Saugus girls basketball ready to take the next step

Saugus, Ma. 12-4-18. Alessia Salzillo and Taylor Bogdanski during basketball practice at Saugus High School. (Owen O'Rourke)

SAUGUS — After a solid regular season that led to a 12-9 record and a No. 9 seed in the Division 2 North tournament last year, the Saugus girls basketball team is looking to take the next step in 2018-2019.

“It’s always a good accomplishment to get into the state tournament,” said Saugus coach Mark Schruender, now in his sixth year at the helm. “It’s really a credit to the upperclassmen we had on the team and their contributions. But at the same time, we have to keep pushing forward into this new season.”

This year’s Sachems will look mostly the same, but there are some big departures as well. Team captains and leading scorers Allie Kotkowski and Rachel Nazzaro have graduated along with Megan Gannon, but that’s it. Saugus only lost three seniors from last year’s squad.

“Those girls all brought a lot to the table, both on and off the court,” said Schruender. “They’ll certainly be hard to replace, but that’s the nature of high school basketball.”

That means that this year’s team is full of veteran experience with nine returning players — four of them seniors and five of them juniors. Leading the way will be a trio of senior captains in Alessia Salzillo, Marissa Stockwell and Alana Aldred. All three have seen significant varsity minutes already in their careers, and all three also set the emotional tone for the team. In fact, Schruender says that Salzillo has actually come up with the catchphrase for this year’s team.

“She was talking to the team on I think the first day of practice, and she just said, ‘don’t ask why, ask what’s next,’ and that’s how we’re approaching this season,” Schruender said. “If something bad happens, we’re not going to hang our heads. It’s all about staying in the moment and making the most of our opportunities.”

The senior captains are bolstered by fellow senior DJ Munafo and a group of six juniors who have playing experience, giving the Sachems a group of hardworking players who know what to expect and what is expected of them.

“I like to say that we have 12 leaders on this team,” Schruender said. “Every player on the team is ready to work and knows what to expect having been in the program already.”

Things have been going well at practice in the early part of the preseason according to Schruender. He says his team seems to be fit and ready to attack the new season.

“It’s been great so far, everyone is very enthusiastic,” said Schruender. “The best part is that the girls are policing themselves out there in terms of energy and effort. That allows me to focus more on the actual basketball aspects of things, and I think that will pay dividends.”

While the Sachems actually start their regular season Friday night against St. Mary’s, they will also be taking part in the 26th annual Paul Duchane Girls Varsity High School Jamboree at Lynn Classical this Saturday. Saugus will take on Billerica in the seventh game of the 10-game preseason basketball extravaganza.

“I absolutely love that tournament,” Schruender said of the jamboree. “It’s such a great day for high school basketball and it’s a great joy to both watch and play in. (Classical coach) Tom (Sawyer) does a great job organizing it every year and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Saugus will open the 2018-2019 season on the road against St. Mary’s Friday evening (5:30).

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