Tech girls basketball coach Kaitlyn Wechsler and her Tigers reached their goal of making a state tournament appearance this season.
By STEVE KRAUSE
They won’t be anywhere near Tsongas Arena over the weekend. But the Lynn Tech and Saugus girls basketball teams made such tremendous strides this winter that it almost doesn’t matter.
Last December, which seems like ages ago now, Tech coach Kaitlyn Wechsler listed 10 wins as a goal for the Tigers coming into this season. Now, that may seem modest, and Wechsler confessed last week, after the Tigers bowed out of the MIAA Division 4 North tournament with a 67-55 loss to Pope John, that she feared it was much too lofty a goal.
But the Tigers didn’t let her down. They won the 10 games, made the tournament, and, after some first-half jitters, settled in and refused to roll over.
Sometimes, you have to measure your progress in small steps. This is one of those times. The Tigers haven’t had a whole lot to cheer about as far as team sports go (although their track program has more than made up for it with the exploits of Justin Lewis last year). Just about all sports over there have seen a drought hit. But this year, both the boys and girls basketball teams made the tournament. And coming from where these teams have been, that is A-OK.
In fact, it’s excellent. The Tigers have some real solid players on which to build. One of them is only a freshman: Alondra Sanchez, who can basically do it all — score, rebound, and handle the ball.
Another is Arianna Anaya, a sophomore, who is a pure scorer and shooter. Like Sanchez, Wechsler is looking forward to coaching her for the next couple of years.
Things have been slowly building over on Neptune Boulevard. James Runner’s football team had a decisive victory on the night before Thanksgiving — the first Turkey Day win by the Tigers in many a season. The basketball teams seem to be in good hands with Stevie Patrick (boys) and Wechsler at the helm.
For a school that has been in athletic doldrums lately, it’s really nice to see.
Equally heartening was the Saugus girls basketball team and its 16-6 record going into the tournament. It’s tough to recall the last time Saugus was in the tournament. Some very unscientific research conducted last Thursday night when the Sachems had a home game against Bishop Fenwick revealed a lot of “I don’t knows.” Suffice it to say, it’s been at least 20 years — and maybe even longer.
The gym was beyond packed, leaving one to realize that the town took to this team. The only way to describe the atmosphere was frenzied.
Both Saugus’ Mark Schruender and Fenwick’s Adam DeBaggis admitted that playing in front of such a large, noisy crowd made the players nervous, and it explains why the score after two quarters was only 19-10.
But what made this game so special was that once Fenwick — which is the defending Division 3 state champion — started to put a little distance between itself and Saugus, the Sachems didn’t pack it in. Instead, they dug in.
What was once a 30-13 Fenwick lead was shaved down to seven (33-26) before the Crusaders’ championship pedigree took over and they were able to close out the game.
However, it’s a credit to Saugus that in this type of environment — even if the Sachems were at home — they hung in.
Like Tech, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount to cheer about in Saugus with regards to athletics. The hockey team’s back-to-back state championships were more than a decade ago. The boys basketball team did make a sectional final against Danvers, and both the baseball and softball teams have been in the tournament. But for the most part, things have been pretty quiet. This basketball season by the girls was a real shot in the arm.
To the victor goes the spoils, and that’s as it should be. But there are different kinds of victors. There are coaches who literally save programs and turn kids who never knew they could win into winners.
That is what Kaitlyn Wechsler and Mark Schruender and their assistants did this year at Lynn Tech and Saugus. When the book is written on this winter tournament season, they should both have chapters all to themselves.