LYNN — Not many teams have to deal with tragedy just as the season is getting underway, but that’s exactly what happened to the English girls basketball team this week. On the very first day of tryouts the team found out that former Bulldog Dorothy Ezemba, who graduated this past spring, died after a battle with cancer.
“It’s been a tough first week, for sure,” said English coach Mackenzie Charles, now in his third season at the helm. “But this group of girls is extremely strong and resilient, and they came in wanting to play basketball.”
This year’s English team has a number of solid players returning this year, led by junior captain Julianna Perry, who saw a big boost in her playing time last season and ended up as a Northeastern Conference All-Star. Charles added that Maylin Echevarria will be put in a position to make an impact in her second year with the team, and Jessica Ruiz is a candidate for a breakout season.
“Jessica just does an excellent job of getting better each day,” said Charles. “She’s an example of what I want our program to be and how I want our players to be. Every day, after every game and every practice, she’s working to get better. I think she’s going to have a huge year for us.”
Charles also noted that a number of underclassmen will have an opportunity to stand out this season. The Bulldogs still have some holes to fill after losing two senior starters from last year’s team in Ely Guity and Tommi Hill.
“We have a lot of younger players with talent,” Charles said. “Some of them are going to get an opportunity to show what they’ve got this year.”
The Bulldogs started practicing Monday, and things have gotten off to a good start with all things considered.
“It’s been as good as it can be,” Charles said of practice. “We got the news the first day and it was obviously tough, but the girls have been doing a really good job with it. They’ve been focused on basketball and getting better every day.”
Charles said that defense has been a primary focus in the early days of practice.
“Defense has really been a big emphasis for us so far in practice,” said Charles. “I think if we can defend this year, we’ll be able to compete in a lot of games. We have players who can score the ball but being able to play defense is what’s going to keep us in it most of the time.”
With the first game of the season rapidly approaching, the Bulldogs are using the next couple weeks to get prepared.
“We’ve done the math and figured we have 11 days left until that first week of games, and every girl has a goal to accomplish individually in those 11 days,” said Charles. “At the same time, we have goals as a group to start trusting each other out on the court and come together as a unit.”
English opens the season on the road at Malden December 14 (7).