SAUGUS — Most basketball coaches would agree that a point guard who can take command of its offense is critical to the team’s success. Senior Alessia Salzillo has carried that role for the Saugus girls basketball team for the past four years.
A three-sport athlete who also plays field hockey and softball, Salzillo joined the Sachems as a freshman. Since then, she has helped Saugus go from a struggling two-win team to a state tournament mainstay that has reached the postseason three years in a row.
Sachems coach Mark Schruender said it’s no coincidence the program has reached that level of success with Salzillo leading the way.
“Since Alessia has been here, our team has had at least 11 wins every year,” Schruender said. “Before she arrived, we were struggling. There’s a number of kids that have been there but she takes a huge slice of the pie for the turnaround of our basketball program.
“Alessia’s unbelievable. It’s a cliché line but it’s true in this case. She’s another coach. She sees things that sometimes the coaches don’t and she makes great suggestions. She brings great leadership. She has a way of re-affirming people at their lowest points. She makes them feel great again. I witness it, it’s a gift she has. She’s changed the way I coach for the better.”
Salzillo came into this season hoping to guide the Sachems to the next step in the program’s development. All three of the team’s postseason runs have been short-lived with Saugus getting bounced in the first round each year.
“It’s frustrating when you get into it, you get excited and you kind of have a little downfall,” said Salzillo, a two-year captain. “My freshman year, we hit 11-11. Sophomore year we were 17-4 with a (Northeastern Conference) banner. Last year we were 16-7. We played our best and learned more about the mental parts of it. You go to the games, you get excited and the nerves are there. We’re changing our perspective to be a little tougher. Our mentality is on looking forward and leaving those things behind us.
“Our goal is to win our first state tournament game. We’re aiming little by little. Hopefully we can get there.”
This year’s team started the season on a sour note after a loss to St. Mary’s but picked things up with wins over Everett (62-55) and Marblehead (59-54). Salzillo scored 13 and 8 points in the victories, respectively. Last winter, Salzillo averaged 13 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists per game.
“Everyone’s definitely doing a lot more than expected this year,” she said. “Girls are coming in as better shooters, better decision makers. The attitude has improved a lot this season. I’m really proud of everybody but there’s always room to get better. We’re doing what we’re asked and we’re into it.
“The quickness in learning has really impressed me. Everything we’re learning in practice has been applied to games immediately. There’s a lot of selflessness. We’re playing as a team instead of individually. You can’t really go down from there.”
From an individual standpoint, Salzillo hopes to reach the 1,000-point mark. She acknowledges she’s on the outside looking in (currently in the 700-point range) but believes she can get there with 17 games remaining in the regular season.
She’s on pace to tally 400 career steals, an accomplishment Schruender said is equally impressive.
“I know everyone talks about 1,000 points in high school but I look at 400 steals as an equal accomplishment,” Schruender said. “When you think about it, that’s five steals a game and that’s really hard to do. She changes what the other teams want to do on offense and those players are rare.”
Salzillo’s looking to continue her basketball career at the collegiate level. She has drawn interest from Plymouth State University (which carries a pair of locals on its roster in Classical graduates Chenysse Hill and Jeylly Medrano) and is currently in the process of joining the Panthers. Salzillo plans to major in athletic training and hopes to earn a Master’s degree through a five-year program.
With her senior campaign still in its early stages, it hasn’t dawned on Salzillo that it’s her last season wearing the red and white Sachems uniform. She’ll take a ”one day at a time” approach and make the most of it along the way.
“I think about it every now and then, but I try not to because it’s a long season,” Salzillo said. “There’s so much to do in so little time. I try to take everything one step at a time and focus on the moment.”
Salzillo and the Sachems host Beverly Thursday night (7).