SAUGUS — Mark Bertrand has been part of the Saugus boys basketball program for 10 years, but he’ll take on a new role this season. Bertrand, who took over as interim coach last winter, was named head coach this past July and is excited to get started.
“These kids have known me as ‘assistant coach Bertrand’ and now they’re getting to know ‘head coach Bertrand,'” Bertrand said. “I couldn’t wait to get started. We had a great summer and fall this offseason and then we gave the kids a couple weeks off to get rested and ready for the season. I took advantage of the time as well but you couldn’t hold me down. I’m really excited.”
The Sachems are ready to hit the ground running, but Bertrand knows putting together a winning season will be no easy task.
“It’s a tough road,” Bertrand said. “We had around 48 kids come out for tryouts so I was really happy to see that. So far I like what I see. We have that energy at practice and we will need it.
“The NEC is one of the toughest conferences around,” Bertrand added. “I love to play the top- flight teams, it helps you get better and that’s the goal this year. We are young but we do have some experience and we are a growing team.”
The Sachems will look for leadership from some of their more experienced players, including senior captain Jake Morgante.
“Jake’s a three-sport athlete and someone we will be looking to,” Bertrand said. “Jake is one of my three captains and he plays a good role for us. He was our leading rebounder last year and plays power forward.”
Junior Christian Correia’s another captain.
“Christian’s another three-sport athlete that was elected by his teammates to be captain,” Bertrand said. “That obviously shows you something when he’s getting a lot of votes as a junior. He is definitely the main stream of our team right now. He’s our go-to guy and our focus. He brings a great energy to this team and has been bringing it every day at practice.
“Kenny Okoye (junior) has another important role for us,” Bertrand added. “He is around 6’4,6’5 so he brings some length for us. He’s been apart of part of the eight man rotation last year and will be starting center this year.”
In his first season, Bertrand hopes to see his team work to make defense a primary focus this year.
“We want to get back to the core roots of Saugus basketball,” Bertrand said. “This is a blue-collar town and that’s how we want to play starting with defense.
“We have a motto we wear on the back of our jerseys, ‘defend rebound and run,'” Bertrand added. “That’s the way we want to play. If you start with defense and rebound and then run good things will happen.”
Saugus will go into the season with high goals, including keeping the school’s tournament streak alive.
“We always start out with high goals,” Bertrand said. “If you don’t have them you are in trouble. We will work from the top down with a goal of winning the state tournament. If not we want to qualify and win our league. That’s where we are at.
“We are on a run right now at the school qualifying for seven in a row,” Bertrand added. “So we are looking to get eight in a row. I told the kids ‘you don’t want to be the team to end that streak.'”
The Sachems open the season at home Dec. 12 against Triton.
“We are excited,” Bertrand said. “It’s a home game and I tell the seniors ‘you play and then all the sudden there’s only nine left.’ We want to make the best of every opportunity.”