a team in our last couple of games, which has been key.”
Ella Arnsten and Phileine de Widt have been defensive catalysts for the Hornets, setting the tempo for the rest of the squad. Tess Carpenter also seems to make big defensive plays in nearly every game and Isabelle Donnellan Valade has come on defensively as of late.
“Ella Arnsten has been stellar for us on defense, taking on the toughest defensive assignments and playing bigger than she is,” says DuBois. “Phileine de Widt has also been matched up defensively against people six inches taller than her every night and has been outstanding keeping them off the boards and out of the paint.”
On the offensive side, Harper Brooks is averaging nine points and pulling down 10 rebounds per game while also showing off her basketball IQ and defensive skills. Lily Oliver quarterbacks the offense from the point guard position and is averaging 11.6 points per game. Mechi O’Neil provides nine points per game, MacKay Brooks is an important presence on the boards and Kacey O’Connell
“Offensively, we are doing a good job scoring from the perimeter and being able to take the ball to the hoop and make plays,” explains DuBois. “We have players who can create their own offense and are unselfish in creating for their teammates as well. The key for us as a small team is boxing out. We have to commit to boxing out on every shot in every game.”
Freshman Emerald Jakes has stepped up to help Manchester Essex in the rebounding department, as has senior Gabbi D’Andrea who is back after a two-year hiatus due to injury.
“She had six rebounds in our win against Amesbury,” DuBois says of D’Andrea. “We are a small team so having another forward ready to step into a defensive assignment and control the boards has been important for us.”