Soneta Srey and the No. 4 Lynn Classical girls basketball team will host No. 13 North Andover on Wednesday night.
By KATIE MORRISON
With three girls teams vying for a state championship, Lynn is a center of activity for high school basketball this season. Friday, the Classical, Tech and St. Mary’s girls basketball teams found out what their roads to the North finals will look like as brackets were released for all four divisions.
The Rams earned the No. 4 seed in the Division 1 bracket, which will set them up for at least two home games, provided they win. But the first hurdle is all coach Tom Sawyer is looking at right now: next Wednesday’s game against No. 13 North Andover, at Classical at 7.
Unlike last year, when Classical drew fellow Northeastern Conference team Beverly in the first round, the Rams are facing off against an unfamiliar squad in North Andover of the Merrimack Valley Conference.
The Scarlet Knights (11-9) are led by the duo of Faith Connors and Emma LiPorto, and Sawyer says that they can beat you in a number of ways.
“They’re an athletic, talented team that runs the floor in transition very well,” Sawyer said, who added that North Andover likes to drive to the basket, but also has a number of good outside shooters, like Connors. “We’ll have our hands full making sure we can contain them.”
The Rams are playing well heading into the tournament. Classical hasn’t lost since Feb. 3, and as far as losses go, there were plenty of positives to take from a two-point loss against Division 1 second-seed Revere, which was undefeated at the time (though it finished with two losses). Since then, the Rams reeled off four-straight wins to finish 17-5, their best record in 13 years.
Earning a home game is another milestone for the Classical girls, since it’s the first time in 10 years the Rams will host a tournament game.
“It’s very rewarding and I’m happy for this team to earn a home game,” Sawyer said. “We’re hoping we can get the students and community to come out and support.”
But the Rams are the only Lynn girls team to earn a home game. St. Mary’s just fell short, getting the No. 5 seed in a small Division 3 bracket. That means the Spartans will be traveling to Boston next Friday to take on Green Academy.
St. Mary’s doesn’t share any common opponents with the small Boston charter school, but coach Jeff Newhall said he isn’t concerned about who the Spartans are playing, just how his team plays Friday.
“We don’t know a ton about them, but at this point, it’s about us being prepared to play at a tournament level and being prepared mentally,” Newhall said.
The Spartans are one of the more battle-tested teams out there, as 20 of the 22 games in their regular season were against teams now in the tournament. After starting 1-5, St. Mary’s has been putting a lot of pressure on itself to reach the tournament, so it isn’t taking anything for granted.
“With the schedule we play, there’s not a lot of margin for error,” Newhall said. “I think we were playing at a tournament level for 6-8 weeks. Anything is possible if we play the way we’re capable of playing.”
The time off between the end of the regular season and the start of the tournament is a big advantage for St. Mary’s, which has played a grueling schedule that included three tournaments and a trip to Florida.
“It’s been a grind at times, and having some time off hasn’t been bad,” Newhall said.
It’s also given the Spartans time to get healthy. Temi Falayi injured her ankle during the Spartans’ regular season finale Monday against Rockland. The x-rays came back negative, but some extra time to recover can’t hurt. Newhall said he’s optimistic Falayi will be on the court come Friday.
On the other hand, there’s the Tech girls. The No. 12 seed in Division 4 will wait until Wednesday to play No. 5 Pope John on the road, making it almost two weeks in between the end of the regular season and the start of the tournament.
“We took a few days off to rest because we have a small team, but we’ve been practicing and scrimmaging since Wednesday,” coach Kaitlyn Wechsler said. “We’re trying to stay in basketball shape and game mode.”
The Tigers are in the tourney for the first time since 2008, and after going down to the wire to clinch a postseason berth in its final game, the pressure is finally off for Tech.
“This was our goal, and no one is expecting us to do much, being a lower seed,” said Wechsler. “But maybe we can go out there and be that Cinderella team like in college basketball. Teams take us lightly because of our seed, and the pressure is on them.”
Wechsler said she’s still gathering information about Pope John, and the key is to find out what kind of defense Tech’s opponent will play.
“We like to know what kind of defense other team is playing to prepare for it,” Wechsler said. “We had a scrimmage (yesterday) and had them practice everything, zone, man, press, just so we’re ready for anything.”
Tech travels to Pope John Wednesday at 7.