saugus girls basketball team

Sachems mean business this season

FILE PHOTO
Olivia Valente, a senior captain, has led the Saugus Sachems to a 14-5 record this season. 

By KATIE MORRISON 

The Saugus girls basketball team is making huge strides.

Two seasons ago, the Sachems were in rough shape, winning just one game. A year later, Saugus turned things around, going .500 (11-11) and sneaking into the tournament before falling to Georgetown, 42-34, in the first round.

This season, the final three games on the schedule won’t be nearly as stressful as they were last year. The Sachems locked up a tournament berth long ago, and sit at 14-5 with the season winding down.

Fourth-year coach Mark Schruender says that his team is taking things not just one game at a time, but one practice at a time.

“We’re trying not to look ahead to the tournament, just to the next practice,” Schruender said. “The girls can’t wait for the next day’s practice, it’s fun. Every day is our biggest of the season. It sums up our day-to-day mentality that every game and every practice is so important.”

Saugus’ group of upperclassmen knows better than anyone not to take any game for granted. Four of the current five starters for Saugus played with that one-win team in 2014-15. Playing through that adversity has helped shape the senior group, and the team’s veterans pass the lessons they’ve learned down to the underclassmen.

“It starts with the seniors,” Schruender said. “We have great leadership. Nothing is taken for granted. They know every team we play against is good, and we’ve played nothing but competitive games. The kids understand that, and the younger kids start to fall in line behind them.”

One of those seniors is team captain Olivia Valente, who is arguably the group’s most talented offensive player. Valente leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging a double-double this season.

“She works hard every single day,” said Schruender of Valente, who has played with the varsity squad since her freshman year. “She’s a very humble kid, too. She doesn’t worry about the stats; I’ll have to tell her she scored 19 points the other night, she doesn’t talk about herself.”

Another key piece on the floor is point guard Alessia Salzillo. The sophomore “knows defense is the most important thing for her,” said Schruender.

Then there’s the twins, senior captains Krissy and Katie Italiano. Krissy Italiano has more of an impact on the court; Schruender says the team calls her the “madman” on the full court press. Krissy brings energy and hustle to the squad, and Schruender says he doesn’t think anyone takes more steps than her during a game.

Katie Italiano is more of a vocal leader, serving as one of three captains and one of the five seniors who lead the group.

The underclassmen, on the other hand, also have a natural chemistry. Schruender says that the majority of the freshmen and sophomores have been playing together since sixth grade, at least.

“They put a lot of hours in, and that’s huge,” Schruender said.

“They’re a close group of kids,” the coach added, speaking of the team as a whole. “They like each other, they hang out outside of basketball.”

The collective positive attitude of the Saugus squad helped propel it to a 5-0 start this season. The Sachems’ first loss came against perennial Catholic Central League power St. Mary’s, a 61-37 rout. But Schruender didn’t need to worry about building his team back up after a tough defeat.

“They came out of that game even hungrier,” he said. “They were saying how they wanted to work in the offseason to get better. The way we’ve handled losses and things outside our control is very mature. It speaks to them as people and who they are off the court. You can’t grow as a player unless you grow mentally as well.”

Even scheduling St. Mary’s, a team that plays in a tougher league and has seen big success over recent seasons, speaks to just how far the Saugus program has come in three short years. However, Schruender reiterates that his players are keeping things in perspective.

“At least around me, they don’t (get ahead of themselves),” he said. “I hope it continues that way, because we’re doing a disservice to ourselves if we’re thinking too far down the road.”

As a coach, it seems like Schruender is heeding that same advice. He said the key to the steady progress has been reinforcing the basics of the game.

“We’re just continuing to grow, every game is an opportunity to get better,” Schruender said. “We’re making a whole lot less mistakes and understanding our plays and our philosophy better.

“We’re getting better at fundamentals, just things like layup form, dribbling, basic things,” Schruender added.

That mentality extends to preaching communication on the floor, defensive structure and even just getting energy from each player, including the bench.

“That energy shows even at practice, with girls cheering from the bench,” Schruender said.

One of the Sachems even brought in pictures of the Saugus bench and one of an opponent’s bench to show the impact made when the bench is into the game.

With the tournament on the horizon, the Sachems’ focus is still on their next game, which is Friday at home against Malden. Saugus will honor its five seniors: the Italiano twins, Valente, Alexandria Lembo and Angellina Nou.

Caponigro, Swampscott hold on to down Saugus

FILE PHOTO
Jaymie Caponigro scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the winning effort. 

By MIKE ALONGI 

SWAMPSCOTT — The Swampscott girls basketball team kicked off Thursday’s game with a 22-point quarter, but still had to hold on for a 44-37 win over the Saugus Sachems at Swampscott High.

“We started out really strong in that first half, especially with that big first quarter,” said Swampscott coach Katelyn Leonard. “Then in that second half we had to weather the storm. Saugus is a great team and they’re relentless, but we were able to hold them off.”

Jaymie Caponigro led the way, with a near double-double at 20 points and nine rebounds. Caponigro also played a great defensive game for the Big Blue (6-7).

“That’s probably the best I’ve seen her shoot, she was on fire today,” said Leonard. “And I think that also helped open things up for other girls, which is always what you want.”

Olivia Matella contributed 10 points and three rebounds, while Hannah Leahy scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds.

For Saugus (10-4), Olivia Valente just missed a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds, while Krissy Italiano had nine points and seven rebounds. Alessia Salzillo had seven points and three rebounds.

“I think all of us can acknowledge that this wasn’t our best performance out there, coaching or playing,” said Saugus coach Mark Schruender. “Swampscott is a great team and we know we always have to be ready for a battle against them, but we just didn’t execute well enough tonight.”

The Big Blue came out firing in this one, opening the game with a 7-0 run en route to a 22-7 lead after the first quarter. Saugus improved its rebounding a bit in the second quarter, but Swampscott was able to keep hitting shots and kept the lead at 15 points at halftime, 29-14.

“Swampscott has some unbelievable players, and they all can shoot,” said Schruender. “They have plenty of players who can go out there and beat you, and that’s what they did tonight.”

The Sachems made their comeback in the fourth quarter. Still down 13 points to start the final frame, Saugus shut things down on defense and cut the deficit to six points with five minutes remaining.

But Swampscott, despite not scoring a point for the majority of the fourth quarter, was able to hold on to the ball and walk away with a seven-point win.

Swampscott will match up with Winthrop on Tuesday, while Saugus will face off against Somerville on Monday.

Revere stays undefeated, clinches tournament berth

FILE PHOTO
Valentina Pepic scored 22 points for Revere in the 57-30 win over Saugus. 

By HAROLD RIVERA

SAUGUS — Last week the Saugus girls basketball team downed undefeated Danvers, handing the Falcons their first loss of the season. History often repeats itself, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for the Sachems on Thursday night.  

The Sachems fell to Revere, 57-30, at Saugus High. With the win, the Patriots (11-0) clinched a spot in the state tournament and remained undefeated.

Although the score indicates an easy road to victory for the Patriots, the game didn’t start that way. Revere’s Valentina Pepic had the hot hand in the early stages, scoring eight points in the opening quarter. The Sachems kept pace thanks to Taylor Bogdanski, who nailed a three with 12 seconds to play in the quarter. Revere led 10-9 after one.

Saugus committed a number of costly turnovers in the second quarter and fell into an offensive funk.

“Revere’s length bothered us,” Saugus coach Mark Schruender said. “They got into our passing lanes. There were plays where it seemed like momentum wasn’t on our side and we’re a momentum team.”

Revere opened the second quarter on an 8-1 run led by a three from Pamela Gonzalez and a pair of buckets knocked down by Pepic and Emily DiGiulio. The Patriots carried a 24-14 advantage into the half.

“I think we came out strong defensively,” Revere coach Lianne O’Hara said of the team’s performance in the second quarter. “We got a bunch of stops and scores and that opened up our lead. We work really hard on our defense.”

With a new half of basketball left to play, the Sachems looked to climb back into the game but Revere didn’t slow down. The Patriots opened up a 20-point lead after three quarters and remained hot through the fourth. Revere’s biggest advantage was a 28-point lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Aside from turnovers the Sachems were also outrebounded, and it cost them.

“I have to coach better,” Schruender said. “We didn’t work on boxing out on hard crashes from the perimeter, and that’s my fault. Revere made a lot of perimeter rebounds. Sometimes we’d get the rebound and we’d lose it on a deflection, luck wasn’t on our side.”

For Revere, Pepic led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds.

“She (Pepic) works hard to finish,” O’Hara said. “She grabs rebounds and keeps the ball over her head where guards can’t get it and she’s able to finish her shots.”

Gonzalez scored 11 points with five rebounds. Elizabeth Lake added five points.

Olivia Valente led Saugus with six points while Bogdanski and Allie Kotowski each scored five.

The Sachems (9-3) will attempt to bounce back on Tuesday at Beverly.

“We’re a game-to-game, day-to-day team,” Schruender said. “We’ll get it after it on Sunday at practice.”

Revere aims to stay undefeated on Tuesday when the team hosts Gloucester.

“We’re looking to improve defensively,” O’Hara said. “If we can limit teams from scoring, winning is a little bit easier.”


Harold Rivera can be reached at hrivera@itemlive.com. 

Delgado leads Classical to win

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Classical’s Irianis Delgado led all scorers with 16 points on Tuesday night. 

By HAROLD RIVERA

Prior to Tuesday night’s game against Saugus, Classical girls basketball coach Tom Sawyer said his team would have its hands full against a talented Sachems group. Perhaps the Rams play best when their hands are full.

Behind an offensive display that saw seven different Classical scorers, the Rams rolled to a 60-37 win over the Sachems at Saugus High.

“Most impressive was that they pressed us and we handled their press,” Sawyer said. “Against Saugus, it starts with being able to handle their pressure. We were terrific tonight. Jeylly Medrano, running the point, was unbelievable handling their press. It all starts there.”

Classical seized the momentum in the early goings of the game. Paris Wilkey missed her first few shots, but the junior drained a pair of three pointers in the first quarter. Irianis Delgado muscled her way to a pair of buckets in the paint, and the Rams led 18-6 at the end of the first.

The Sachems carried their struggles into the second quarter. Classical ran a stingy 2-3 zone defense that gave Saugus issues throughout the first half.

“Classical did a good job,” Saugus coach Mark Schruender said. “They did a good job, they sped us up. I think when they started speeding us up, everybody started to take it upon themselves to come back from a poor start.”

Saugus committed three turnovers in the first two minutes of the second quarter. Classical capitalized on those mistakes with a 6-0 run that ended when Alessia Salzillo nailed a jump shot to get the Sachems back on the board. Classical led 34-12 at the half.

“Coach (Helen) Ridley and I talk before every game,” Sawyer said. “We both agreed that in this particular game we should play zone because Saugus is extremely active on offense. We gave up 12 (points) in the first half, so we stuck with it.”

Down 22 points at the start of the second half, Saugus was in need of offense. The Sachems began to hit their shots in the third quarter as a pair of free throws by Krissy Italiano slimmed Classical’s lead to 18 points at 36-18. The Rams held their end of the bargain and made a handful of buckets to carry a 48-23 advantage into the fourth quarter.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the game was in Classical’s bag. The Rams (7-3) rolled to their seventh win of the season.

Classical had three scorers in double figures. Delgado led all scorers with 16 points.

“Irianis had a terrific game tonight,” Sawyer said of the junior forward. “She’s a little banged up, had an ankle injury and didn’t know if she was going to be able to play. She’s a tough kid though, she said she wanted to play. We needed her.”

Medrano contributed with 13 points while Wilkey scored ten.

“What this shows is that we played our best game of the year,” Sawyer said. “It was an unbelievable effort by everybody, up and down our lineup. We’ll celebrate it tonight, it’s hard to win in this league.”

Classical will aim to stay on the win column when the Rams visit Gloucester on Friday.

On the Saugus side, Molly Granara led the Sachems with ten points.

“She (Granara) just competes,” Schruender said. “She’s a freshman that doesn’t know she’s a freshman. She works really hard in practice and yesterday I got on her in practice about defense. She responded really well.”

Salzillo had a strong performance of her own, with eight points.

The Sachems (6-2) will look to shake off the loss by correcting their mistakes. Saugus has a quick turnaround as the Sachems host Somerville tonight.

“Tomorrow’s a new day,” Schruender said. “We’re a game to game team. These kids are tough.”


Harold Rivera can be reached at hrivera@itemlive.com. 

Spartans hit their shots in win over Saugus

ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Temi Falayi (left) of the Spartans and Olivia Valente of the Sachems battle for a rebound. 

By STEVE KRAUSE

LYNN — Two teams … two different perspectives. But at the end of the night, both, perhaps, had a better sense of where they were and where they needed to go.

That’s what the two coaches got out of Wednesday night’s 61-37 win by the St. Mary’s girls basketball team over Saugus at Conigliaro Gym.

Two years ago, the Saugus girls won one game. Last year, they finished .500. This year, they were off to a 5-0 start heading into Wednesday’s game, and the idea of competing against the perennial Division 3 powerhouse Spartans seemed like being in rarified air.

“These are the games we want to play,” said Saugus coach Mark Schruender.

Since both teams are in Division 3, it was mentioned that perhaps Saugus could see St. Mary’s again come February or March in the state tournament.

“We can’t worry about what happens in February,” Schruender said. “We just have to worry about tomorrow. Just get better tomorrow. We got better just by having played tonight. Now, we have to keep on getting better.”

St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall’s team has finally reached .500 for the season (4-4), and he’s happy about the way things have gone since his team opened at 0-3 and 1-4.

“I’m grateful that we’ve won three in a row (over Classical and Swampscott in the Boverini Tournament) and now against Saugus. Now we have to keep winning to get over the .500 mark.

“We got off to a rough start,” he said, “but Iike the way we responded.”

The book on St. Mary’s coming into the game was that the Spartans didn’t have any consistent outside shooting. Newhall can be thankful that his players didn’t read the book. St. Mary’s had nine three-pointers Wednesday night as it seized the early lead (15-5 after a quarter) and never let go. The Spartans increased that lead to 33-19 at the  half, and 48-30 after three.

“Despite what you saw,” said Newhall, “(Schruender) has done a very good job over there. They have a system, and they’re sticking to it, and they’re going to be fine.

“I think it’s fantastic that they want to play us,” said Newhall.

Senior Mia Nowicki hit a three for the Spartans’ second basket of the night and from there, it was bombs away. She finished up with three treys for nine points, Gabriella Torres had two trifectas on her way to 10 points, Ashley Sullivan had two three-pointers, and Mashayla Johnson and Christina Nowicki one each.

The high scorer for St. Mary’s was Temi Falayi with 11 as the Spartans spread it around. Also scoring nine points was Olivia Nazaire.

The Sachems (5-1) didn’t have anyone in double figures. Sophomore Alessia Salzillo had nine points, and freshman Taylor Bogdanski eight.

Schruender was happy with the way his team played.

“No one quit,” he said. “The effort was fantastic, all night long. I’m proud of my kids. St. Mary’s is a very good team. Good players, and good coaches. We just have to get better. That’s all.”


Steve Krause can be reached at skrause@itemlive.com. 

Saugus rallies to beat Salem

ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Saugus’ Krissy Italiano and Salem’s Stephanie Cantone reach for a rebound, while Salem’s Alexis Cicco holds back Saugus’ Molly Granara.

By MIKE ALONGI 

SALEM — After falling behind by as many as 13 points in the first half, the Saugus girls basketball team rallied on the road to open the season with a 47-30 win over the Salem Witches at Veterans Memorial Field House on Thursday night. The key to the win was hard work and mental toughness, according to Saugus coach Mark Schruender.

“The kids overcame adversity tonight,” he said. “They stayed together, stayed true to themselves and stayed mentally tough, and that was really the key tonight. We have a lot of mentally tough kids on this team.”

Senior captain Olivia Valente led the way for Saugus, putting up a double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Another senior captain, Krissy Italiano, just missed a double-double after finishing with eight points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Taylor Bogdanski provided a spark off the bench with six points and six rebounds, while junior Allie Kotkowski, sophomore Alessia Salzillo and freshman Molly Granara each notched six points.

For Salem, junior captain Emily Fabre had 11 points and two rebounds and senior captain Alexis Cicco had seven points and three rebounds. Junior Chrishae Dunston had six points and four rebounds, freshman Stephanie Cantone had four points and four rebounds and junior captain Wildarys Correa had two points and six rebounds.

“I loved the way the kids came out, they had a great start,” said Salem coach John Fortunato. “But Saugus was really able to come out strong in the second half and give us some trouble. Give a lot of credit to them, they played a great game.”

The Witches came out strong in the first quarter, taking an early lead behind some great defense and shotmaking. At that point, Schruender knew he had to change some things up on both ends.

“We switched things up early,” said Schruender. “Salem’s full-court break gave us fits in the first quarter, and they’re a pretty smart team. But our kids stayed tough and continued to adjust on the fly to whatever Salem was doing, which was great.”

It worked, as the Sachems only gave up 12 points for the rest of the game. Not only that, but the strong rebounding combination of Valente and Italiano afforded Saugus plenty of second-chance opportunities.

“That’s nothing new,” Schruender said of the duo’s rebounding prowess. “Olivia averaged 10 (rebounds) per game last year and Krissy was right up there too, and that’s what they do. We don’t have to do too many rebounding drills with them in practice.”

Saugus cut the deficit to just six points by the end of the first half, and then came out with some full-court press defense in the second half. At first, Salem was able to fight through the press and still make shots to hold the lead. But eventually, Saugus was able to force some turnovers and continue to cut into the lead. By the end of the third quarter, it was a one-point game at 28-27 Salem.

The fourth quarter is where everything came together for Saugus and everything fell apart for Salem. The press defense began to really wear on the Witches, who started to turn the ball over more and more. Meanwhile, Saugus started hitting a bunch of shots to take the lead.

“We have a very young team, and the strong press began to really affect them as the game went on,” said Fortunato. “(Saugus) was switching things up constantly on defense, and we just couldn’t adjust quickly enough.”

The Sachems only gave up two points defensively in the fourth quarter and they scored 20, surging ahead to seal the victory.

Both teams will have the weekend off before getting back into action early next week. The Sachems will host Gloucester at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, while Salem will take on Swampscott at home at 7 p.m.